‘Shining Vale’ Creator on Quarantine Horror: ‘Depression and Possession Share Similar Symptoms’

Sharon Horgan has created some of the funniest TV shows about disastrous couples on television, with her best-known credits being “Catastophe” and “Divorce.” But his latest comedy, “Shining Vale,” takes his comedy into another realm. It could be hell, madness, or a classic midlife crisis. It could be all three!

Either way, Courteney Cox and Greg Kinnear’s couple, Pat and Terry, are on the edge of the unknown. Pat, a writer struggling to produce her second novel, has a once-in-a-lifetime affair with a handyman. To recuperate, Terry suggests moving to a small town, where they and their teenagers move into a creepy house.

To no one’s surprise, Pat starts seeing a woman named Rosemary (Mira Sorvino) hanging around the cobwebby recesses of the house. It is unclear whether Rosemary is a ghost intent on taking over Pat’s life or a hallucination resulting from a mental breakdown. The show has kept us guessing and laughing so far, even as the family drifts off track.

RELATED: Love, ‘Catastrophe’ Style

“Shining Vale” is how Horgan and his writing partner Jeff Astrof (“Trial & Error”) explore the commonalities between depression and possession through the lens of horror. In a recent conversation on “Salon Talks,” she explores how Pat brings up the madness of menopause, the expansion of shows about women over 40, and whether Pat is an extension of his own identity as a writer.

Watch our “Salon Talks” interview here or read a transcript of the conversation below:

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Shining Vale” is a hard-to-make horror comedy. And you do it in a way that addresses both depression and midlife crisis.

Yeah. Very funny, isn’t it?

Really! But these are common themes in your work. We see a bit through “Catastrophe”. We definitely see it in “Divorce.” Here it takes on another tone. We have Courteney Cox’s character, Pat, who is married to Greg Kinnear’s Terry, they have two kids and they’re starting over. But the somewhat unusual dynamic, for American television anyway, is that Pat committed an act of infidelity. When you and Jeff were creating this, why did you decide that Courteney’s character would be the one who caused the marriage to break up?

I think I’m much more qualified to talk about anything from a female perspective. And, the business part, I think it’s the least important and the least interesting, really. We just wanted to give them a crisis in their marriage and a reason to get the hell out of New York and move to that place where they have to try to start over. . . . But other than that, it’s not, I would say it was the catalyst for the move but beyond that, it’s not too much to go into. Except in their therapy sessions. This is actually a fun aspect of therapy sessions.

There is a bit of exploration in therapy sessions about double standards when it comes to women’s emotions versus men’s and expressing it.

Yeah. Yeah. She’s not really raw, I would say. . . [and] the doctor’s reaction is just to increase his medication. He doesn’t really hear it. He doesn’t really listen to her. And I think that’s a theme everywhere. . . . I don’t necessarily think it’s easier for men when it comes to mental health issues. I think everyone has a hard time talking about these things. But definitely in our version of this story and because it’s a comedy, our therapist doesn’t really hear it. It’s more Team Terry, I think.

One of the things that is heralded early in the series, or established, is that depression and possession share similar symptoms.

Yeah. Just in terms of the creative starting point for the show and actual fact, that was the thing I think most drew Jeff to the project when he read the pages. Because it’s a fact, it really helped us and really played into the idea of ​​her not being believed. But we also want the audience to be unsure, really not able to figure out if it’s going on in their head. If the house is really possessed or if it loses its mind.

I have a lot of friends who are around my age, in their 50s, and a lot of them have teenagers.

And, very often, you will see our heads spinning out of our bodies and doing a complete 360 ​​with the rage that you can feel. I have never felt more dangerous than when I have an argument with my teenage daughter. But I think menopause also makes you feel really crazy.

. . . It’s hard to always diagnose when you’re losing your marbles just in life in general at this point in your life. Because I just think it’s the hardest time possible. You are in a situation where chemically, you are everywhere. Your kids are reaching an age where they’re usually teenagers going through terrible times themselves, and you’re at least emotionally equipped to deal with it, because you’re nuts too. Your parents are getting old. You lose people. It really is an emotionally draining difficult time. And so I think with Pat, we just gave him all of that.

We gave him a mother with a history of mental illness herself and an assumption that Pat thinks it runs in the family, so it’s only natural that it happens to her too. We gave him writer’s block, the fear of failing. We gave him an absolutely extraordinarily horny teenage daughter and a listless teenage son. And a husband who is a really, really good guy, but trying to make the most of it. . . So it’s a huge melting pot of emotions that are just ripe for bad things to happen.

But another thing that’s been recent – ​​I wouldn’t say necessarily a development, but certainly an expansion on television, of the telling of women’s stories, especially women over 40. Do you think there has been a shift in terms of going green light on shows like these? And what do you think is the reason, or the catalyst?

There are usually several reasons. It’s often a question of money, isn’t it? It depends on who is watching and who you are selling to. But I also think it depends on the broadcaster. It depends on the streamers. Many of them now have women in very high positions, at the very top of the ladder. And they want to see their stories reflected on them, when for years it was so heavily dominated by white men. So those were the stories they wanted to see, and it was like the boys at the top were pulling the other boys up. But also, I think it’s just that they can see that women’s stories are selling and they’re getting these huge audiences.

And just because it’s a show written by a woman or a show directed by a woman, or just seen through a female lens, doesn’t mean it will only reach a female audience. . It’s proven that these stories, especially when it’s like that. Like with “Killing Eve” or, it doesn’t matter that there are two female leads at the heart of it.

I feel the same way about “Shining Vale”. We’re really lucky to be with a broadcaster, Starz, who [is] everything to tell women’s stories. And that’s really what they want to do. This is what they are actively looking for.

What I love about “Shining Vale” is the fact that alongside the horror-comedy element and its examination of depression, there’s this examination through Mira Sorvino’s character, Rosemary , repression. . . . She’s very representative of that desperate, ’50s, housewife trope. And I love that about that character, but I also love that you see her in Pat and Terry’s wedding. You see those things that they gave up so they could do what was prescribed to them in life. It must have been interesting to fit that into the horror-comedy setting.

We just wanted to explore the idea of ​​what might have happened to Rosemary if she had lived in that era, rather than the 1950s. Would her life have been different?. . . She was an abandoned wife and she was not happy about it.

. . . But, I think women weren’t listened to back then. And very few women spoke about the role they were just told they had to play. And if you didn’t like it, you had to regroup it. I can’t imagine what it must have been like if it really wasn’t what you wanted.

Plus, there’s something really terrifying about a 50s housewife as an image. It’s having your hair cut less than a centimeter away from your life. It’s borderline psychotic in itself! And just that she gets to live through Pat, who is just the living opposite of the woman she would have been in her lifetime.

What is expected of Pat is that he is completely different but at the same time he still has to fulfill a role, right? And if you’re not happy in that role, there’s something wrong with you. This is what you are made to feel. The idea of ​​not finding motherhood easy, or not being a good wife or not being a natural homemaker.

Of course, it’s much easier to say how you feel about these things now. But it still makes you feel like you’re failing in some way, certainly as a mother.

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I have to wonder if there’s a part of Pat in you? What parts of you express through it?

She is so Jeff. She is so Jeff! Jeff Astrof is an absolute dope, and I love him. And it was wonderful working with him. But he’s so anxious about his writing and hates it. And he often feels like he doesn’t know where his next idea is coming from, or just says he doesn’t have any ideas, or gets down, and he’s just full of neurosis. And so I think there’s a lot of him in Pat.

But I was laughing earlier because it’s really forgiving to have two writers writing about one writer. Because you can put all these tropes and all your worries and phone calls with agents and just doubt. And all the things you can unload a bit. And in a way, it’s the same when I write about relationships.

I’ve always said I’d rather write a TV show, make a TV show, edit it, and air it than have a conversation with the man I was married to.

I thought if I could just get it out of me, then I wouldn’t have to talk about it. So I think there’s huge therapy in writing about these things, and it’s also a relief to have a main character who’s also a writer. And, there’s all kinds of things we want to do with that in the second season as well when the book hits the shelves. It’s really fun.

Oh, I can’t wait for this. Only his reading parts are simply spectacular.

Whatever you think, it’s gonna be worse than that.

New episodes of “Shining Vale” debut at 10 p.m. Sunday on Starz.

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