For the first clue something is "off" in the quaint town of Milford, just look up in the sky.
Where there should be only one moon at night, there are three -- the result of an intergalactic explosion that ultimately may spell doom for those on terra firma, though nobody knows exactly when.
In the meantime, people are making the most of whatever time they have left, many throwing any and all inhibitions to the wind. One example: the woman who waters her lawn in the nude (partially hidden by a hedge for family-viewing purposes).
So goes the whimsical, "Northern Exposure"-like approach of "Three Moons Over Milford," a quirky ABC Family series premiering Sunday, Aug. 6.
Elizabeth McGovern ("Racing With the Moon," "She's Having a Baby") heads the ensemble cast as Laura Davis, a financially privileged mother and abandoned wife who's the relative calm in the middle of the storm. Her husband has responded to the impending crisis by taking off to see the world, leaving her on her own to raise their Wiccan daughter (Teresa Celentano) and older-woman-intrigued son (Sam Murphy).
An attorney (Rob Boltin) and a real estate agent ("Saturday Night Live" alumna Nora Dunn) are among the other citizens who have their own responses to the knowledge that any day in Milford could be their last.
"It's hard to describe what [the show] is, exactly," says McGovern, renowned for her intelligent portrayals of smart people. "You either love it or you don't, and I do. I find it very appealing. It's very idiosyncratic, very different from a lot of what you see."
While the split-moon aspect might otherwise make "Milford" a natural for an outlet like Sci-Fi Channel, McGovern explains the show is "much more interested in the characters and the family dynamic, which is my favorite thing."
Indeed, as Laura, McGovern gets to play arguably the most centered resident of Milford. "She's the housewife who redefines the word 'desperate,' I guess," she says. "She has the end of the world to contend with, yet she has to hold it all together and keep her family afloat and going, in spite of everything."
As bizarre as the "Milford" concept may sound, McGovern maintains she was on board with it from the outset. "I started off with the script, and that was what I responded to. I liked the tone, the feeling of the writing. So much of that is just a personal, instinctive thing. That's what I base a lot of my choices on, and this was no exception.
"It was also a chance for me to play someone with a lot of different colors; she's a grown-up who has teen kids, but there's still a chance for her to have a budding romance. She's alive in ways other than her role as a mother.
"What I like most of all is her journey," McGovern adds. "She starts out in a place where she's very isolated by her wealth and her position in the town. She's married to this guy who came into town and started a very successful company, and because of the course of events, her world seemingly falls apart."
Laura's luxurious lifestyle is an early casualty, McGovern reports. "You realize she's been stripped of her big house and her fancy car. One by one, all these things get pulled away from her, and she has to fall into the support of the community. That turns out to be a blessing for her, and that's a moving and touching story I can relate to."
McGovern's previous stab at series work, the David E. Kelley-produced CBS drama "The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire," lasted barely a month in the fall of 2003. "After a while, you kind of ride with the wave in show business," she reasons. "I just do the best I can with material I respond to, and I have to accept that the rest of it is more or less out of my hands."
Still, a weekly series is an especially big commitment for McGovern, who first attained prominence in the early 1980s through the movies "Ordinary People" and "Ragtime." The native of Evanston, Ill., resides in England with her husband, British producer-director Simon Curtis ("Mrs. Dalloway"), and their two children. She admits being away in Vancouver, British Columbia, to film "Milford" is "painful, without a doubt. If you want to be in show business, though, you have to go where the work is."
And that work can be quite challenging, as "Three Moons Over Milford" has taught McGovern anew.
"We've made a show that is very light in tone, and I can't tell you the Sturm und Drang over every second of it. It's beyond belief, but in the best possible sense. You'd never think, from watching it, about the discussions that went on about every line.
"The passion to get it right, and to get it good, was as much as anything you'll ever see. I'm proud of what we've done."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times