Death Valley (2011)

At least in popular culture, one might think that zombies really have inherited the earth. At least this hybrid cop show has a sense of humour and doesn’t get too bogged down in the morbidity of it all. Indeed this is a surprisingly amusing show, though I’m not that surprised that it didn’t last too long on the airwaves. One imagines in fact that it might do considerably better today than way back in 2011 – but then, a lot has happened to the world in the last six years …

“These are the stories of the cops that capture the monsters. And the camera crew, that capture the cops. Death Valley.

The following review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason at Sweet Freedom.

“Let’s get out there and kill something!”

The Walking Dead meets Spinal Tap in this reality TV satire set in a ramshackle police department (the ‘Undead Task Force’). Too knowing and self-referential to generate much in the way of genuine laughs, it proves unexpectedly solid when it comes to story, explicit gore and thematic underpinnings.

One could in fact interpret the show as a media-savvy extrapolation on the theory of Schrödinger’s cat, in which existential questions of whether something can be simultaneously alive and dead are imbricated by the presence of a camera crew documenting events. On the other hand it might be more sensible to take the path of least resistance and accept this simply as an exercise in high concept genre hybridism. One year after supernatural monsters descended on the San Fernando Valley, the officers of the UTF (Undead Task Force) have the job of keeping supernatural creatures at bay. Vampires get the most respect being presented as dangerous but also sexy and organised; werewolves are mostly comic foils and zombies mere cannon fodder – and the latter do get massacred every week in a variety of inventive and messy ways (one of the extras provides an onscreen kill count – it reaches 117 by episode twelve).

Most of the characters (and jokes) are on par with the Police Academy movies (captain with boundary issues, libidinous young lead, assorted misfits, dim but muscle-bound African-American, etc) but the make-up effects are certainly up-to-date while the plotting is surprisingly deft given the one joke premise, managing to keep the show varied and engaging without too much visible strain.

DVD Availability: The shows make no effort to distinguish aesthetically between ‘objective’ reality and video captured by the camera crew and both look absolutely fine on disc. Extras are slight though the original ending to the pilot, featuring Abe Vigoda as himself, is well worth sticking around for.

Director: Drew Daywalt, Austin Reading, Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Producer: Kent Zbornak
Screenplay: Curtis Gwinn, Spider One, Eric Weinberg
Cinematography: Christian Sprenger
Art Direction: Naomi Slodki
Music: Heavy Young Heathens
Cast: Texas Battle, Bryce Johnson, Tania Raymonde, Charlie Sanders, Bryan Callen, Caity Lotz, Toby Meuli

***** (2.5 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in California, Police procedural, Postmodern. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Death Valley (2011)

  1. realthog says:

    Where’s the 87th when you need them . . .?

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Hmmm…quite quirky, Sergio. And good to hear the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. Points for ‘different,’ no doubt about that.

  3. Colin says:

    I don’t believe I’ve even heard of this before now. Sounds… different but maybe worth a look.

  4. Paula Carr says:

    Heh, if it’s set in the Valley how can you tell someone’s a zombie?

  5. tracybham says:

    I never heard of this before, and it does sound like fun.

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