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Freeform’s DEAD OF SUMMER is a Ridiculous Homage to the Slasher Genre

By on June 8, 2016
ELIZABETH LAIL

(Freeform/Katie Yu) ELIZABETH LAIL

I’m confused by summer TV that sets out to be silly on purpose — like Sharknado and all its sequels, or Syfy’s Z Nation, or while I’m at it, this entire season of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. (Honestly, CBS, what were you thinking?)

My problem is that I never really get why, during the summer months, we’re expected not to take what we’re watching too seriously while still being expected to watch. (Maybe my patience is thin because I get too many advance episodes to review at this time of the year? Maybe it’s because I’m writing this article before I’ve had my coffee? Maybe I don’t care and just want the TV I watch to be good without having to pretend it is when it’s isn’t, regardless of what temperature it is outside?)

Freeform’s upcoming Dead of Summer is one such show that sets out to be ridiculous, and it does a great job at it. The series is set in the 1980’s, but it’s a warm, fuzzy, racially and sexually accepting 1980’s that anyone who actually grew up around then will fail to recognize. The show sees a group of beautiful stereotypes take to Camp Stillwater where they will train to become camp counselors over the summer. Stillwater is about to reopen after being closed down for years and Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell), the new owner, has thrown her heart, soul and life savings into renovating the camp she loved as a child. Poor Deb. Things are about to go disastrously wrong.

Stepping off the bus to meet Deb are the usual suspects — the jock, the nerd, the sexually gregarious female, the token gay, the token person of color and so on. In fact all of the characters from the series are lifted straight from the annals of the 80’s slasher movie genre and will be instantly recognizable to you after only a couple of seconds onscreen. It’s summer, remember? You won’t be expected to have to think too hard in all this heat!

As everyone settles in and prepares for the campers’ arrival, Amy, the group’s token loner with a troubled past (Elizabeth Lail), is the first to get a feeling that something is not right with the idyllic summer camp — especially when the camp’s token crazy handyman warns her to leave before it’s too late.

Dead of Summer is a lot like Joss Whedon’s 2012 critical satire The Cabin in the Woods, but without the critical satire or much of the slashing. With cuddly fantasy-drama Once Upon a Time’s Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis and Ian Goldberg at the helm the show leans more to jump scares than actual acts of violence or gore which will either annoy you, or enamour you further to the show. Or maybe it won’t accomplish either. It’s summer. Is anyone even watching TV?

So how do you make a slasher TV series without any actual slashing? By ramping up all of the other genre tropes, of course. Those tuning in can expect to see all the prerequisite wandering alone in the dark, heading off alone to investigate a strange sound/disturbance/strange looking figure nearbymisadventures in skinny-dipping, and an exhausting number of people suddenly appearing behind other people and scaring them that one might expect. There’s also some spooky found footage, a dead animal, and a couple of bleeding trees thrown in for good measure. What more do you people want? It’s summer, or haven’t you heard? It’s best not get overexcited in these soaring temperatures.

Toss in some inexplicable behavior peculiar to the genre — a woman elects to go swimming in the lake the day after a body is found floating in it, while another character is pursued and terrorised by a ghostly presence only to shrug it off and join her friends immediately afterwards (WTF, people?) — and you’ve got all the elements required for some mindless escapism this summer. Just don’t expect anything new here. It’s summer, and from what I hear, we’re not supposed to take anything on TV too seriously.

Catch the premiere June 28 (9:00 – 10:00 p.m. EDT), on Freeform.

DEAD OF SUMMER - "Patience"

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(Freeform/Katie Yu)ELIZABETH LAIL