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TV Review: ‘Midnight, Texas’ on NBC

With:

François Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Lewis, Peter Mensah, Sarah Ramos, Yul Vazquez.

The best thing that can be said about “Midnight, Texas” is that its badness is at least amiable.

This is not a case of an ambitious show going awry and causing frustration as it falls well short of its lofty goals. All “Midnight, Texas” clearly wants to do is be a bargain-basement copy of “True Blood,” but it has trouble being consistently mediocre, let alone good.

It at least comes by its “True Blood” connection honestly: Like that series, it is based on a string of books by Charlaine Harris. And like the very first episodes of the HBO show, “Midnight” has trouble settling on a tone early on, veering ineptly between suspense, campy coyness and spattery horror.

Unlike the HBO show, which settled into a bats–t groove of sorts within a reasonable amount of time, “Midnight, Texas” is saddled with preposterously low-rent production values and a cast that is uneven, to use the most tactful adjective available. It’s an era of belt-tightening for many one-hour shows, and “Midnight” is a summer filler series, but even so, the lack of money spent on this effort is frankly embarrassing at times — or should be.

Then again, as we endure this ever-growing flood of TV — some fantastic, some blah, some terrible — at least we know this: Peak TV has finally produced a vampire drama with a talking cat. This was bound to happen eventually, right?

As with “True Blood,” there’s a core romance that is occasionally sweet, though there are complications due supernatural shenanigans, of course. As a group, the residents of Midnight, a small Texas town, tend to be frequently menaced by a biker group called the Sons of Lucifer, as well as other less burly antagonists. As things progress in the opening installments, there’s obviously a strong “Buffy” resemblance as well, given that Midnight might as well be sitting on a Hellmouth. But most of the characters in the NBC show are either stilted, bland or both.

To be clear, there’s a place on the TV scene for gonzo horror fare, and for talking-animal shows too, if frisky energy or fresh ideas are threaded through those kinds of programs. Genre fans seriously starving for a forgettable but somewhat fast-paced summer serial might be willing to tolerate “Midnight’s” flaws: There’s at least a guileless quality to the show, which appears to be aware that it is a jury-rigged, undistinguished mashup of a dozen superior programs. And the core of “Midnight’s” premise — that people who are persecuted have found something of a safe harbor in this eccentric town — contains a laudable message about tolerance and the resilience of found families.

But much of the time, the execution of those ideas is on the level of the most threadbare daytime soap or the creakiest Syfy monster movie. Viewers casting about for something with vampires, werewolves and spellcasting should set their expectations low — perhaps under the floorboards. In Midnight, that’s where unpleasant critters dwell, but part of me wonders if, at some point, the talking cat will insult them into an approximation of obedience.

TV Review: 'Midnight, Texas' on NBC

Drama; 10 episodes (2 reviewed); 10 p.m. Mon., July 24, NBC. 60 min.

Cast:

François Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Lewis, Peter Mensah, Sarah Ramos, Yul Vazquez.

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