Being a vampire sucks. It’s a bad joke, I know, but it’s the truth.

— Mick St. John (Alex O’Louglin)

The dominant theme of the new TV season is the extraordinary hero: the geek-super-agent, bionic woman, slacker-soul-collector, and now — again — vampire. More specifically, Moonlight, which premieres tonight, features a vampire who’s also a private investigator. It’s inevitable that Mick St. John (Alex O’Louglin) will be compared to Angel (David Boreanaz), but they have little in common aside from the dark moodiness one expects in the undead and the fact that neither consumes live human victims’ blood (St. John injects himself with blood he obtains from a friend at the morgue).

Their differences are underscored in Moonlight‘s early moments, which let viewers know immediately that it operates within the parameters of a new mythology. In the premiere episode’s opening scene, Mick is imagining himself being interviewed about life as a vampire but live among us during the day. They don’t sleep in coffins (he sleeps in a freezer), crosses have no effect on them, garlic is good on pizzas but not for warding off evil, and a wooden stake through the heart won’t kill a vampire, even if it does hurt. Most important, there are only two ways to kill a vampire: burning or decapitation.

Although Mick is a relative newbie as a vampire, having only been “turned” 60 years ago, he is an old hand at detective work. The series’ first case ties in with one he worked 20 years earlier. The original case involved his vampire wife

Coraline’s (Shannyn Sossamon) attempts to lure Mick back to her by kidnapping a child for the couple to raise together. After rescuing the girl and killing Coraline, Mick has kept tabs on the girl from afar.

Now fully grown, Beth Turner (Sophia Myles) is a reporter for tabloid TV. When she begins to investigate the murder of a young co-ed with two puncture wounds in her neck, Mick gets involved. Working together, Beth and Mick are led to Anthropology professor Christian Ellis (Rudolf Martin), who professes to be a vampire and leads a group of students in secret cult of vampire worship. Ellis is the natural suspect for the murder, and Beth goes undercover to expose him. Predictably, she is soon in peril.

Also predictably, Beth witnesses Mick’s vampire qualities only after she has been drugged, which gives him something like plausible deniability for what she thinks she saw. Eventually, though, she remembers that Mick is the rescuer from her childhood. This sets up a potential dilemma for the vampire, as his fatherly instincts conflict with his romantic attraction to Beth. Such tension falls in line with Moonlight‘s noirish tone. Mick is the typical private eye torn by his passion for the femme (not quite fatale), as well as a loner. He does, however, have one true friend, business tycoon and fellow vampire Josef Konstantin (Jason Dohring).

The generic mashing of noir and horror is announced in a flashback scene, wherein Mick recalls the visit of Beth’s mother to hire him. Shot in black and white and featuring that favorite Sam Spade plot jump-starter, the distraught woman pounding on the office door, the sequence is well played but too obvious, suggesting that Moonlight doesn’t expect viewers to follow the detective-vampire entanglings (or that they’ve seen Angel). All this amounts to an excess of darkness in Moonlight, both literally and figuratively. The one comic element is the smart-ass Josef, whose brief appearance during the premiere episode is both welcome and promising.

With a winning lead player and supporting cast, plus an interesting premise, Moonlight has potential. Perhaps appropriately, given its inclinations toward mystery and shadows, the first episode doesn’t reveal whether or not it will meet that potential.

RATING 5 / 10