Death Valley: Ups and Downs

On the heels of MTV’s surprise hit Teen Wolf, the network everybody loves to hate has tried to get lightning to strike twice with its comedy supernatural horror mockumentary Death Valley. This COPS spoof follows six members of the Undead Task Force (UTF), a team of police officers whose speciality are the supernatural creatures haunting San Fernando Valley, California. This time, the werewolves are taking the back seat with zombies getting most of the screen time and vampires chewing up the scene each chance they get.

With the second episode just out, are we seeing the start of some new blood into the horror genre? Or is this the final nail in the proverbial coffin?

I loved how well the first episode set the stage and the tone for the rest of the series, focusing more on establishing the police protagonists and making them likable rather than shove a fistful of zombie brains down our throat. While they initially start out as stereotypes – the inappropriate captain, the chauvinistic douche, the pudgy nice guy, the violent jock, the badass bitch, the bright-eyed newbie – each actor really embodies the role and it never comes across as being entirely two-dimensional. The chemistry is present right off the bat and makes every moment enjoyable. By the end of the twenty minute episode, you’re hankering for more of the same and you hope they’ll be able to maintain the standard, especially the ever-delicate balance between horror and comedy.

Which is a pity because the ball just dropped with the second episode. It’s almost as if the writers ran out of quips and snarky punchlines after using them all last week, and the pacing of the show just wasn’t as snappy. It’s never easy to build on the expectations of series premiere, but to have such a sharp drop in the quality of the writing does send warning bells ringing. That being said, it wasn’t an entire washout. The zombie attack in the baseball park was superbly shot, far surpassing the first episode’s doughnut shop attack. Also, the banter between the three pairs of partners continues to be the highlight of each episode and the saving grace of this one.

The immediate favourites are Stubeck (Charlie Sanders) and Pierce (Bryce Johnson), who play the Nice Cop/Douche Cop routine to a tee. They’ve handled mostly vampire cases so far. Unfortunately their subplot this week was one of the major letdowns, as it was too early in the show to try to tug them emotional strings. The “Minority Report” of heavy hitter John “John-John” Johnson (Texas Battle – yes, that’s the actor’s real name) and badass sharpshooter Carla Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde) turn up the heat on the zombies, and may soon become the team to beat. Finally, the Dynamic Duo of UTF team leader Frank Dashell (Bryan Callen) and rookie Kirsten (Caity Lotz) haven’t had much time to cement their chemistry, but the fear is that they’ll run the sexually inappropriate routine to the ground long before the season is up, especially since it seems to be out of gas by this episode.

But from a horror point of view, this show is totally consistent with most established ground rules about the supernatural. To no one’s surprise, vampire society is one of organised crime, we meet an undead prostitute, her pimp as well as the cartel that they belong to in the first episode. Werewolves are ordinary folk who just happen to turn into monsters once a month during the full moon – their only crime is if they’re not locked up that night. Zombies are the most common, their bite is infectious so they need to be eliminated. With extreme prejudice. Like in this week’s episode. No idea if there’ll be more supernatural beings, but I doubt this show will go down the monster-of-the-week route.

Should you catch it? Only if you like wildly inappropriate sexual humour, a great dose of action and gore, and some fantastic acting by people who are just out to have fun. MTV has a show with potential on their hands, let’s hope they don’t screw up.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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