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Politically Incorrect And Unapologetically Crude: This MTV Horror/Comedy Mash-up Is A Terrifically Entertaining Surprise
on December 10, 2011
NOTE: I'm disappointed that this is only being released in a DVD-on-demand format. It could really find a cult audience if it got a traditional DVD/Blu-ray release.
One of the silliest, bawdiest, goriest, and most surprising shows of the 2011 season came (from of all places) MTV. The comedy/horror mash-up "Death Valley" was one of the most unexpected delights I had this year. It's certainly never going to be judged as the "best of" television, but I absolutely loved this show's commitment to its inspired and insane premise. For sheer entertainment value, it was one of the programs that I most anticipated with each new episode. Set in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, the show posits the question about what would happen if the Valley were overrrun by zombies, vampires, and werewolves. The Valley, for those unfamiliar with the area, is already a bit of a punchline in Los Angeles (I can say that as I lived there for over ten years AND loved it) for its perceived lack of urban sophistication and giving birth to the Valley Girl phenomenon. It's a terrific setting, therefore, for the "Death Valley" brand of lunacy and it makes the most of actual and authentic location shooting. The show centers around the UTF (Undead Task Force) and is done in a "Cops" format with television crews assigned to the traveling officers. The addition of the civilian, largely expendable and anonymous, TV people adds a lot to the show's hilarity. Think "The Walking Dead" merged with "Reno 911" and you've got a fair idea of the show's appeal, but it maintains a striking originality despite these easy comparison points.
"Death Valley" has assembled a terrific cast that sells each episode with great enthusiasm. Charlie Sanders is perfectly cast as an idealistic family man, someone who tries to live by a code of goodness. Of course, he is partnered with the brash and offensive horndog Bryce Johnson. The two play off each other exquisitely and their bond is the season's best, and most unlikely, bromance. Tania Raymonde is a tough as nails officer who must fend off the advances of her partner Texas Battle, but the softening of their relationship provides for some unexpectedly sweet moments. Caity Lotz is new to the force and is dismissed by the ranking officer until he needs her for a personal undercover assignment. And Mad TV's Bryan Callen is spot-on hilarious as the clueless, and highly inappropriate, captain of this squad of misfits. Everyone is uniformly solid. Callen has some of the season's best lines served up in deadpan seriousness. While it will go unrecognized, I think it's one of my favorite comic performances this year. And I loved Johnson and Sanders together, there are many layers to this relationship--oh, and they're ridiculously funny together as well.
As I said, the early episodes are particularly effective at incorporating the "Cops" format into the action. As the year progresses and the plot line deepens, however, the show loses some of its strict adherence to this style. I've already said that the show is funny. What I have yet to touch on is the horror element. For an MTV show, I didn't expect a high level of sophistication in effects and make-up--but the monsters are all quite believably and professionally rendered. Attack scenes and gory moments are executed with precision. Although its tongue is always firmly in its cheek, the show is also very successful with its horror elements. And while it begins very episodically, the plot develops nicely throughout building to few big confrontations before the year ends. Season One consists of twelve episodes of comic monster mayhem, each approximately 22 minutes in running time. Politically incorrect and unapologetically crude, "Death Valley" just works. By keeping its ambitions modest, it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. It provides grand entertainment. Is "Death Valley" one of the "best" shows on TV? Maybe not. But it is certainly one of my favorites! KGHarris, 12/11.