With vampires, werewolves, and zombies running amok in the San Fernando Valley, only the Undead Task Force can protect citizens from the spreading evil. A camera crew is on scene to record all the kills, busts, and shenanigans in MTV’s new horror-comedy series, “Death Valley.” Although opinions regarding the pilot episode were all over the place, we’ll take a fresh look at the series in this week’s coverage of episode two. This week Death Valley attempts to build on its dubious pilot as the UTF deals with the aftermath of a misguided public service campaign. If last week’s comments were any indication, at least the unbridled gore offered something to talk about. The full review lies just beyond the break.
As I sort of expected, reactions to last week’s premiere episode were hugely mixed. Some of you loved it, some of you hated it, and a few of you decided the series had just enough potential to possibly warrant another look. Just to be clear, I didn’t choose to cover this series because it’s God’s gift to television. Whether or not Death Valley turns out to be good or bad isn’t really the point. It’s horror, and I’m of the belief that all horror deserves to be discussed. I was massively disappointed in The Walking Dead‘s steep drop-off in quality between its first and last episodes, but that won’t stop me from watching season two. Why? Because a monumental horror project like The Walking Dead is begging to be discussed by the people who can most accurately judge it–the Horror Fans. What went wrong, what went right, what we would have done differently. And I want to participate in those conversations. So far (and yes, this is after only one episode), Death Valley has revealed some strengths (and weaknesses) that make it just intriguing enough to keep an eye on. Let’s ride this shit out, see where it takes us. We can talk about it along the way.
This week begins with Captain Dashell lamenting the recent death of soundman Rodney (“Obviously he was a natural blonde who smelled like apricots…he didn’t deserve to die this way”) before introducing a public service campaign that calls on ordinary citizens to assist the UTF. When local teens take the campaign as blanket approval for zombie abuse (in this case, whaling on “slow walkers” with baseball bats), John John and Rinaldi are called in to deal with the repercussions. Their action-packed smack down with teenage “freshies” is easily the highlight of the episode. Texas Battle is starting to grow on me in the role of John John. He may not get the best lines, but with his motor-mouthed delivery and cocky smirk, he wrings the most out of every moment he’s in front of the camera. Meanwhile Tania Raymonde seems to be struggling to make Officer Rinaldi more than just another pretty face in the cast.
Captain Dashell finally takes rookie Kirsten Landry out on the beat, and while their rat-hunting storyline is weak on laughs, Dashell gets to deliver some real nuggets of wisdom while teaching Kirsten the ropes (“Zombies are a cross between hobos and poo”). That’s the thing about Death Valley, so far it’s proven to be a show that can deliver some killer lines in the middle of extremely unfunny situations. And as the dry, subconsciously pervy Captain Dashell, actor Bryan Callen has got the line delivery nailed. If there’s one aspect of Death Valley that will get me to keep tuning in, it’s definitely Callen’s presence.
Stubek and Billy are mired in the weakest “storyline” of the episode, as Stubek attempts to find redemption for the vampire prostie they captured last week. Stretching its legs with this second episode, Death Valley seems intent on eschewing the one-off sketch humor in favor of multi-episode story arcs. Here’s hoping the casual wackiness isn’t sacrificed in favor of stupid-ass plot points. Death Valley only has so much promise to squander, and this mediocre second episode was a slow, shuffling step backwards.