June 28, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Dead of Summer”


DEAD OF SUMMER:  Tuesday 9PM on Freeform – If Nothing Else Is On…

Freeform’s DEAD OF SUMMER arrives with A-list auspices.  Two of its co-creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, are also the creators of Once Upon A Time (the remaining co-creator and series showrunner, Ian Goldberg, is a former Once writer/producer), and Horowitz directed the pilot to boot.  The adult star is Elizabeth Mitchell, whose many credits include working with Kitsis and Horowitz on Once and before that, on Lost, and the teen lead is Elizabeth Lail, who also recurred on Once.   For all that, its first hour positions it as another piece of shlock on its network’s growing pile.

The shlockiness of Dead of Summer is in part deliberately built into its concept.  It’s another riff on the teen slasher subgenre, and among that group, it’s certainly less obnoxiously campy than FOX’s Scream Queens and slicker than MTV’s Scream.  It’s set for maximum retro appeal in a 1981 summer camp that’s called Camp Stillwater but might as well bear the name Crystal Lake, a place where something terrible happened a century before, something to do with a black piano player and a lot of dead bodies in the lake.  In 1981, the camp is being reopened by new owner Deb Carpenter (Mitchell), and the story begins in the week when the counselors show up to get the place ready for the summer’s campers.

The pilot centers on the counselor who might as well have Final Girl written on her forehead:  Amy (Lail), who’s blonde and pretty, and who’s the only counselor not to have previously been a camper at Stillwater.  For a few minutes it seems as though Kitsis, Horowitz and Goldberg are going to do something subversive with the formula.  In their favored style, Dead intersperses a flashback story with present-tense events, and there’s the suggestion of something shadowy in jumpy Amy’s past.  Disappointingly, it turns out to be no more than a sense of guilt about having unintentionally played a part in the accidental death of her best friend.  Presumably in the course of the season, everyone will turn out to have a secret or two, hopefully some of them more interesting than Amy’s.

The other counselors are so far colorless, identifiable only by easy-to-recognize traits (The Gay One, The One With The Camcorder, etc).  The series creators try to juice things up with shock cues on the soundtrack, a gutted deer and of course an early guest star death, but none of it is original or particularly scary.  Kitsis and Horowitz’s smooth storytelling is so far in the service of very little.  Their Once Upon A Time is more known for its narrative twists than its memorable dialogue, and the Dead pilot script lacks the former while not bettering the lattter.  To be sure, Mitchell’s presence classes things up a bit, and perhaps eventually there will be a dimension to her role that justifies her taking the part, an aspect that’s not yet on view.

Freeform has given Dead of Summer its best available lead-in from Pretty Little Liars, but that show has done a limited amount for Chasing Life and Stitchers, one canceled and the other barely hanging on.  Dead is probably more compatible than those, yet still far from memorable.  For teen audiences seeking a low-impact midweek supplement to weekend movies like The Conjuring 2, though, it might have some mild seasonal appeal.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."