Shining Vale begins with one of the most unusual title cards/disclaimers seen recently. It talks about how women are twice as likely as men to be depressed, listing out the symptoms. It then talks about how women are twice as likely to be possessed and that the symptoms are much the same. It sets the tone for the eight half-hour episodes that follow. Shining Vale tries to mix comedy, satire, horror, and psychological thriller in the unlikeliest of cocktails. It has been done before but not with such irreverence and sharpness. But despite the clever writing, Shining Vale could have been a generic thriller show if not for the saucy performance of its lead–Courteney Cox. Also read: Jennifer Aniston reveals Friends Reunion reminded her of her ‘hardest time’: ‘Hi past, remember how that sucked?’
Shining Vale is the story of Patricia Phelps (Courteney), a writer known for raunchy novels for women, who has to move with her family to a small town for a fresh start after she is caught cheating on her husband. As her husband Terry (Greg Kinnear) and her two teenage kids adjust to life in their new sleepy town, Patricia hits a writer’s block. She is convinced she is either depressed or possessed and can’t decide which one is it. Neither can the viewers as both possibilities are presented as the absolute truth, at least for the first few episodes.
The series keeps you guessing. Is it a tale of demonic possession or a haunting, or is it the story of a woman stuck in a boring cycle of life? Or is it a satire on how women’s mental health is always ignored and pushed into a corner? This weirdly feminist show manages to shine light on women’s mental health issues, the midlife and existential crisis they face in their 50s, and the frustration a woman feels for not being taken seriously, and it does all that without being preachy. For me, one of the best moments of the show is when Pat accuses her husband of mansplaining something to her and he promptly explains to her what mansplaining ‘actually’ is. Simple, subtle, hilarious, and effective.
The writing of Shining Vale keeps it a fun watch throughout the eight episodes. There are jokes on abortion, sexism, ageism, and corporate slavery. Even one of them, written badly, can leave a sour taste in the viewers’ mouths, tarnishing the show. But they all land. Full credit goes to the writers, directors, and the actors for that. But the show isn’t a haha comedy. It won’t have you rolling on the floor laughing. It’s not a jump scare brand horror either and you won’t be hiding behind your blanket or pillow for long. But it has both of these in just the right amount. While the show initially keeps you guessing about whether its horror or a psychological thriller, the mystery begins to unravel gradually. There is no great reveal and the slow burn is engaging enough to keep you hooked.
The cherry on top are the performances, led by the amazing Courteney Cox. She is playing a 51-year-old woman ‘trapped’ in her house and in her life and she brings that claustrophobia out wonderfully. Her interactions with her muse/demon/hallucination are when she feels free and that forbidden bond has been delightfully portrayed by both Courteney and Mira Sorvino, who plays Rosemary, Pat’s tormenter-in-chief. Greg Kinnear as the loving but not too understanding husband is a great foil for the two women. His role is a great example of how you can show a male character as problematic and slightly sexist without him being a ‘bad guy’. He is just a regular man, who has been conditioned a certain way. Among the supporting cast, Gus Birney as Pat’s teenage daughter Gaynor and Susan Park as the Phelps’ god-fearing neighbour Valerie stand out.
Shining Vale premiered in the US on Starz in March. But it wasn’t until June 10 that the series finally began streaming in India when all eight episodes of the first season released on Lionsgate Play. Indian audiences should be thankful for this recent proliferation of OTT platforms in the country that has allowed relatively niche shows like Shining Vale to be available in India.
Series: Shining Vale
Creators: Jeff Astrof, Sharon Horgan
Cast: Courteney Cox, Greg Kinnear, Gus Birney, Dylan Gage, Merrin Dungey, and Mira Sorvino