Show: Dead Of Summer.
Produced By: Freeform.
Episode: 1, “Patience.”
Running Time: 41 min.
This is 1980’s style horror show set in the granddaddy of all American 80’s horror slasher film set-ups, a camp on a lake with a grisly history, creepy adults, and frolicking teenagers being stalked by a malevolent force.
This show comes out of the latest transition of ABC Family into Freeform and its primary series and movies aimed at teenagers and young adults (usually of the female bent) and of ABC’s self-proclaimed “Becomer” generation that are referred to by everyone else as millennials. This effort to appeal to the becomers has spawned what the company hopes to be an “edgier” form of family entertainment, and this show is one of those efforts in that quarter.
Does it succeed? Well…sort of.
The first thing of note is the opening.
As it starts we find a man playing at a piano surrounded by candles in what appears to be a communal area of the camp, who struggles to continue to play even as he is taken down by a group of men. While this happens it cuts to the peacefully gruesome image of numerous bodies floating in the aptly named Stillwater Lake.
This was a great opening, establishing some of the mysterious bloody history that will be explored further into the show, and a good hook for further viewing, impressive horror-wise for a show from a parent company that usually sticks to the family programing block.
The rest of the show’s contents however leave it pretty much as a question mark on whether you can dub this a good or bad show.
The characters are a varied bunch of 80’s knock offs and some other long running character trope at first glance, likely purposeful considering the theme going on, all of who have yet to establish themselves outside of their types, but the episode did show some hints of development that will hopefully take them outside their one dimentionality, such as Polo shirt wearing pepsi ad kid who was ripping name tags off of cloths (was he stealing them? is he perhaps not who he claims to be?).
The cast has some diversity, which also helps, with some ethnic diversity is given towards two characters who embody the hot girl character trope and what may be read in the other as dangerously close to tokenism without much else going for him personality wise.
There is also some queer character presence with two of the teens, a gay teen and a transgender teen, but as usual it is as side characters, and may or may not suffer the fate of either only being tokens in their own right, or get just enough character development to tip them out of one dimentional-dom and killed off, and with this being a horror, and side characters so far to boot, it isn’t saying much.
So far the character lineup is only marginally hopeful at best, but it is still early days, and the show may surprise us, and to give the cast credit, they are doing a decent job with what they have.
Meanwhile, outside of the opening, the narrative presented so far is just as a mixed bag as the characters presented in the first episode so far.
The mystery surrounding the Camp Owner’s motivations is interesting, particularly her relationship to the camp and that mysterious box she dug up. the hints of secrets with the campers given at the end of the episode were also interesting, presenting a sort of promise in plot development, and the moments between token Characterless with his video camera and the mysterious figure that shows up in his footage are great tension fodder.
The not so great elements of the story were some of the eye rolling cliché satanic plot devices that felt a little over the top in a ham-fisted slap you upside the head so evil way, particularly the map of the camp, which has provided much tinder for the groanege flames.
Overall, does it succeed in being something of a edgier family program? I would have to say that it wasn’t a bad first episode in this attempt. It presents something of an interesting, though well used horror premise, that has some recognizable 1980’s horror movie “where’s Waldo?” elements for the older audiences to enjoy, and the visuals were not something seen too often in standard family television fare. But it does suffer from a few lack luster characters, particularly the lead, and plot devices come across as lazily written, even if some of the mystery and horror was good here and there.
As far as recommendations go I would recommend at least giving it a ganter if you remember, or enjoy, old slasher horrors but otherwise, don’t get too committed to the characters until it’s had a few episodes to show which way the wind blows in that regard, and be aware that this definitely has that aimed at a stereotypical straight white teen girl feel to it, evidenced by the lead character and her interactions with the others, so it may or may not appeal to target audiences that fall outside this niche.
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