Thursday, 1 September 2011

Review: DEATH VALLEY, 1.1


This MTV supernatural mockumentary is the kind of show you can adequately review from its trailers. Death Valley's a high concept comedy-horror idea, summarized as a fly-on-the-wall documentary like COPS, set in an alternate universe where law enforcement are dealing with vampires, werewolves and zombies. The Undead Task Force (UTF) are the heroes, patrolling California's San Fernando Valley and protecting the public from the supernatural scourge. They're the usual ragtag bunch of maverick, fast-talking dopes, fairly indistinguishable from countless other shows. The creatures themselves are make-up jobs with an '80s inspiration, meaning you get your quota of gruesome faces and blood-soaked violence—with no noticeable CGI augmentation.

Still, given all the moments of gore and violence, there were only really two memorable scenes: a moment between the UTF's tough-ass boss and a new recruit he underestimates because she's a blonde cutie, so palms off with a boring desk job, comically unaware she's actually a skilled monster-slayer; and a random sketch where a driver's pulled over for being half-transformed into a werewolf while in control of a moving vehicle. The show needs to provide more supernatural twists on cop documentary clichés like that, as those were by far the funniest thing about this show.

Death Valley doesn't  feel much like a TV show, really—more a collection of semi-improvised sketches with cops getting involved in situations with scary monsters. Tellingly, the show started life as a homemade trailer by musician Spider One (host of FEARnet.com), later expanded to a twelve-minute pilot before being greenlit as a scripted series by MTV. It still feels like someone's edited together six episodes of a web series, sadly—meaning it's fast-paced but at the expense of any attempt at a meaty narrative. It remains to be seen how far the concept's joke will stretch before you find yourself craving non-literal brains.

So it's not particularly amusing or clever, but if you can't resist the idea of watching COPS-meets-Super Troopers with regular interruptions by vampires, werewolves and zombies, Death Valley delivers on that. I just hope it finds time to build the characters and is mindful of the potential with the human cast, rather than the novelty of seeing monsters being arrested or killed by the thin blue line. The sizzle reel for the rest of this twelve-part series, played at the conclusion of this premiere, looked very entertaining and delightfully gory, but that was true of the trailers. It remains to be seen if Death Valley is anything more than a scattershot collection of trailer-friendly moments. You end this pilot not even remembering a single character's name, which is a big worry for any comedy, and the jokes are very hit-and-miss.

Sundays, MTV @10.30PM
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