A scene from "Death Valley" (MTV)It took several years, but Powerman 5000 frontman Spider One finally figured out how to get around MTV's aversion to violence: Create a zombie comedy series.
"We'd submit music videos to MTV, and they would really hammer you if you had anything that leaned violent," recalled Spider, whose new "Death Valley" series follows the police officers tackling a sudden influx of vampires, werewolves, and especially zombies in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley.
"The beautiful trick to working in I guess what you'd call fantasy is that it's not unlike science fiction, where you can shoot as many robots as you want, because they're not real humans," he explained. "That just opens the floodgates to be able to do crazy stuff to zombies."
And thus, viewers get to see the LAPD's Undead Task Force run zombies over with their cars, bash them with baseball bats, and obliterate them with rocket-propelled grenades. For actress Tania Raymonde, who plays officer Carla Rinaldi, filling the undead full of lead made "Death Valley" a blast to work on.
"I love firearms and shooting guns and stuff," she gushed. "And I really wanted to learn how to handle a gun the proper way. I had done some rifle stuff and shotgun stuff on 'Lost,' but I'd never really done anything with a Glock or a real police gun."
A fan of horror comedies like "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead," Raymonde said she was also intrigued by the idea of bringing that mix of scary and funny to the small screen. And the trick to combining those two elements, Spider said, is that you don't combine them.
"What I mean by that is that when it's funny, it's funny, and when it's scary, it's scary," he explained. "Although the monsters do provide some humor, we never wanted to make the monsters a joke, because then they become less of a threat.
"The humor of the show really is born out of the conversations between the police officers and their relationships," he continued. "Even when you take the monsters out of the equation, police officers live a very bizarre existence, you know? They'll see horrific things, have to deal with degenerates and the worst of the worst. But then they still have to go grab some lunch, you know what I mean? I've always thought that that's such an interesting way to live. And when you add zombies and vampires and stuff, it becomes even more bizarre."
Watch the trailer for "Death Valley":
In the six years since the concept first came to him, Spider has spent a lot of time thinking about exactly how to portray those creepy characters, even looking for parallels in our own society.
"Vampires are conniving and smart, and they have an agenda. So they certainly are more in line with maybe a gang member or a drug dealer — that kind of element," he said. "And then with the zombies, it's almost like the homeless situation — just get them out of the way, we don't want to see it. And the werewolves are an interesting dynamic because there's a bit more sympathy for them. They're sort of like a victim themselves, having this affliction that they have to deal with once a month. And so they have to register themselves with the UTF and lock themselves in when there's a full moon."
The unofficial fourth scary monster in the series is the Valley itself.
"There's sort of an ingrained prejudice against the Valley," said Spider, who knows all about it after moving from Hollywood to Burbank. To most Los Angelenos, he explained, "it's like this forbidden zone that you should never go to. ... It's a sort of very bizarre mix of industrial power lines and manicured lawns."
"I try to venture into the Valley as little as possible," Raymonde admitted. "It doesn't seem like it's very far from L.A., but it really is its own little world. Strange stuff happens in the Valley, man."
And those countless late nights of shooting on the Valley's desolate streets definitely took a toll on Raymonde. "You really start to feel like a vampire after a while," she laughed.
"Death Valley" premieres Monday, 8/29 at 10:30pm on MTV.