The new Starz series Shining Vale opens with some bold decrees: that women are roughly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, that women are also twice as likely to be possessed by a demon, and that the symptoms of depression and possession are pretty much the same.
Thus begins Sharon Horgan and Jeff Astrof’s tale of Pat, a troubled writer (Courteney Cox) moving with her family to a massive — and potentially haunted — new house in Connecticut, in search of a new start that may or may not get complicated by a ghostly presence lurking in the walls.
The series features an unconventional blend of horror and comedy, what Horgan (the critically lauded co-creator of nuanced relationship dramedies like Divorce and Catastrophe) has dubbed a “shit-com.” When speaking with Consequence about the show, she seems a little embarrassed by the term, but it does cover how it blends the lines between genres, as Pat and her husband Terry (Greg Kinnear) grapple with the idea that they’re not alone in the house, while Pat finds that its spooky vibes help her writing blossom.
In the below interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, Horgan and Astrof (whose credits include The New Adventures of Old Christine and a little show called Friends) explain how they ended up working on the series together, what went into crafting the show’s scares, and what kind of future they see for the show — and what it might have to say about how we approach issues of mental illness, especially for women.
To start off, I want to get the quick story on how you guys came to work together?
Jeff Astrof: I’ll go, we’ve told this story a lot of times. Sharon and I dated in the seventies and we… [Sharon laughs] No, I was doing another project and my studio was like, “We want you to do a new idea,” and I was like, “I have no new ideas.”
So I met with new producers — I met with this producer named Aaron Kaplan, who’s got a ton of shows. He said “I’m doing something with Sharon Horgan,” I’m like, “Go on.” And he said, “She wants to do The Shining as a comedy.” I was like, “I’m in, go on,” and then I read the pages and it was about — it was that first sentence that said “Women are more than twice as likely as men to be depressed and possessed and the symptoms are the same” and I was totally in.
The great thing about it is — and I haven’t told Sharon this — when I pitched this, all the female executives at Warner Bros. — they were like, “Get out of here, no way.” I was like, “This is Sharon Horgan’s idea,” then they were like, “Oh, we’d love this.” [Laughs]
Sharon Horgan: Really!
Astrof: “You can’t say that, Jeff! You can’t say women are more likely to be possessed and depressed.” I was like, “it’s true.” “You can’t say that!” “It’s Sharon Horgan’s idea.” They go like, “You know what, it makes sense. We love it.”
I had that pedigree, and then Sharon and I had our first conversation which went along famously. I was just super excited about doing anything genre-bending, but neither of us have delved into horror before. I thought, “Wow, that could be really fresh material for us.”