Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Moonbeam City visualizes its weirdest, funniest episode yet

Illustration for article titled Moonbeam City visualizes its weirdest, funniest episode yet

Last week, I wondered if Moonbeam City was revealing a secret premise beyond its superficial cop-show spoofery, where each week Dazzle Novak (Rob Lowe, in his second show of the week after The Grinder) will be pulled away from his job as a supposedly heroic cop, distracted by a newer, sexier, more exciting job. The “job” part doesn’t apply to “The Strike Visualizer Strikes Again,” but this is the third episode out of three so far where Dazzle becomes enamored of a cultural pursuit seemingly outside the purview of Moonbeam City PD – this week, an artist named Nocturne Von Groff (played by ace voiceover actor and generally hilarious comic actor Peter Serafinowicz). This would start to feel formulaic, but the way that all of Dazzle’s distractions so far have been oddball pop-culture curiosities – a mall singer in the first episode, re-enactment as insanely personal filmmaking in the second, and now a conceptual artist who specializes in strike (and spare) visualization cartoons that play in bowling alleys – is sort of endearing, for both the show and the character.

It helps that the show nails such a strangely specific reference point: those goofy low-budget computer animations that play on bowling alley score screens to tell players how many pins have been knocked over. The show reveals the nature of Nocturne Von Groff’s art brilliantly, by introducing the character as a trendy nightclub ghoul idolized by Dazzle before providing an example of his inane bowling-toon art, perfectly appended by his “Von Groff” signature underneath the inevitably Comic Sans text (both the font and the signature become understated little running gags). This conceit doesn’t offer particularly trenchant satire of an artist or art movement of the time, at least that I know of. Bowling alley animation arguably belongs to neither the ’80s nor the present-future hybrid that the show mixes with that decade’s iconography; given the use of computer animation and Comic Sans, it strikes me as something a lot of bowling establishments would’ve been adding around, say, the mid-to-late ’90s (though I grant it’s possible that my Upstate New York bowling alley of choice may have just been a bit behind the times, as bowling alleys can be).

Yet there’s something wonderfully vivid, and perhaps self-referential, about the close attention paid to the realistically mundane details of strike visualizations, and Von Groff’s straight-faced insistence that they actually mean something as he turns his nose up at the idea of actually bowling. This is a show, after all, that takes its aesthetic cues from Patrick Nagel art, itself sort of a high-low cultural hybrid. Dazzle, being easily swayed by, well, dazzle, embraces completely utilitarian cartoons affixed with an arty signature as meaningful, actual art, a process not unlike what plenty of ’80s artifacts have gone through. These dumb little cartoons nonsensically mean something to him, much to the chagrin of Chrysalis, who is attempting to corral Dazzle and Rad into a task force that might corral the Moonbeam Maniac terrorizing the city with his elaborate murders.

No one will be surprised by the identity of the Moonbeam Maniac; the Law of Economy of Characters can do a number on a four-person ensemble with only a handful of guest voices per episode. But Moonbeam City isn’t an actual cop show; it’s a spoof of one, at least sometimes. The opening minutes of “The Strike Visualizer Strikes Again” gets closest to kidding cop-fiction standbys, like Dazzle’s colleague who begins the episode counting down his last sixty seconds on the job, and winds up getting killing “zero days” to retirement. This also heralds the show’s continuing use of violent death as gruesome punchlines, which remain some of the weakest. “Strike Visualizer” also half-asses its story about Chrysalis taking control of her team, but that barely registers; it’s the committed weirdness that continues to linger, the show’s “Von Groff” signature on the sometimes-mundane world of adult cartoons.

Stray observations:

  • Dazzle rallying his colleagues to respond to a “241” that turns out to be a “2 for 1” deal on hot dogs is kind of a predictable joke on its own, so routine has the incompetent-law-enforcement shtick become. That said, the topper to this joke is solid: Dazzle wasn’t intentionally deceiving them, because he’s not especially aware of police codes: “Is that what those numbers I keep hearing mean?”
  • Similarly, Dazzle explaining that his meeting of Von Groff would be like Chrysalis “meeting the president of a glasses factory” is pretty funny; Chrysalis later becoming aghast when she sees a glasses factory burning down on TV is better.
  • This week in striking Moonbeam City imagery: Pizzaz smashes her office window in anger, and noirish shadows of blinds appear on her face as she glowers out into the night.