During this time of year, there’s a never-ending slew of horror-related films and television shows coming out. Trust me, I know, seeing I’ve reviewed quite a few over the past couple of weeks. But hey, when spooky season has arrived, what’s one more to add to the collection? So if you’re all caught up on the likes of American Horror Story and Chucky, and eagerly waiting for more episodes of Goosebumps, Starz has something coming up for you. Shining Vale season 2 is releasing after the deliciously wicked ending to season one.
Returning on an October Friday the 13th, Shining Vale is bringing another eight episodes this second season, continuing the story of Pat Phelps and her family as they attempt to find a new normal in a small town. Created by Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan, Shining Vale continues being directed solely by women, with Liz Friedlander doing so for the first episode of season two, “Chapter 9- Homecoming”, which Astrof wrote. The horror-comedy series stars Courteney Cox, Greg Kinnear, and Mira Sorvino, and promises to bring just as many laughs as chills. So should you make the return trip to Shining Vale? Continue on… at your own risk!
[Warning: spoilers and impressions from Shining Vale season 2 are below!]
A shaky foundation as Shining Vale season 2 begins
When we last left off with the Phelps at the end of season one, the family wasn’t doing so hot. Having moved to Shining Vale under the pretenses of Pat’s (Cox) affair, the family was looking to start over in small-town America. However, Shining Vale had something else in store for them. Pat tried her best to adjust to the middle of nowhere living, working on her next bestselling novel, but it was tough. She felt like she wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the rest of stay-at-home mothers, a fact that’s highlighted by Rosemary (Mira Sorvino), the ghost living in her house.
Rosemary is the epitome of a 1950s housewife, a fact that haunts both of these women. In each other they can see an ideal life, however are trapped in their respective circumstances. Although, perhaps they can be some help to each other. Factoring into the slow descent into madness are the other members of the Phelps family, all of which impact Pat in different ways.
Terry (Kinnear) is the “ideal” loving husband, but his passiveness, bordering on passive-aggressive, has led to a lot of conflict in his life. He wants what’s best for his family and at times seems to truly want to be with Pat, but their relationship isn’t strong. It’s barely even functional. He’s also clearly the favorite parent among his children, but he’s too busy trying to hold his family together to be an active participant among them.
Then there’s Gaynor (Gus Birney), the eldest daughter of Pat and Terry, who has a serious chip on her shoulder. She despised her mother with a fiery passion. She goes out of her way to make Pat feel bad because anger is more acceptable than the sadness she has. You can tell she feels betrayed by Pat’s actions, perhaps a bit more involved in the relationship issues of her parents. She also seeks validation from others, causing her to be in some less-than-stellar situations with men and friends.
Last but not least, there’s Jake (Dylan Gage), the introverted technology-obsessed younger son of the couple. Jake’s more of a side character, but within the show and in the dynamics of the family. He’s quiet and usually agreeable, often tagged as the easier of the two children. However, as a result, he is often overlooked.
The family dynamics are problematic, a point that the series shines a spotlight on, and which is something that boils over by the end of season one. Annoyed, drugged up, and possessed by a ghost, Pat takes her frustrations out on Terry, with an axe. As one does. This action, while not of her own accord, lands Pat in a psychiatric hospital at the hands of her daughter. A situation that mirrors Pat’s relationship with her own mother. However, four months later, Pat returns home, ready for her second chance.
Life’s a dream in the second season of this Starz series
When Pat arrives back home, nothing is quite the same. Her husband Terry has survived the brutal attack at her hands, but he’s far from being okay. The physical and cognitive damage it had on him is monumental, leaving him with a long journey ahead to heal his body and mind. A part of that is that he doesn’t remember anything about the attack or what brought the family to Shining Vale, to begin with. Instead, he’s absolutely obsessed with Pat, wishing to rekindle the love they had.
Gaynor has taken on the maternal role of the family while her mother’s been away, not only for her brother but her father as well. She’s carrying an unfathomable burden, which only strengthens her anger towards her mother. The only one that seems to be thriving is Jake, who’s become the high school mascot, hanging up his technology and finally finding his place.
Her release from the hospital corresponds with the release of Pat’s new book, which seems to be an instant bestseller. However, it’s far from the book Pat wants out in the world, wishing to leave everything from her time in Shining Vale behind her. However, Shining Vale has something else in store for her. With the appearance of a new neighbor, Ruth (Sorvino), who looks exactly like the ghost Rosemary. Is she connected to the ghost who pushed her to a mental breakdown? And what horrors does Shining Vale have in store for the Phelps family this time? All those answers and more are in Shining Vale season 2
The positives and negatives of Shining Vale Season 2
When I watched the first season earlier this year I was pleasantly surprised by this series. The cross between horror and comedy was done brilliantly, without feeling too stupid. Shining Vale is egregiously outrageous, but in an enjoyable manner without crossing a line into the obscene. Season 2 leans a bit more into that approach to its story, which negatively impacts it.
Shining Vale season 2 decides to pick a different horror trope to follow, setting aside the ghost story for something else. However, in doing so, the show becomes messy. It attempts to try its hand at too many of the tropes, becoming lost in the mix without finding itself until the very end of the season. Personally, I believe the best course of action is to pick one and follow it through completely, which I think would have helped unify the season a bit more.
Because there are so many threads, at times the story becomes difficult to follow. The narrative begins to bounce around in ways that made me feel like I was also descending into madness. This is perhaps one of the effects that those who made the series were happening to create for viewers. However, instead, it made me have to step away frequently, having to process what I just witnessed.
While the season becomes a little lost in the story, by the end, you finally get a sense of where the overall narrative is going for Shining Vale. If it gets picked up for a season three, there’s a clear direction forward, and a simpler story to follow along with. How we got to some of the conclusions and situations remains foggy, however, if you can make it through the muddled mess of season 2, the promise is totally worth it.
The story might have felt a little bipolar, but Shining Vale season 2 was still incredibly enjoyable to watch. What makes the show so fantastic are the three main leads, who have unbelievable chemistry and banter with each other. Cox and Sorvino continue to be the powerhouses behind this series, but Kinnear stole the show of Shining Vale season 2. His attack at the end of the first season provided a ton of material for him to work with, and boy does he work it well. He’s hilarious, making me laugh in every interaction he has throughout this season. The way season two ends puts Terry in the spotlight and I just know that if a season three is coming, Greg Kinnear will run the show once again.
Final thoughts on Shining Vale on Starz
While this season has some definite issues and some bumps along the way, there’s still plenty of what made season one great present in the second season. A lot of that is owed to the stars of the show because they truly carry it through any misstep that befalls it. If you’ve watched the first season, then you should absolutely continue on and see just what Pat and her family are up to this time around.
Shining Vale season 2 begins tonight on Starz. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on watching it!