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Notes From New York Comic Con: MTV’s Death Valley Panel

19 Oct

In all honesty, I kept meaning to watch MTV’s new show Death Valley but I hadn’t gotten around to it.  I even downloaded the first episode for free from iTunes a couple of months ago.  But I got busy and distracted.  Then I noticed at NYCC there was going to be a Death Valley panel so I figured, why not?  Let me just start off by saying even if this show has no class (which actually isn’t meant as a criticism or a put down, it’s just the nature of the show), MTV was kind enough to pass around very nice UTF (Undead Task Force) baseball caps.  Yes I got one.  And at some point, I plan on wearing it.

At Saturday’s panel there was a screening of an upcoming episode where zombies attack the police station.  It was quite a ride and judging from the 13 year old kid sitting next to me, pretty great in the gory department.  The kid flipped his gord every time a zombie got decapitated or sliced and diced.  Sadly, I began enjoying all the zombie violence myself.  It was such a satisfying episode I went home and promptly watched all six episodes available for viewing on MTV/Death Valley‘s website.  Yes, I know, I’m not their target audience but there are a bunch of adult females that actually do have a sick sense of humor.  Nobody appreciates us yet as an audience.  That is probably a mistake but that’s another panel that will probably not see the light of day at any Comic Con any time in the near future:  adult women and horror/comedy:  a new market.

What works about this show is the excessive comedic gory violence, the spoof of the reality show COPS, and the parodies of the many police procedurals that take themselves and their characters so seriously, along with the fact that in Los Angeles the San Fernando Valley is a sort of open joke.  It’s also well known for it’s porn industry and obviously Death Valley couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do an episode about that.  No, the show is not politically correct in the least.  And while as a female viewer, I do get sick of the lesbian kisses, etc. that guys seem to throw in for good measure whenever they can, they at least put in enough gratuitous sexual content that can offend both sexes so I feel it’s a bit more of an egalitarian show.  For instance, in the episode we watched at NYCC, Officer Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde) tells Officer “John John” Johnson (Texas Battle) that she’ll spend the night with him if he’ll kill all the zombies.  What ensues is “John John” single-handedly killing loads of zombies while the Captain (Bryan Callen) holds everyone back since he’s in “the zone.”  Obviously this zone has been induced by the promise of sex with Rinaldi and it’s an exaggeration but still an example of what men will sometimes do to get laid.  The best part of the scene, however, happens when one of his fellow officers hands him a root beer after his zombie killing spree.  I won’t ruin it.  You have to watch for yourself but it is worth the wait.

The panel itself consisted of Spider One (who conceived the show after moving to the San Fernando Valley from Hollywood), one of the Executive Producers/Writers, Eric Weinberg, and three cast members; Tania Raymonde (Officer Rinaldi), Texas Battle (Officer “John John” Johnson) and Charlie Sanders (Office Joe Stubeck).  Spider One (Rob Zombie‘s brother) shot a sample pilot on a super-low budget of $500 and took that around town, pitching it and that’s what ended up getting the show a pilot order from MTV.  Spider also discussed the fact that there has not been a lot of mythology written about the origins of the zombie virus and why there was a sudden influx of zombies, vampires and werewolves to the Valley a year before.  He and Weinberg said that some questions will be addressed in upcoming episodes but there isn’t some giant show bible like some shows create that gives a mythology/backstory to why everything is the way it is in the narrative world of a television show.

They also said that there is a bit of improv in the show since that is Charlie Sanders background (and he still does improv on a weekly basis).  Texas Battle discussed how pleased he was that he is able to appear in two television shows at once – Death Valley and Bold and the Beautiful.  Tania Raymonde had to spend a great deal of time brushing off Battle’s come-ons through the entire panel.  It looked like she had to endure a lot of bad behavior from many of the guys.  Not a great position for any female to have to deal with.  And I say that from personal experience working in the film business.  It’s a bit disheartening to see it still not only goes on but even goes on in front of an audience at Comic Con!  That seems to be a tradeoff, to get really bad humor on TV you have to deal with lots of sexist jokes.  Sometimes they are no big deal and you aren’t offended.  Most of us women do get that is part of the job but there’s a line.  Jokes are fine but when stuff gets directed at you, it feels creepy.  It’s no longer funny.   It’s just fascinating to watch how a creative environment operates because really, there aren’t any rules.  That’s not a judgement.  It’s an observation.

Death Valley: Something from MTV I can finally watch

18 Oct

I never thought I’d look forward to a horror comedy show about a bunch of police officers in the San Fernando Valley dealing with an onslaught of vampires, zombies and werewolves who must assimilate into everyday life or… die.  Well, with the zombies, they have to die as all they want to do is infect people then tear off each other’s limbs and snack.  But I finally watched an episode of Death Valley at Comic Con in New York (write up on panel to follow) last weekend and I actually liked it.  Yes, I’m shocked as well.

Spider One (brother of Rob Zombie) conceived the idea when he moved into the San Fernando Valley a few years ago.  Any person on the other side of the hill (the Westside, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, the Palisades, etc.) would tell you living in the Valley could do that to you.  If you are detecting some underlying dislike of the Valley from me, you are right.  To understand my dislike, you only need to watch the episode of Gidget (the Sally Field show from the 1960s) where her father takes her to buy a used car in the Valley and they get lost.  So lost, they never find the car shop.   They can barely find their way back to Malibu.  That sums up the Valley for me.

But yes many people actually live there and like it.  Love it even.  And these are their stories.  What works about this show is that it’s a mockumentary as well as a horror comedy.  The mockumentary part is a COPS homage and immediately allows the viewer to feel somewhat familiar with an identifiable genre from television that has been around for a couple of decades now.  Although the show claims the stories are about the cops on the Undead Task Force (UTF for short) and the camera crew that follows them, we never really get to know the camera crew as well as I think we should.  Yes we get small moments from them, usually if they are attacked and have to be replaced, but the opening is misleading about that particular aspect of the show.

A zombie enjoys a donut instead of flesh for a change.

The UTF consists of a group of officers earmarked to fight supernatural forces, Captain Frank Dashell (Bryan Callen), Officer Carla Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde), Officer Joe Stubeck (Charlie Sanders), Officer Billy Pierce (Bryce Johnson), Office John “John John” Johnson (Texas Battle), and rookie Officer Kirsten Landry (Caity Lotz).  Captain Dashell’s briefings/rants tend to set the comedic tone for the show each episode.  Death Valley is violent, irreverent, sexist and completely not redeemable but it’s still a fun watch.  Maybe there is something relaxing and cathartic after a hard day when you just want to watch a mockumentary about shooting and decapitating zombies.  Or making sure that all the werewolves are following the city ordinance during each full moon and their lockdown areas are to code.  Perhaps it’s the growing problem of the “sex for blood” trade with the Valley Vampire hookers.  Or the entire episode about zombie street fighting that the officers want to go watch and enjoy before they shut it down.  All I know is I am somehow, entertained.  That works for me, even if it is illegal zombie fights.

Watch the trailer.

Skins (UK) vs. Skins (US): Can Sex, Drugs and Partying Translate Across the Pond?

25 Jan

If you asked me for the past few years what my favorite show was, I would have told you the UK version of Skins. It was raw, filthy, dirty, fun, sometimes shocking but still somehow, human. Most of the time. Don’t ask me about how I feel about the last series (that’s UK speak for season) and what happened to Freddy. I still haven’t recovered. The UK version of Skins was something like I’d never seen before and something I wish they had put on when I was a teenager. Instead I got teen shows such as… actually I can’t even remember. Maybe The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Let’s just say that TV at that time was highly sanitized. We had nothing like Skins when I was growing up. So I sat there watching the first series like it was a cross between a train wreck and possibly soft core porn and wondering if there really were ever parties like this when I was in high school. Because I went to plenty of parties. But I never saw anything like what I was watching.

I’m always apprehensive when things are remade. I am usually committed to the first incarnation of something. Yes, I know, that’s a preconceived notion. Now when I heard that MTV was making as US version of Skins, I was cautious in feeling any excitement or anticipation, but I believe in giving these things a chance. I just didn’t see how a show so edgy would ever get broadcast in the US without a good deal of sanitizing. Even when BBC America broadcasts the original Skins there are random bits cut out and many words have been bleeped.

I also learned that while the UK Skins takes place in Bristol, which gives the series a definite feel of place, the US Skins seems to take place in “some” American suburb. Now, I’m sure that’s because MTV wanted the teen audience to feel like it could be Anywhere, USA and “this could be their lives,” although I’m not sure if I were sixteen or seventeen again I would want to party that hard and be that much of a slut. Honestly, the feel of the US Skins isn’t real. I felt like I was watching a bunch of kids trying to play at being cool. Maybe it didn’t feel real because I didn’t know the locale – Chicago? Madison? Cleveland? Give us some place. Because I feel like the show is set in no man’s land. Actually, it’s filmed in Canada. And while tons of shows film in Canada, they still do us the courtesy of letting us know the fake US city they are copying. So, the US version in short, falls short of its UK brother.

Dear MTV: we’re not all high watching this show, but I think if I tune in for a second episode I might have to be to make it through.

According to the shows creators, father and son team Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, the pilot episode, “Tony” is nearly an exact copy of the original UK pilot and from there we will see an increasingly substantial change to the storylines. OK… I’m not sure how I feel about that. Why screw up a good thing? Oh wait! Because this is America with TV networks that always have to change things. If you’ve been watching Episodes on Showtime, you will understand exactly what I mean. I can almost hear the meeting with the MTV execs when the decision was made to make the UK gay character Maxxie into a lesbian cheerleader in the US. I’m sure they were very convincing as they discussed the merits of wankability – after all, a lesbian cheerleader could capture that teen male audience! Which is rather ironic since MTV claims Skins is really for adults although we all know the main core of MTV viewers are teenagers.

Now MTV is facing some issues since we, in America, are so….puritanical. Since there are moments with some partial nudity and sexual situations in Skins the Department of Justice is now getting involved because of possible allegations of child pornography. Newsflash to the Department of Justice and American parents: have you looked at your teenagers’ Facebook pages? So, the US Skins is doing well for MTV. Do I think it is as good as the UK version? No. I don’t. Do I blame the writers and producers? No. I blame American sensibilities. Somehow, I just don’t see every teen in American getting horny and going out to party because in one upcoming episode of Skins we might see one seventeen year old guy’s naked ass. No ass can be that inspiring…

Now of course, I’ll have to watch the offending episode 3 just to see if they are going to show it. I personally believe all this hype was created by MTV because they’re afraid their show might not be as great as the original UK version. I, for one, believe that’s a true statement.

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