Here’s the thing about animated shows: The voice casting can be inspired, the cleverness and edge can be intriguing, and maybe the premise of the show is interesting because it’s going to satirize something that needs to be satirized. But in the end the question remains: Is it funny? Does it actually make people laugh or is it just mildly amusing at best? Because being funny is still important.
Moonbeam City, the new animated retro cop show on Comedy Central, isn’t particularly funny, but it is somewhat clever, as it satirizes the look, feel, attitudes, and music from the ’80s. It’s Miami Vice meets Archer, with several cups of Giorgio Moroder, a dash of Duran Duran’s Rio album cover, and lots of clothing from the racks of Chess King. In fact, it’s so Archer-like it’s hard to imagine it existing at all if that other show didn’t.
Rob Lowe (who also co-produces the show) plays Dazzle Novak, top (and rather dumb) cop of the Moonbeam City police department. The city is crumbling into a neon hellhole filled with guns and drugs and violence, and if Dazzle can just tear himself away from his mirror and exotic dancers he might be able to put some of the scumbags away. He has help from the only normal cop in town (Kate Mara as Chrysalis Tate), his hardass boss (Elizabeth Banks as Pizzaz Miller), and his main enemy on the force (Will Forte as Rad Cunningham). Rad would probably love to see Dazzle dead at some point, or at the very least drummed off the force. In the meantime he’ll take Dazzle’s “#1 Cop” mug just to piss him off.
This all has the makings of a great satire of the ’80s, something vibrant and witty and sharp. But what Moonbeam City offers instead is stuff we’ve seen before. It’s either disappointingly generic or way over-the-top and ridiculous (at one point, Dazzle falls in love with a dolphin). Like the animation, it’s all surface. Beyond the names (besides the main cast there’s a character named Genesis and a guy with the admittedly spectacular name Stereo Campari), the characters aren’t particularly interesting and they all look like vampires or members of the aforementioned Duran Duran (though Dazzle could be “Hi, I’m 1980s Rob Lowe” in a DirecTV ad). The animation has that “nothing really moves at all” quality (it’s odd how barren the malls and streets of Moonbeam City are), and it poses the question, “Is that all this show has to give?” It’s as if someone saw some Polaroids of what life was like in the 1980s, played some video games, watched Archer, and built a show around that.
And this is where it differs from the FX show. Archer is a funny, specific satire of the spy genre. Moonbeam City isn’t an accurate satire of an era or anything else, really. Just replace the music and clothing references could be set in any time or place. Maybe Moonbeam City needs the leads to be Crockett and Tubbs stand-ins the way Archer has a James Bond-ish main character—really go all-out on a full Miami Vice satire instead of a diluted, semi-satire of the ’80s in general.
There’s not much to laugh at in Moonbeam City, but there is something to quote in its bizarre line readings and choice putdowns. But it gets old faster than it should, and really all that’s left to do is watch the show just for the cool ’80s references: a DeLorean, the band Toto, Robocop. It’s the type of animated show that viewers will want to absolutely love but will only end up liking. It’s colorful and it serves as a diversion for 30 minutes, but it’s hard to say if even fans of a show like this will watch it beyond a few episodes. And if they do watch it beyond a few episodes it’s probably for the same reason people keep watching other so-so shows: It just has to get better at some point. There have to be other reasons to tune in to a show other than hope and obligation.
The bottom line? It’s okay, but it’s an acquired taste. If you like Archer, you’ll want to check out Moonbeam City. If you really love Archer, you’ll like this show too (but you’ll probably love Archer a lot more). And if you don’t like Archer? Well, South Park airs right before Moonbeam City.
Reviews by Jesse Hassenger will run weekly.