I love me some delicious black comedy served with nuanced performances. But hey, it has been a while since such a genuinely good show came around, isn't it? To be able to crack this genre is deceivingly difficult and add another genre to it - which makes it even tougher. Somehow, Shining Vale on Lionsgate Play manages to crack the code well enough to keep you glued to it and even marvel at times with horror and comedy.
We have the Phelps here that includes Patricia aka Pat (Courteney Cox), the mother and a writer whose last book was considered soft porn and while a success, it was over 17 years ago. She is now struggling to write her second book while suffering from depression and has cheated on her husband as well. Then there's Terry (Greg Kinnear), who hasn't had sex with his wife for a long time now, is struggling to accept the fact that his wife cheated on him and is trying to keep the family afloat. And finally, we have Gaynor (Gus Birney) and Jake (Dylan Gage), the two kids where the former is a quintessential rebellious teenage girl and the latter is an obese introverted kid who has his own struggles. This dysfunctional family moves into a new house where terrible atrocities have taken place in the past. It is only Pat who seem to be having visions and finding things odd until everything gradually starts becoming natural and real from supernatural.
Having had the chance to see six episodes of the comedy-horror series before hand, here's what I thought of it-ALSO READ: Saba Azad’s high-spirited performance on the runway causes a stir on social media- WATCH
Delicious Black Humor
As I mentioned above, I love me some delicious black humor and Shining Vale does is so right. There are some incredibly hilarious yet discomforting lines and situations which suit the mood perfectly. For instance, as the real estate lady leaves after dropping the Phelps at their new home as they talk about how their unfulfilled sexual needs and other things, Cox's Pat asks the the lady if there the heat in the house works. To which, she mentions that the house has been empty for two years and says 'she's probably not used to having people inside of her' thus also becoming a joke at the Phelps' couple's story.
This is just instance of the smart, witty and hysterical lines that Shining Vale has aplenty. It is touted to be a comedy and it delivers exceedingly.
I wasn't too impressed with the horror elements in the first couple of episodes because it was formulaic. The quintessential Conjuring-esue setting, a spirit that only one person can see etc are done and dusted tropes. But as the plot thickens and the spirit conjugates with Pat and her writing, the horror gets better. There is a sense of psychological horror blending in with the usual jump scares which makes it even more effective. To be having the idea that a depressed and borderline psychotic woman is having her encounter with a spirit is a good recipe for horrific instances.
I cannot stress enough how brilliant is the editing of Shining Vale. Be it the back-and-forth scene jumps from having one serious and scary situation going on to almost annoying break with a character asking what juice to make - it is all intentional and incredibly smart. The sharp cuts of Cox's Pat having her visions and the speed-up idea with quick action then breaking into a transitioning scene is done so incredibly well thus making the episodes a treat.
The Length & Easter Eggs
It is always a delight to see makers deciding to keep their show as taut and effective as possible. No episode of Shining Vale crosses 27 minutes which includes a recap and end credits. It is a smart choice to do this and it totally works. You are invested in this world but only enough to come out of it sooner than usual.
The show is filled with Easter eggs and references. The most obvious trivia or Easter Egg that I spotted and you must have too is how Cox reunites with one of F.R.I.E.N.D.S actors, Sherilyn Fenn, who plays Robyn, the estate agent. If you're trying to remember where you saw her in Friends; remember the girl who had a wooden leg? That's her-
Greg Kinnear, Gus Birney and Dylan Gage
Greg Kinnear is a delight in pretty much any role the guy plays. As Terry, he doesn't have to much to do initially but with his character arc having more complexities later, Kinnear is at his usual prime. Gus Birney and Dylan Gage are also effective with their performances while Mira Sorvino as Rosemary, the spirit is also fantastic.
But it all rests on the able shoulders of Courteney Cox. Shining Vale is an example how underrated and under-utilised has Cox been as an actor throughout her career. She is at her absolute best as Pat as apart from nailing the bits of genius comedy, Cox doesn't falter for one bit in the scary, emotional and heavy bits as well. What a towering performance by the actor, who really deserves all the applause possible.
Shining Vale ticks almost every box from being a delicious black comedy with decent horror moments and stupendous performances.
Rating - **** (4/5)ALSO READ: Manushi Chhillar takes London Fashion Week 2023 by storm: Dazzles in black