×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: Freeform’s ‘Dead of Summer’

The teen horror series is loaded with clichés, but with enough popcorn, it might make for a fun summer fling

With:
Cast: Elizabeth Mitchell, Elizabeth Lail, Zelda Williams, Mark Indelicato, Alberto Frezza, Eli Goree, Ronen Rubinstein, Amber Coney, Paulina Singer

With a title like that, Freeform’s vacation offering “Dead of Summer” is inviting any number of headline puns: “dead on arrival,” “dead in the water,” “dead boring,” et cetera, ad nauseum. The puns would not be entirely wrong, either; “Dead Of Summer” is a very silly new show that samples nearly every available cliché in the summer-camp-horror genre all at once, making for a messy homage to “Friday The 13th” that reads partly as satire and partly as meditative gothic horror. Nearly every scene in the first three episodes sent to critics is laden with some kind of terrible portent, which I know because the score histrionically hits the strings every time something is supposed to be shocking. That, and usually someone screams. In the astonishingly bad first episode, our bland protagonist Amy (Elizabeth Lail) screams in horror upon encountering: a mouse, a ghost holding a balloon, her own memories, a cute cop she already has a crush on, a dead body, a boy holding a video camera and a bloody deer.

But “Dead of Summer” does have a satisfying campy layer — new headline pun: “putting the camp back in summer camp!” — which lays it on thick with the lurking horror of the woods around Camp Stillwater and the implausibly sophisticated secrets of this batch of horny teenagers. The story follows a group of camp counselors who stumble into a small town teeming with demon worshippers and disgruntled ghosts. The teens are quickly plagued by nightmares that stir up both their own individual demons and create encounters with the haunted spiritual plane of the cursed Lake Stillwater. But of course, no one goes home, because they are too excited to be teenagers free of their parents for a few weeks. In the grand tradition of moralizing terror, alcohol use, drug use and eating disorders each get dinged for creating vulnerabilities for evil to prey on innocents in the first few episodes, though I am putting that a lot more succinctly than the episode manages to. Mostly, “Dead of Summer” is insinuation and visual tricks, where paper-thin characters are either supposed to be scary or scared.

Beyond the crowded, confusing pilot — which shoves characters’ secrets, standing feuds and clandestine romances at the viewer with all the delicacy of a speeding truck — later episodes of “Dead of Summer” are more comprehensible. But the show never stops being mostly ridiculous. Perhaps the silliest conceit of all is that the show is supposed to be set in 1989. In the second episode, a major plot point revolves around a character experiencing anxiety about being called a “commie” because he has a Russian name. In the third episode, one counselor gives another a mixtape. The first song on it is “Jane Says,” by Jane’s Addiction. And in the pilot, a character showily reads a Rolling Stone issue announcing the upcoming “Batman” with Michael Keaton. Maybe this is all an homage to the decade of “Friday The 13th” — and maybe this is a warmed over idea from a few decades ago that only now got a chance to shine. But it’s perplexing, because this is a show on Freeform, a channel directed at young adults. Will today’s high schoolers, born from 1998 to 2002, even know what a mixtape is?

Somehow, the fact that no one is going to get it makes “Dead of Summer” more fleetingly appealing. It’s not knowing enough to be really campy, but it is not so unsophisticated that it isn’t occasionally frightening. And like so many teen dramas are, it is deadly earnest about its characters’ angst, from the boat-shoe wearing jock kid to the ugly duckling who grew up into a teen swan. Borrowing a page from its sister show (and lead-in) “Pretty Little Liars,” there’s even an adult-teen romance with the 40-ish camp director and a camcorder-toting counselor. It’s all very (melo)dramatic, in a way that it’s easy to get lost in; the ups and downs of girls trying to get laid, the back and forth of boys making bets about who they’ll score with.

And though “Dead of Summer” is a period piece, it has a modern lens on racial politics and queer identities. For example, the backstory to the devil worshipping cult includes the murder of a black piano player; it looks like a lynching that used magic as an excuse to get the deed done. And the counselors include a trans character, Drew, who is still keeping this fact a secret when he starts crushing on one of his co-counselors. This is not a show that is particularly original; every twist is a cliché, and every character is playing to type. But with so many well-worn at play, “Dead of Summer” makes for a schlocky hour that never quite gets boring. At the very least, while escaping the dog days of summer inside with the air-conditioning, there’s plenty of fun to be had in laughing at how bad it is.

TV Review: Freeform’s 'Dead of Summer'

Series: Freeform, Tue. June 28, 9 p.m.

Production: Executive producers, Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Ian Goldberg, Steve Pearlman. 60 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Elizabeth Mitchell, Elizabeth Lail, Zelda Williams, Mark Indelicato, Alberto Frezza, Eli Goree, Ronen Rubinstein, Amber Coney, Paulina Singer

More TV

  • 'Russian Doll' Review

    TV Review: 'Russian Doll'

    This is a particularly tricky review to write, but not because the merits of “Russian Doll” are at all ambiguous. On the contrary, the show is so striking and smart that I made a note to include it on my favorite TV shows of 2019 immediately after blowing through the season — which is saying [...]

  • Black Earth Rising Review

    TV Review: 'Black Earth Rising'

    Bringing to bear a talented cast on a story of real geopolitical significance, “Black Earth Rising,” Netflix’s drama about the long-tail aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, would seem to have had the potential to be one of 2019’s early television successes. Which makes its falling short all the more painful and pronounced. The show, previously [...]

  • DIRTY JOHN -- "This Young Woman

    'Dirty John' Finale Hits New Ratings Highs in Live+3

    The Season 1 finale of “Dirty John” on Bravo continued the scripted show’s ratings hot streak in Live+3. The finale, which aired on Jan. 13, grew to 3.3 million viewers in delayed viewing with 1.3 million of those falling in the key adults 18-49 demographic. That is up 10% in total viewers and 15% in [...]

  • Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join

    Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join ITV-Backed Production Company Possessed

    Former Sky One and Sky Living programming chief Adam MacDonald has joined Possessed, and will be the ITV-owned production banner’s first chair. The U.K.-based unscripted producer has also hired Lesley Davies, former head of international production at Warner Bros. She will head up production. The double hires follow a recommission  of gameshow “5 Gold Rings,” [...]

  • China’s CGTN Boards ‘Drowning in Plastic’

    China’s CGTN Boards ‘Drowning in Plastic’ Documentary

    China Global Television Network, the English-language news channel that is part of China Central Television, has come on board high profile environmental documentary “Drowning in Plastic.” The show is represented by all3media international, and the agreement is the first between the two companies. CGTN comes on board as co-producer alongside Raw, and BBC One. The [...]

  • Operation Red Sea review

    Chinese Entertainment Industry Braces for a 'Cold Winter' in 2019

    Winter is here for the Chinese entertainment industry, a half-dozen top-tier industry professionals concurred in Beijing at the launch last week of Tencent Entertainment’s annual data-filled white paper. China’s box office hit new heights in 2018, raking in about $9 billion, but it was also a year of drastic regulatory changes and a government tax [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content