On Starz’s horror/comedy Shining Vale, dysfunctional is the norm. The series tells the story of the Phelps family who move into a Victorian mansion in small-town Connecticut to rebuild their family after Pat (Courteney Cox) is caught cheating on her husband, Terry (Greg Kinnear) – along with their kids Gaynor (Gus Birney) and Jake (Dylan Gage).
Things start relatively smoothly until the mansion they moved into to get away from their demons reveals a demon of its own, literally (in the form of Rosemary, Mira Sorvino). While it may sound like a horror series (which it is), it is also a family drama, a comedy, and a tale of addiction.
Awards Radar sat down with Jeff Astrof, the Co-Creator, Executive Producer, Showrunner & Writer for the xxxx series to discuss just where in the hell this unique blend of genres originated. During a meeting with a producer Astrof recalled learning about a show pitch from the ultra talented co-creator, writer and star of Catastrophe and Bad Sisters. “Sharon Horgan wants to do The Shining as a comedy.” His response, “I’m doing that. I knew I wanted to do something genre bending.”
“I saw Sharon had a few pages written on it,” Astrof said. “Right at the end, it said that women are more than twice as likely as men to be possessed and depressed and the symptoms are exactly the same. And I was like, ‘Well, that’s an unbelievable hook.'”
Though the hook was there, bigger challenges lied ahead when mashing up the genres. “Balancing the tone is really different because regular sitcom jokes don’t necessarily work,” explained Astrof. “Sometimes you get away with them. Sometimes, I’ll look at a joke and be like, ‘All right, that’s a little bit joking.” That’s where having a “genius” like Horgan is really valuable. “Sharon, especially is really allergic to that,” said Astrof. “She’s fantastic at letting me know what she thinks doesn’t work.”
Astrof’s goal is to make series that is funny as it is scary – the two are not the polar opposites people think. “I always noticed that you laugh after a big scare. And I’m like, ‘Oh man, if we can combine the two of these, that would be fantastic,'” he proclaimed. His ambitions do not stop there. “One of the big things that I liked doing was just making it a family show – it’s a family drama. If you take out the horror, it’s really a family drama. It’s about a broken family.”
To pull this off this great challenge Astrof has an all-star cast, Cox, Kinnear, and Sorvino are just the beginning. The showrunner has also assembled an impressive list of guest stars including Judith Light, Alysia Reiner, Alison Tolman, Merrin Dungey, Harriet Harris, and Sherilyn Fenn. You may have caught on that the list was some of the most talented actresses out there, but also have reached an age where roles become scarce.
“Mira (Sorvino) said something to me when we were shooting the finale yesterday,” recalled Astrof. “She said, ‘Now you get to be a certain age as a woman and they just write you as a hard-boiled detective whose uterus is in a trash can somewhere. It’s not sexy.” Thankfully, Astrof avoids the pitfalls so much of Hollywood falls into by writing rich characters that across age groups, including Sorvino as a sultry demon. “I like writing for underserved people… They don’t get cast as much anymore and they’ve got so much to give” Bravo!
As witnessed during a premiere screening of the first two episodes of season two of Shining Vale at New York Comic Con, the fans notice and appreciate his efforts.
Season two of Shining Vale is just beginning with new episodes premiering on Fridays only on Starz. Watch the full interview with Jeff Astrof below along with some photos from the recent The Escape to Shining Vale party at NYCC.
The Escape to Shining Vale party at NYCC