Season: 1 Episode: 1 Network: MTV
US Air Date: 29 August 2011 UK Air Date: 30 January 2012
Starring: Bryan Callen, Charlie Sanders, Bryce Johnson, Caity Lotz, Tania Raymonde, Texas Battle
Writer: Curtis Gwinn, Eric Weinberg
Director: Eric Appel
While Teen Wolf aimed itself squarely at the Vampire Diaries demographic, albeit with a touch of faux-nostalgia for the kind of people who wear pre-distressed Eighties movie t-shirts, and built up a small, but fierce fanbase in spite of the hostility it met, Death Valley could easily build up the same sort of loyal following, and then keep growing…
…provided, of course, it picks up the pace.
One part COPS spoof reality TV show, one part black comedy, and two parts horror, neither element really breaks the skin in this first episode, but all three certainly give it a good nibble with their incisors.
The establishing camera crew and shaky-cam POV that opens the pilot – a solid technique for establishing the world and keeping the series accessible as members of the LAPD’s Undead Task Force are forced to break the fourth wall and explain what’s happening – disappears and re-appears throughout the episode, seemingly as if the producer lost interest in the very trope his show is hinged around about half-way through.
The uncertainty and pacing saps momentum from the outset, as it transitions from a straight parody of cheapo cop shows to a sort of mid-Nineties Buffy The Vampire Slayer imitator where sassy chicks with ponytails toss zombies over their shoulder, and vampires are staked with improv chest-skewers (the boom mic in this case).
Make-up is solid, the zombies especially and the werewolves much less so, gore is frequent, and the editing is typically stylish and typically MTV with music video jump cuts and establishing shots, but the battle between the three core elements of the show make the first episode’s 22 minutes feel like a cold opening, while you wait for the credits and something engaging to actually hurry up and happen.
Of the opening episode’s various sub-plots – which given the running time might as well be sketches – it’s the ‘zany’ comedy that slows the already leaden sense of progression.
One particular scene where two characters talk obliviously while in the background rookie UTF officer Kirsten Landry fights off a zombie feels like the longest, least amusing three minutes in all of television history, and it’s hard to imagine this is a creative by-product of the same Eric Weinberg who honed his craft as executive producer on medical comedy Scrubs and Mulder’s mid-life crisis Californication.
Weinberg may have lost his knack for comedy, but his buddy relationships remain convincing and naturalistic, with Lost’s spiky Tania Raymonde (Officer Carla Rinaldi) and Final Destination 3’s smooth Texas Battle (Officer John “John-John” Johnson) emerging as the ensemble heavyweights, tackling a zombie attack on a donut shop, and presiding over what passes for a shock ending.
Clearly casting its net widely over The Walking Dead (cops versus zombies) and True Blood (vampire sex)’s fanbase, the depiction of a world in which the supernatural is almost mundane, and more often than not, a nuisance is pretty good fun.
It’s what it does with that world that’ll make or break MTV’s Death Valley, because ‘Pilot’ shows a series already in dire need of a purpose.