Clear Eyes, Zombie Hearts, Can’t Lose: Some Thoughts On MTV’s Death Valley

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I managed to miss Monday night’s series premiere of MTV’s Death Valley, and after reading a few luke-warm reviews, wanted to take a look and formulate my own opinion. How do I explain to you how much I believe in this show? I feel like this show is my parents’ marriage; if it doesn’t work out, it’s going to take me a lot of soul-searching to believe in love again. If I had been in the development meeting when this series got pitched, I would have stood up and made the Invasion of the Body Snatchers scream until they put it into production just to calm me down. That’s how much I love it, and that’s how much I believe that it will work. Hopefully soon.

If you didn’t happen to see the pilot, Death Valley follows the team members of the San Fernando Valley Undead Task Force as they battle the newly arrived werewolves, vampires and zombies that have seemingly arrived from nowhere. The easiest way to describe its vibe would be Reno 911! meets Zombieland, which, SCREEEEEEEE! However, while the show relishes the latter’s syrupy goresplosions, it seems reluctant to mine the time-tested though very specific format of cop shows for many jokes. Are the writers trying to avoid seeming too derivative of Reno, or is it a larger conceptual choice to focus more on the splatter than the comedy? The fact that it’s not clear is sort of a problem. Additionally, there are also currently too many variables at play to make the show’s universe easy to invest in: Is killing a zombie different than killing a vampire, or even a human, paperwork-wise? Is there a special court for supernatural crimes, or are they viewed as more of a pest that must be systematically dispatched by the city’s ragtag team of law enforcement? Would vampires really be burned by the headlights on a car, and if so, why would they bother to come into the city in the first place? There’s always the beautiful Pacific Northwest to start invading.

Besides the premise, which again is genius, the main reason I have faith in this show is, of course, the cast: Charlie Sanders is the best as sincere Officer Stubeck, presented as the right-thinking good egg even while letting slip the details of his sexless marriage, or posing for a pre-vampire raid cell phone pic. Bryan Callen’s olice captain Dashell is boorish, condescending and more than happy to sit back as his crew gets nearly chewed to pieces. Bryce Johnson’s Billy is a cocky officer who doesn’t like to play by the rules, which is amazing when the rules are set in place specifically to prevent you from being eaten by monsters. The cast is there, the set-up is there, now the writers just have dive headfirst into the cheesiest genre specific to something really great. Because really, wasn’t Reno 911! in essence just a hilarious, blown-out Cops? And isn’t Cops just an insane window into American culture? Now what if American culture had goddamn werewolves running around it? Late in the show, the boom mic operator working with the UTF’s camera crew gets mauled by a zombie. Of course he would! No one is properly training those reality TV crew members how to deal with supernatural beasts. Without flinching, Tania Raymonde’s Officer Rinaldi and Texas Battle’s Officer “John-John” Johnson serve, protect, and send zombie brains all over the floor of a donut shop. I simply refuse to believe this show will not be amazing.