Moonbeam City, a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen?
Animation fans who tuned into the premier of Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City were treated to a nostalgia laden treat. The new show centers around an Archer-esq playboy cop named Dazzle, played by Rob Lowe. (I think we can all agree that Rob Lowe should dedicate the entirety of his career to exploring the “playboy cop” archetype.)
Moonbeam rides in on the coattails of the 80’s cultural revival with mixed success. The main characters are named Dazzle, Pizazz, and Rad. The music is a pulsing delight of synthesizers. Most importantly, the dialog is written like a mix-tape of action movie puns, i.e. “I hope your brain’s hungry. It’s having bullets for dinner.” However, the most successful homage the show has to offer is its visual design. Moonbeam effortlessly replicates to the aesthetic of the 80’s inspired by the art of Patrick Nagel.
Nagel was a cultural powerhouse in the late 70’s and early 80’s, famous for his playboy illustrations, silkscreen posters, and Duran Duran record covers. The design of the characters in Moonbeam City draw directly on Nagel’s simplistic, art deco illustrations. In fact, many major reviews of the show have mentioned the similarity, with Mike Hale of the New York Times stating, “it’s real selling point is the sometimes witty way it puts Mr. Nagel’s aesthetic in motion, as if all the posters in an office strip mall, circa 1983, had come down off the walls and started yelling and shooting at one another.”
The question then becomes, what is the line between inspiration and infringement? According to Jane Dumas’s attorneys (Nagel’s surviving wife) the show has not licensed any IP from Nagel’s estate. This could present a serious problem for Comedy Central, as the shows characters share striking aesthetic similarity with Nagel’s artwork.
On the other hand, Comedy Central theoretically has a legitimate argument for fair use, a doctrine that allows for use of copyrighted material in a parody. From the music, clothes, dialog, and visual design, Moonbeam is a parody of the glamorous decade with all the subtlety of Donald Trump. While an accurate analysis would turn on the more nuanced question of whether the show is a parody of Nagel’s art in particular, his art is so tied with the decade that referencing his design is arguably essential to the creative ends of the show’s producers.
Check out the trailer below to decide for yourself, and tune into Moonbeam City, Wednesdays on Comedy Central.