MTV goes, like, totally mon­ster for hor­ror-com­edy ‘Death Val­ley’

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY KATE O’HARE

For some res­i­dents of such glam­orous Los An­ge­les en­claves as Bev­erly Hills, Santa Mon­ica, Pa­cific Palisades and Venice, where ocean breezes cool and clean the air, the very idea of head­ing over the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains or the Hol­ly­wood Hills into the hot­ter, smog­gier, some­what de­classe San Fer­nando Val­ley can in­spire con­cerns about de­hy­dra­tion, wheez­ing, and un­set­tling glimpses of Bo­tox-free faces and un­for­tu­nate fash­ion.

Start­ing Mon­day, Aug. 29, those petty fears will pale in com­par­i­son to a new threat in the Val­ley: an in­fes­ta­tion of vam­pires, were­wolves and zombies. But fear not; the LAPD is on the job, cre­at­ing the Un­dead Task Force to pro­tect the cit­i­zens of the Val­ley and make sure that the con­ta­gion never reaches the other side.

The UTF’s ad­ven­tures are chron­i­cled in “Death Val­ley,” a scripted hor­ror-com­edy in which doc­u­men­tary cam­era crews fol­low the in­trepid of­fi­cers on their daily — ac­tu­ally nightly — pa­trols.

Spi­der One, founder of the band Pow­er­man 5000, con­ceived of the idea and brought it to Julie and Austin Read­ing at Liq­uid The­ory. They shot an 11-minute pi­lot pre­sen­ta­tion, scripted by Cur­tis Gwinn, which caught MTV’s eye. Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Eric Wein­berg then came in to flesh out the con­cept and turn it into a se­ries.

“The Val­ley gets a bad rap,” says Read­ing, “then you go to the Val­ley, and it’s got ev­ery­thing. It’s very family-friendly, but there is an ob­vi­ous class sys­tem go­ing on in Cal­i­for­nia. Spi­der said this very well: As long as it stays over the Hill, the peo­ple in Hol­ly­wood and Bev­erly Hills and Santa Mon­ica don’t care.

“We don’t give away why it’s just (in the Val­ley). That’s part of our big­ger mythol­ogy. Hope­fully we’ll get enough sea­sons to ex­plain that.”

Read­ing and his fel­low pro­duc­ers also have spe­cific ideas about their su­per­nat­u­ral crea­tures. Vam­pires are por­trayed, as Read­ing says, “very car­tel, ter­ror­ist, gan­g­like.”

Were­wolves are more of an “an­i­mal con­trol” is­sue, need­ing to be locked up dur­ing the full moon but no more harm­ful than other hu­mans the rest of the time.

“Zombies,” says Read­ing, “are like an in­fes­ta­tion and a virus, like rats, and they need to be erad­i­cated.”

On the job with the UTF are Capt. Frank Dashell (Bryan Callen) and Of­fi­cers Joe Stubeck (Charlie San­ders), Billy Pierce (Bryce John­son), Kirsten Landry (Caity Lotz), Carla Ri­naldi (Ta­nia Ray­monde) and John “John-John” John­son (Texas Bat­tle, who, by the way, was born in Hous­ton and went to the Univer­sity of Texas).

Call­ing in to talk “Death Val­ley” from the rainy South Carolina lo­ca­tion of his lat­est job, the movie “Sleep­ing Around,” Callen starts out by de­scrib­ing his char­ac­ter.

“Dashell’s an enigma to the guys,” he says. “He’s ob­vi­ously a bit of a bada... . He’s war-torn. If he wasn’t do­ing this, he would have prob­a­bly had some spe­cial forces ex­pe­ri­ence back in the day that he never talks about.

“But he’s also got this mys­te­ri­ous side. You’re never sure if he’s gay or straight, if he’s a nud­ist. You know he’s got some per­ver­sion some­where. He’s def­i­nitely hav­ing some hard, an­gry sex with some­one, or ev­ery­one; who knows?

“But the one thing you know about this guy is he hates vam­pires. He is go­ing to stop at noth­ing to get this job done, and that is to make sure that the un­dead are cor­ralled and kept sep­a­rate from the good peo­ple of the Val­ley of Los An­ge­les.

“He’s got a lot of com­pas­sion for were- wolves, be­cause were­wolves just got caught at the wrong time. Zombies need to be shot through the head. Vam­pires are just scum­bags. That’s the real en­emy.”

Callen then de­scribes his char­ac­ter’s tense, wary at­ti­tude, his ex­er­cise reg­i­men and his re­stric­tive diet. But when asked about con­sum­ing dairy, he quickly morphs into the voice of Frank Dashell.

“Dairy slows you down,” he says, “clogs me up, you un­der­stand. I’ve got to be watch­ing at all times, be­cause it’s ob­vi­ous were­wolves and es­pe­cially vam­pires do not sleep. Sleep is death, my friend. I keep my­self awake and alive. I keep my arms heavy and my belly tight, you know what I mean?”

Asked what’s the most fun about the job, Callen lets loose with, “The most fun part has been load­ing my guns and blast­ing peo­ple away. That’s the fun part.

“Shoot­ing zombies in the head and stab­bing vam­pires through the heart, that’s a good time. Punch­ing vam­pires and zombies in their face — the action is non­stop. It’s a com­bat unit. We are com­bat-ready at all times.”

As for the con­cept of con­tain­ing the threat in the Val­ley, Callen/Dashell is very clear on that.

“Death Val­ley” pre­mieres Mon­day on MTV.

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