Roush Review: Giving Up the Ghost in ‘Shining Vale’

    The Shining should sue.

    All snark and no wit makes Shining Vale, Starz’s miserable misfire of a horror-comedy, a chore to even try to describe. Burdened with the double handicap of being neither funny nor scary — except in its toxic unpleasantness — the blessedly half-hour series casts Courteney Cox as her most brittle character to date. Pat Phelps is a struggling softcore-porn author whose fling with a hot handyman has led her broken family (including Greg Kinnear, wasting his charisma as her chipper hubby Terry) to move from Brooklyn into a Connecticut mansion that appears to be haunted.

    Or as the campy real-estate agent (played by Twin Peaks‘ Sherilyn Fenn) explains of the sprawling house, “She’s probably not used to having people inside of her.” By Vale‘s standards, that kind of smutty innuendo is a knee-slapper. Shining Vale qualifies for this year’s bad-timing award, having the unfortunate luck to arrive on the heels of the success of CBS’ Ghosts, where the spirits are great company and the “livings” don’t make you want to jump off a cliff.

    Pat is the first to realize “there’s something wrong with this house,” with its tomblike chill, flashing lights and doors that open and close by themselves. Terry’s too busy trying to make the best of a bad domestic situation, and their self-absorbed teenage kids are no help: Gaynor (Gus Birney) is an ill-tempered slut who joins the high-school chastity club so she can seduce a hot Christian classmate, and younger Jake (Dylan Gage) is too busy with his phone to look up, later obsessed by an ominous VR game.

    It’s not every show that would wait five episodes to introduce the family’s one memorable member: Judith Light as Pat’s colorfully cracked mother Joan, whose history with psychosis gives everyone pause. Typically, she’s way underused.

    Before long, potty-mouthed narcissist Pat is exiled to the attic, experiencing blackouts while possessed by a glamorous 1950s spirit (Mira Sorvino) who becomes her muse, filling pages with heavy-breathing drivel. Or could this be a manifestation of her depression, Pat wonders: “Do you think I’m going crazy?”

    I only know that I felt like consulting an exorcist for letting this into my house. For anyone who might have hoped for a 21st-century twist on Noël Coward’s classic Blithe Spirit, forget it. Shining Vale is merely blah.

    Shining Vale, Series Premiere, Sunday, March 6, 10:20/9:20c, Starz

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