If you were to assemble the perfect three-course dinner, what would it consist of? I know what you're going to say: Pizza, tacos and Airheads. What a perfect combination, right? All three of those things are delicious! But then fast forward to the end of the meal when you're feeling super queasy and that's when you realize maybe those things don't go together very well at all. And not only that, but it turns out the pizza was made of Play-Doh, the tacos were full of cat food and the Airheads were just old pipe cleaners. You'd be mad, right? How could someone take a no-brainer and then get everything so wrong? What a terrible restaurant this is! Reader, that's how I felt by the end of MTV's Death Valley, an ambitious mash-up of cop shows, supernatural horror and mockumentary-style comedy that somehow managed to get all three genres completely wrong and then try to pass them off as dinner.
Death Valley's premise makes no sense.
Here's all you need to know about the premise of Death Valley: It takes place two years after a zombie outbreak in the San Fernando Valley (which somehow also involves an outbreak of vampires and werewolves?). The LAPD has assigned SIX very young and unprofessional police officers to apprehend all the monsters in the city. Six officers. And these officers don't go out hunting for these roving murderers, they just kick back and wait for monster-related 911 calls to come in. That's how this society runs. So basically what I'm saying is, if you want to watch this show, you have to punch your sense of disbelief right in the face, wrestle it to the ground and then lock it in the basement. Nothing, not one moment, of this show ever makes sense or has an internal logic of any kind. Which I guess MIGHT work if you're just making an absurd comedy about monsters, like say, Comedy Central's Ugly Americans. Unfortunately Death Valley also thinks it's scary.
Death Valley is not scary.
This show clearly thinks it's not necessary to lay out the specifics of this monster infestation, but all that does is place us directly in the low-stakes world of Nobody Cares. Why bother making a monster show when you're so clearly disinterested in the background, motivations, or details of the various creatures? What are the rules? What do they want? Is there anything at all surprising about them? Sure the monster makeup is pretty decent and I guess it's sort of scary that some of the vampires have joined street gangs (tough times), but otherwise this show has truly nothing to say about supernatural creatures other than they are fun to murder.
Death Valley has the worst executed mockumentary format in TV history.
This show's mockumentary angle is a confusing failure from the get-go. So there's allegedly a camera crew following the cops around, except the show is filmed in a traditional single-camera style, with medium shots, close-ups and the boom guy is an on-camera character? What is the point of this? Who still needs a mockumentary format in 2011? It's been done and done WELL. Move onto something easier to pull off! Only once or twice do the cops even speak to the camera, which is kind of the point of a mockumentary–So that characters can reveal their inner thoughts to the camera. Also, the production values are really high for a supposed two-person documentary crew. Death Valley is a very cinematic show, as though MTV mandated that it look expensive whether or not it makes sense for the central conceit. Anyway, do the people behind Death Valley realize they can achieve a gritty documentary vibe without it actually being one? Friday Night Lights provided a five-season master class on this subject.
Death Valley isn't funny.
Sure, humor is relative, I get that. But a good way to gauge the quality of a show's comedic merit is by its originality. Death Valley loses points right off the bat for lifting the format of Reno 911, right down to an opening scene in the debriefing room and a captain who makes inappropriate sexual comments to the other men. Later it wrings laughs out of some of the hackiest jokes since last night's Tonight Show monologue–A Glee reference! Cell phone porno! A cop who likes donuts! People getting diarrhea! It probably goes without saying that none of the characters are terribly unique or memorable, and that's ultimately the biggest drag when it comes to new shows. No matter how brilliant (or ludicrous) a series' premise is, our initial interest in that show's premise invariably wears off leaving only our interest in the characters to draw us back. I do not want to come back to these characters!
Death Valley was brought to us by a former Scrubs producer and boasts recognizable faces in Mad TV's Bryan Callen as the buffoonish captain and Lost's Tania Raymonde as an unconvincing Vasquez-like tough girl. But in the series premiere, the two main characters were actually a pair of frat bro police officers who exchange banter about Choco Tacos and porno when not having one-liner competitions in the line of fire. Ugh, these characters are like something out of every zero-budget webseries on the internet–You know the kind where every character appears 23 and dudes are only funny to the extent that they can still look badass? Super boring.
Death Valley can probably become good if it wants to.
All my complaints aside, Death Valley has enough going for it that it might be able to right the ship should it ever decide to. Drop the mockumentary angle completely. Serialize the storylines, introduce recurring nemeses, make it more like a monster version of The Wire! Make the zombies, vampires and werewolves somehow unique from the old cliches. Be funny without undercutting the constant threat of horror. Give the heroes inner lives and personal problems. You know, BASIC STUFF.
I realize this is a show aimed at children, but MTV knows how to turn out surprisingly decent scripted programming if Awkward. and Teen Wolf are any indication. You can do it, MTV! Please don't feed us pipe cleaners for dinner! Not again.
What did you think of the Death Valley premiere?