Let’s start with CBC’s own description of its new hour-long drama/comedy: “It’s an epic tale of lust, legacy and lobster, set against the backdrop of financial hardship, insane tourists, small-town intrigue and a long-buried secret that threatens to annihilate the Finley-Cullens once and for all.”
Moonshine (starts Tuesday, CBC, 9 p.m. and CBC Gem) has some of that and it has even more. Too much more. There is, literally, too much going on. It’s like there are several series packed into one, and some of those involved aren’t quite sure which one they’re starring in.
Oh, there’s fun to be had. On one of the promotional photos a character is holding a sign that declares “Sex, drugs and lobster rolls.” That’s fair, because sex and drugs are rolling themes and in the first episode there is an entire lobster theme going on.
Created and written by Sheri Elwood (Call Me Fitz), the eight-part series starts with a set-up more complicated and plot-heavy than necessary. And more than it can sustain. Lidia (Jennifer Finnigan), the eldest of the Finley-Cullen clan, returns home from New York for her aunt’s funeral. She’s a big-shot architect there, married with kids. The two kids are with her, but not the husband. Over the course of a weekend, the wacky goings-on at Moonshine, the Finley-Cullen’s dilapidated resort, play out, the funeral thing recedes, Lidia’s marriage crumbles, her kids become angry, and then, no surprise – it’s the show’s premise, after all - she inherits the resort and sticks around to run it. This incites a feud with her half-sister Rhian (Anastasia Phillips).
But, wait, that’s not all. Rhian’s husband Terry (James Gilbert), a local cop, is having sex on the sly with Lidia’s sister (Emma Hunter, from Mr. D), a local radio DJ. Rhian’s twin Ryan, (Tom Stevens), an always-partying hoser, is involved in a dodgy drug business while his girlfriend Crystal (Erin Darke) has the extraordinary ambition of moving into a real apartment and away from Ryan’s trailer. Also, there’s a fist-fight and a very good, long live-music scene that is wonderfully staged. Plus, a guest at Moonshine seems to be investigating the place for the cops, or somebody.
It’s exhausting just summarizing Moonshine. And that’s the issue. As filled as it is with frolics and family tensions, and presented as a portrait of Nova Scotia’s idiosyncratic South Shore, it is distractingly free-wheeling and unfocussed. A for-instance, Phillips is a very fine actor but her character Rhian is made so irascible as to be utterly unglued, and certainly not glued to the intended theme of family dynamics being troublesome but loving. And, at times, central figure Lidia seems to be in another, more grounded and less-crazy story.
There are times when Moonshine feels brilliantly written and the dialogue really sizzles. This is particularly true of the Nora character, whose interactions with lover Terry are the adult content that the on-screen warning from CBC keeps telling you about.
Yet there is so much silliness it’s hard to know who to care about and who you are supposed to root for. Some characters are undeveloped – this is based on seeing the first four episodes – and it’s hard to know what to make of adopted sibling Sammy, (Alexander Nunez) who might be the heart and soul of the series, but that’s only hinted at. (Corrine Koslo and Peter MacNeill play the parents of this gang as standard-issue aging hippies.) And for a drama/comedy so heavily focused on strong female characters, some are underserved by the script and plotlines. Me, I’d happily watch a show focused on Crystal, whose daftness is endearing and funny while the antics of so many other characters feel simply deranged.
Ultimately, it’s hard to condemn Moonshine. It presents a rich world stocked with entirely messed-up characters bungling almost everything in their lives. It’s so packed with energy and chaos that it’s bursting at the seams. Sometimes, you know, you just want the lobster roll without all the noise and mess of the sex and drugs. It has, mind you, been renewed for a second season already and the over-the-top, madcap adventures of the Finley-Cullens will go on and on, exhaustingly.
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