Shining Vale episode one recap: Welcome to Casa De Phelps

Shining Vale - Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels III/STARZ
Shining Vale - Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels III/STARZ /

Starz just premiered the first two episodes of Shining Vale, and genre fans  have been very excited about the horror/comedy mashup. The series stars Courteney Cox of Scream, and Greg Kinnear as Pat and Terry Phelps.

Pat and Terry are on the road to the town of Shining Vale (“Shining Vale: Your place to shine!”) with their two teenagers Gaynor (Gus Birney) and Jake (Dylan Gage), and their fluffy little dog Roxie. Their aim is to reconnect as a family after Pat’s fling with the handyman at their Brooklyn apartment. Or, as their hormonal daughter Gaynor puts it, “Mom boned some rando.”

Jake is the younger sibling, can’t keep his eyes off his phone, and barely notices when the car screeches to a halt after Pat sees them almost hit a little girl who steps out in front of them. Terry didn’t see anything, but obligingly gets out of the car to check. No little girl, it must have been a deer.

When the family reaches the large, creepy looking mansion, Pat and Terry are already on edge, with Terry trying to come to grips with his wife’s infidelity and Pat battling depression and stress. She wrote a successful novel called Cressida Unbound many years ago, and her agent is threatening to take back the advance Pat received for her stalled new novel. Truth is, she hasn’t even begun writing it, something she hopes to remedy by utilizing the new home’s attic space as an office.

Shining Vale
Shining Vale – Courtesy of Kat Marcinowski/STARZ /

Who is that old-fashioned woman in Shining Vale?

Soon, Pat starts seeing what she describes as an old-fashioned woman inside and outside the house, and it’s pretty clear the woman is a ghost, since her first words to Pat are, “What are you doing in my house?”

Shining Vale is partly comedy, but the creepy factor is 100% present throughout, and often the two genres overlap. When Pat sees the ghost, she tells Terry the woman was in the living room, but there are so many rooms in this vast mansion he has to get further clarification. Was it the living room, or the family room, or maybe the library?

Pat also sees another woman a few times; one who seems to appear suddenly, then just as quickly disappears. Is this woman a ghost too, or one of the Phelps’s new neighbors?

There are so many fun homages to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in Shining Vale, including the fact that the curtains are the same print as the iconic rug in the Overlook Hotel. An axe also plays a big role, as Terry starts channeling his anger into chopping wood, and of course Pat’s anxiety about writing her book is much the same as Jack Torrance’s in the 1980 blockbuster.

What’s even better, is that there are Easter Eggs related to other horror films in this series as well. Maybe this is a stretch, but the scene where a ball mysteriously rolls towards Pat put me in mind of the infamous red ball scene in The Changeling, and a scene in the second episode pays tribute to Paranormal Activity. I’m sure a second viewing would show up others, but those are the two that struck me on my first watch.

Courteney Cox and Greg Kinnear are very well-rounded actors, able to play both horror and comedy successfully, and they don’t disappoint in Shining Vale. Everyone knows about Cox’s legendary roles as Monica in Friends and as Gale in the Scream films. But Kinnear, who is mainly known for playing amiable guys, also appeared in 2000’s The Gift (a vastly underappreciated horror film in my opinion), and in last year’s series The Stand.

Gus Birny is great as the promiscuous Gaynor, who has quick wit and a sharp tongue and Dylan Gage plays the socially awkward Jake to perfection. His character can’t maintain eye contact, and is so distracted by his phone that he walks downstairs ready for his first day of school not wearing shoes.

Sherilyn Finn (of Twin Peaks fame) gives a fun performance as the Phelps’s realtor Robyn, and Mira Sorvino (Mimic) is creepy and intriguing as the ghost.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of Shining Vale. It’s a fun and fantastic blend of comedy and horror (with plenty of jump scares), and I am fully invested in the characters and story. I’m looking forward to learning more about Pat’s history of depression and about Terry’s suppressed anger.

Oh, yeah, and who is Daisy, the one whose height is recorded on the inside of that creepy closet that Pat is drawn to? And who exactly is the ghost? What’s up with that stealthy neighbor? Soooo many questions!

The first two episodes of Shining Vale can now be watched on Starz now, with new episodes breaking weekly. Visit the website for a special subscription offer of $5 per month for the first three months.

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Did you watch the first two episodes of Shining Vale? Were you intrigued enough to keep watching? Tell us what you thought in the comments section.