Life has moved on for the cast of “Friends”. Of the group, Jennifer Aniston carved out a successful career in Hollywood and has been able to sustain it. Ditto for Matt LeBlanc and, of course, Courteney Cox.
The others, while bagging projects, drift in and out of the spotlight.
And Cox, who has had surgical help on her face over the years, has been proving her chops as an executive producer on the big and small screen.
In “Shining Vale”, she also has a starring role opposite Greg Kinnear and Mira Sorvino.
The eight-part series starts off with the best of intentions. Take a dysfunctional family, house them in this abandoned grandiose residence in Connecticut, and let the spooky incidents propel the thrills, heightening the comedy and the drama to an extent.
The series opens like most American horrors – with a road trip.
The Phelps family are making their way to their new home. Dad Terry (Kinnear) is annoying his teenage daughter Gaynor (Gus Birney) with his singing.
Meanwhile, mom Patricia (Cox), aka Pat, is reliving her steamy encounter with the handyman. And their awkward son Jake (Dylan Gage) is glued to his only salvation from the drama – his phone.
As they near the town of Shining Vale, Pat almost causes Terry to have an accident when she tries to get him to brake, to avoid hitting a little girl, who ran onto the road to retrieve her ball.
But it turns out to be a false alarm. Terry fobs it off as Pat having imagined the whole incident.
When they pull up in front of this eerie-looking mansion, which Jake calls a hotel, Pat tries to befriend this neighbour peeking in, only to find her disappear in the blink of an eye.
She brushes it off and the family settles in for a night of takeaways on the floor, as their dining room table has been mislaid.
With the kids retreating to their rooms, Terry tries to get lucky with his wife as they haven’t spent any quality time since she cheated.
While he tries to get the mood right in the room, Pat, making herself a warm drink, is startled by the image of a woman outside their living room window.
The incident is brushed off as nerves and they go to bed.
As the episodes play, several things become clear. Terry is a loyal husband, who is struggling to keep the family together and his marriage alive.
Pat is unhappy. Period. She hasn’t written a novel since her erotic best-seller 17 years ago. She’s depressed and on medication. She feels guilty for being unfaithful and tries to make up for it in little ways.
While she’s a stay-at-home mom, cleaning or cooking isn’t her forte. Aside from takeaway dinners, her attempt at making lunch involves a peanut butter and jam sandwich – one that she doesn’t quite get right for her son, who despises jam but loves the crust.
With a deadline looming for her next book, which she was given an advance for six years ago, Pat tries her best to use the solitude in their new home to get cracking on churning out those chapters.
But she’s distracted by oddities in the home and their fur baby’s unsettled nature, which causes him to bark relentlessly.
Then there’s the strange dreams and the ghost of Rosemary. The couple’s therapist seems to think that this is Pat’s alter-ego and is her muse.
She agrees until she stumbles upon an old home video on a projector, which shows the same woman celebrating her son’s birthday. But the time period dates back to the 1950s.
As she engages with Rosemary, who tries to reclaim her unfulfilled life through Pat and her writing, Pat falls off the wagon and becomes more dependent on her antidepressants and anxiety medication.
Meanwhile, Gaynor is “adopted” by their spiritual neighbour and spends most of her time with the neighbour's son, who she has a major crush on but he is in the chastity club. And Jake, who befriends a new kid, joins a gaming club and is totally immersed in this virtual horror game.
Then there is Terry, who is attracted to his work colleague. He finds himself in a conundrum when Pat unwittingly sabotages a major client deal and, on the back of it, resigns.
Now Pat will be a shock to the system for fans of Monica (“Friends”). But she’s brilliantly flawed as a paranoid writer and somewhat unhinged wife and mother.
“Shining Vale” gives one a serious throwback to “The Amityville Horror”. Of course, it tries to offset the intensity with humour, which works in part.
That said, the issues feel very repetitive and, at times, ill-placed. The ending, while poetic in a sense, doesn’t quite tie up the loose ends and you get this incomplete feeling.
Bottom line, it’s all hype – like “The Haunting of Bly Manor” – but there is little entertainment to be extracted when story arcs remain incomplete.
“Shining Vale” is streaming on Showmax.