With a pedigree that includes My Super Psycho Sweet 16 and the lukewarm Teen Wolf reboot, MTV’s previous forays into horror-comedy have proven dubious, at best. Which is why I approached my press screener of MTV’s Death Valley with a skeptic’s eye. I know I’m going out on a limb by writing this, but Death Valley actually isn’t all that bad. In fact…it’s sorta good. Having finally bailed on True Blood this season, I’ve freed up some room to dedicate to a new series. So in a bold new experiment, I’m going to start covering Death Valley on a weekly basis…
Coming across like an amiable mash-up of Reno 911 and The Walking Dead, Death Valley applies the COPS shaky-cam aesthetic to members of the UTF (Undead Task Force), a group of officers investigating zombies, vampires, and werewolves in the San Bernardino Valley.
The loose, improv-y tone is established in the opening moments, as officers Stubek and Pierce open fire on a zombie behind a convenience store, spattering its brains on the wall. As the camera crew vomits in the background, Officer Stubek asks if anybody is interested in a Choco Taco, and when the camera crew hesitates, he helpfully offers a brief description of the ice cream treat.
Back at headquarters, Captain Dashell (Bryan Callen) welcomes new rookie Kirsten Landry (Caity Lotz) to the force, and immediately struggles with the ages-old “Kristen-vs.-Kirsten” dilemma (“Okay, I’m gonna be honest, I’m gonna have a little trouble with that.”) finally settling on “Girsten”. Admonishing his troops to “Get out there and kill somethin`”, Dashell is obviously a captain who cares…while safely sequestered in his own precinct.
Out on the street, Stubek and Pierce stake out a seedy motel for vampire prostitutes, and the resulting bust provokes a bunch of rough talk from Pierce (“Freeze, Vampire Tits!”) as well as the wrath of her vampire pimp, who’s gracefully dispatched with the sharp end of the soundman’s busted boom mike. After returning to the station, Pierce goes missing, leaving his shades, cell phone, and a blood spatter in a conspicuous little pile that hints at his abduction. After brokering a trade with an undead mobster, Stubek hides a pistol in the body cavity of the vampire pimp, and once the trade for Pierce is complete, he pulls his piece and shoots them both out of the mess.
Meanwhile, vain smooth-talker Officer “John-John” Johnson (Texas Battle; Final Destination 3, Wrong Turn 2) patrols the streets of North Hollywood with the tomboyish Officer Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde, Ben’s dead daughter from Lost). Along with an unfortunate soundman, they stumble onto a trio of aggressive zombies in a convenience store.
So far the show seems to be all about a laid-back vibe and random gore, and in that regard, Death Valley completely sticks the landing. Yes, some of the staged humor doesn`t work so well (that scene where Capt. Dashell and Stubek have an aimless conversation while rookie Girsten fights a zombie in the background was pretty damn obvious), but at the same time, many of the throwaway lines are priceless.
Surprisingly, MTV manages to bring some heavy-duty gore to the table (and even a half-exposed female nipple, at least in the pilot screener I received), but the commercial breaks (in accordance with MTV tradition) come at a frequency that borders on the diabolical. Please note, even if you DVR this shit, you’ll spend a good 10 minutes over-correcting your fast-forward like a meth-addled motherfucker.
Check back for coverage of Episode Two next week, and be sure to leave your observations and criticisms (of the series, not necessarily of me or my life choices) in the comments below.