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‘Shining Vale’ Review: Courteney Cox and Greg Kinnear Get Trapped in a Middling Horror Comedy Rehash

Much like the family at the center of it, this half-hour Starz show is thin, disconnected, and probably better off in a different form altogether.

Shining Vale Starz Courteney Cox and Greg Kinnear

“Shining Vale”

Kat Marcinowski

Shining Vale” is less a horror comedy than a show with the illusion of both horror and comedy. Rather than weave together its swirling ideas about family and regret and the fact that teen boys often smell bad, “Shining Vale” exists as a series of bits and nods to other stories that better pull off that combination of jokes and jumps.

In isolation, there are stretches where stars Courteney Cox and Greg Kinnear arrive in the general vicinity of the better version of the show they’re locked in to. As couple Pat and Terry Phelps, deep in the midst of a transitional phase of their marriage, Cox and Kinnear are asked to play these people as fundamentally fractured. Pat is still reeling from a momentary affair that threatened to implode her already tenuous family connection. Their daughter Gaynor (Gus Birney) acts out in every way she can and their son Jake (Dylan Gage) is a homebody gamer with interests that none of the other three can really relate to. Terry is a bumbling dad who’s great at embarrassing his kids and is somehow irresistible to anyone who doesn’t happen to share a home with him.

And what a home it is. After the tumult of Pat’s affair, the family decides to move into a manor, the kind usually introduced via spooky establishing shots at night with swirling leaves out front, illuminated only by a single bolt of lightning. It’s ominous from the outset, yet through gritted teeth Pat and Terry both claim it’s the change of pace the Phelps clan needs. Before long, particularly as Pat faces a mean case of writers block working on a follow-up to an infamous smash hit romance novel, it becomes apparent that the house isn’t quite as empty as the family may have assumed while moving in.

Shining Vale Starz Family

“Shining Vale”

Kat Marcinowski

As all of this plays out, “Shining Vale” constantly gets stranded in its own middle ground. The Phelps are a truly miserable family, to the point where every temptation — the story Pat eventually begins to write, Terry’s work crush, Gaynor’s would-be boy-next-door high school boyfriend, and Jake’s buddies inside the metaverse — seems like a better option for everyone involved. The show uses this dysfunction as joke fodder, giving this ensemble one-liners not necessarily because they make sense for the characters but because the show needs to present the acidic kind of atmosphere that makes the eventual horror turns an easier pivot.

Only, that darker part of the show seems just as forced. There’s a frenetic energy to “Shining Vale” that isn’t so much the product of getting into the headspace of a family in turmoil but a show that feels adrift between trying to set up fraught parent-child interactions and then stumbling on the house’s skeletons (metaphorical and otherwise). When it’s not undercutting every single moment of tension for a laugh, it’s reverting to easy stings to try and drum up even the slightest bit of dread.

“Shining Vale” notably tries to do both with Pat’s writing sessions. The idea that forces within the house could help Pat shake her anxieties while also presenting potential new ones is at least a functional germ of an idea. But the execution of the flashbacks, blurring lines between her own imagination and the tangible effects the house is having on the other Phelpses, range from mildly interesting to inert and repetitive. “Shining Vale” is a murder mystery without much mystery, a family comedy with barely either, and a horror story only so far as it cribs from genre classics with a few extra hyperactive cuts.

Maybe the most egregious example of “Shining Vale” not knowing what to do with the pieces at its disposal is its most overt homage. It doesn’t take an experienced cinematic sleuth to recognize that the combination of “writers block,” “ominous new home with a malicious past” and half of the show’s title to see where “Shining Vale” is drawing from. There’s maybe something valuable in a show legitimately interested in gender-swapping the Torrances and doing more than a half-hearted skimming of ‘50s nuclear family iconography. But between the perfunctory appearances of mysterious presence Rosemary (Mira Sorvino) and a particularly flippant attitude toward mental health, “Shining Vale” is a show that consistently takes the easiest possible route to the most unimaginative endpoint.

Shining Vale Starz Courteney Cox

“Shining Vale”

Kat Marcinowski

Series writer Jeff Astrof (a co-creator on the series with Sharon Horgan, who only has a story credit on the pilot) found a much better tonal balance in his NBC true crime comedy anthology “Trial & Error,” a show admittedly goofier but one that had a solid overall understanding of what tropes and details it was riffing on. Very little of that translates here, except for an occasional poisonous one-liner. (Pat’s early quip to someone about a “Time Travel Club” is the rare punchline in the show that feels organic to a character rather than being delivered from a roast dais.) Especially after the success of two different versions of “Ghosts” from opposite sides of the Atlantic, it’s even more plain how nearly every bit of physical humor or jokey misunderstanding falls flat here.

More often that not, “Shining Vale” is content with shoving each Phelps into awkward situations just to wriggle their way out. (See: Terry’s decision to unfurl a giant centerfold porn mag spread, inexplicably while sitting with Jake in a parked car right outside the front of his school.) There’s an argument to be made that no character in this family is really in control, driven by hormones and pride and frustration. But then again, the show containing them really isn’t either. Instead of a genre-blending, rollicking good time, it’s a mismatched jumble of ideas with a dreadfully short attention span. By the time Pat is blacking out for extended periods of time with only vague memories to show for it, it’s hard not to see all the ways that “Shining Vale” is doing the same.

Grade: D+

“Shining Vale” premieres with two episodes on Starz, beginning 10:20 p.m. on Sunday, March 6. Additional episodes will air on Sundays.

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