Shining Vale Season 1 review – a horror-comedy that’s funny rather than scary

March 7, 2022
Jonathon Wilson 0
Starz, TV, Weekly TV
3.5

Summary

Shining Vale leans much more towards comedy than horror, but it does the former very well thanks to Sharon Horgan’s writing and great turn from Greg Kinnear.

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3.5

Summary

Shining Vale leans much more towards comedy than horror, but it does the former very well thanks to Sharon Horgan’s writing and great turn from Greg Kinnear.

This review of Shining Vale Season 1 is spoiler-free.


Sharon Horgan’s Shining Vale has a premise that’ll be all-too-familiar to fans of the horror genre – a family, comprised of a mother and father whose marriage is on the rocks and two precocious teens, moves to a house with a reputation for weirdness in a no-account town in the middle of nowhere. The house needs some work doing. The neighbors know – and openly discuss – all the rumors about it. You know the type. The family is looking for a fresh start, but what they find is more problems, some supernatural and some prescription. The cliches are so played-out at this point that it’s almost a joke.

The thing about Shining Vale is that it’s in on the joke with you.

Some opening text makes no secret of the fact that the show’s horror elements are deliberately ambiguous analogs for depression and other mental health woes. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men, we’re told, and twice as likely to be possessed by a demon. Since the symptoms are the same, there’s no telling one from the other. There’s a chance that Pat Phelps (Courteney Cox) is both depressed and haunted, but she’s definitely depressed.

Pat, her husband Terry (Greg Kinnear), and their kids – Jake (Dylan Gage), a nerdy introvert, and Gaynor (Gus Birney), an apparently promiscuous rebel – have moved to Connecticut because Pat’s career as an erotic novelist has stalled and she threw her marriage into turmoil by having sex with the handyman. You’d think this would be the kind of thing that is scarcely mentioned, but it’s brought up all the time, especially by Terry, who is trying to convince himself he’s over it but obviously isn’t, and Gaynor, who has seized on a seemingly viable reason for Pat not to be able to judge her choices or tell her what to do.

Pat’s infidelity is mostly an excuse for punchlines, and there are a lot of them. Shining Vale is billed as a comedy-horror, but it’s too funny too often to ever be scary. There’s obviously a link between Pat being on antidepressants and her supposed haunting, but it’s also not the kind of lecturing, preachy show in which that’d be an insufferably “arty” detail. If anything, the whole thing’s too light, relying on Greg Kinnear’s fantastic comic timing to puncture any potential seriousness in either the marital strife or the horror elements. It’s all a big joke.

Whether or not it’ll remain that way is anyone’s guess. In the first two episodes, there are weird women standing outside and a curious bit of business with a neighbor and her deeply religious son, but nothing is treated all that seriously. Perhaps that’s for the best.

You can catch Shining Vale Season 1 exclusively on Starz.

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