Hit or Sh**: Freeform’s DEAD OF SUMMER
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
As most people are aware, Freeform is the artist previously known as ABC Family. As such, I was reasonably skeptical at the news that they were attempting a “horror” show, as apart from maybe the new SCREAM series, horror television is almost always entirely dead in the water. But then I did a little research and discovered that the “family” portion of ABC Family was always a misunderstanding. All that it meant was that the network was part of the ABC family, and not that the shows that aired on it were intentionally meant to appeal to a family-friendly audience, which actually ended up inspiring the name change. Although surprised and slightly heartened by this news, this context makes DEAD OF SUMMER all the more confusing. Impotent, tonally confused, and altogether entirely forgettable, this tale of teenaged counselors trying to open a summer camp in the face of paranormal activity feels like it simply isn’t there, existing as 44 minutes of a slow, dull blink.
First and foremost, the setting of DEAD OF SUMMER is a strange one. The sleepaway summer camp was common fodder for horror of yesteryear, especially that of the slasher subgenre, but the series makes no attempt to satirize or even reference its obvious legacy in any way. Considering that more than a handful of years have passed since the general camp setting was en vogue, it’s actually not entirely out of the question that a 2016 series could have something mildly interesting to say about this hallowed horror trope, subversion, inversion, reversion, or otherwise. Instead, DEAD OF SUMMER fails to make any use of location whatsoever, treating us to several scenes of the camp counselors hemming and hawing about skinny dipping in the lake as opposed to doing anything interesting or tense with exploring various parts of the camp apart from the requisite main character’s “Oh golly gosh the power’s out, it’s time to go switch on the breakers with the boy I want to bone.”
Nope, not him!
Which brings us to the characters of DEAD OF SUMMER. There are way, way, way too many of them, contributing to a lukewarm mash of vague and lazy archetypes such as hot bitchy girl, depressed mute that randomly recites facts about Victorian death photography, and possibly lesbian stoner girl. It’s mildly refreshing that flamboyant gay character is accepted with open arms by hunky jock, but the show quickly shoves him away into the shadowy corners, only to have him re-emerge and ruin any good will by loudly discussing how much he wants to get to know the local town sheriff in the Biblical sense. The only character that’s memorable in the slightest is our main girl, Amy, but that’s through no part of interesting writing on her part. Well, that’s not entirely true; the resident camp adult Deb is memorable, but more for the fact that her motives are willfully nonexistent. All that I know about her is that she seems awfully quick to deny any mysterious going-ons and that she also likes to be seen undressing by the counselor who videotapes everything without explaining why, making her inclusion in the show as confusing as the rest of every other point of logic in the pilot.
But anyways, back to Amy. Amy is about as white-bread and nondescript as they come, her character’s internal conflict exposed through only the teeth-pulling of hamfisted and hackneyed flashbacks. And hoo boy, are you ready for why she’s at camp? After moving to a new school and befriending Margot, the pair of them head to a totally bitchin’ party that the police break up. Margot, for fear of having her chances at getting into UW Madison ruined by being arrested for having one shot, rushes upstairs and has a breakdown, flinging herself out of a window instead of facing the Boys in Blue. Amy makes a desperate attempt to save her from her fall, only to have her grip slip and send Margot crashing to her demise. Since they promised to go to camp together, Amy obliges.
Haunted by her moderate culpability in Margot’s death, the show becomes further muddled by suggesting that there’s actually nothing too sinister afoot at the camp. In the penultimate scene, Amy is chased by vengeful spirits all the way to the lake, whereupon sexy sheriff intervenes by somehow delivering the nonsensical line “Don’t let what should be keep you from seeing what is” with a straight face, thereby allowing Amy to realize that ghosts aren’t actually chasing her…? Since trees randomly start spurting blood, a ghostly girl with a red balloon appears in windows, and a tall black man in a top hat pops up in the background of the video that’s recorded, I’m not entirely convinced, especially when the pilot ends with the video camera playing through nonexistent footage by itself, showing the aforementioned tall black man standing in the far, far background of a shot with none of the counselors in it…
The singular interesting thing that occurs is when during the ending montage, Victorian mute sneaks away to the infirmary, the music cuts out, and we’re ready for a killing. However, our expectations are denied when instead we realize that Victorian mute is a girl dressing up as a boy! Man, oh, man, if only I was sure that that would have absolutely anything to do with the overarching plot, whatever that’s supposed to be! After the pilot episode, viewers won’t even have a remote idea of just what in the Hell is going on or why they should care. If PG-13 gore and one half-mast jump scare are your thing, then DEAD OF SUMMER is the show for you.
DEAD OF SUMMER airs on Tuesdays on Freeform