Dead of Summer goes full on after-school special in an episode, “Modern Love” (Season 1, Episode 4) that focuses on transgender character Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams).
After building momentum in the last two episodes after a mediocre pilot, the Freeform summer camp horror show seems to be falling into the trying too hard category as it recasts the late ’80s with modern day sensitivities to diversity and political correctness (what I like to call being considerate of others).
As we’ve seen in the first three episodes, each episode takes on the back-story of one of the counselors and shows how the strange goings on at Camp Stillwater personally impact and prey on their own fears, insecurities and past traumas. Seeing Drew’s back-story and her mom’s refusal to accept him as a boy – she promptly fires the therapist when he comes out to her in a counseling session – seems appropriately accurate to the time period but the way the show handles Drew’s interactions with his peers is where things stumble.
First of all, the fact that no one recognizes or suspects that he’s the same person as a girl named Andrea they went to camp with seems a stretch and also that his budding love interest, Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato), can’t tell that he’s struggling with more than just same-sex attraction.
Haunted by images of himself as a little girl with a red balloon seemingly at every turn, Drew starts to pull away even more from the other counselors. Blair responds by trying even harder to help Drew, all while also trying to get him to be his date to the camp masquerade ball.
“Listening to Bowie gave me the courage to come out,” he says during an intimate talk in the cabin, handing Drew a homemade David Bowie tape that you shouldn’t need a spoiler to figure out who it originally came from. While I get that teenagers are dramatic and really do say goofy things about how this or that musician changed their life, it all seems so forced.
Not everyone is as sitcom oblivious as Blair. Jessie (Paulina Singer) figures out Drew’s secret and in classic ’80s movie mean girl style lords it over him in her relentless pursuit of we’re not exactly sure what. After threatening to expose his secret to the camp, Drew leaves camp and Jessie tracks him down at the bus station so she can deliver another speech about how they both came back because camp was the one place they could be themselves.
While Drew is wrestling her demons, Mr. Handsome cornball police deputy (Alberto Frezza) continues his pursuit of the truth about Camp Stillwater and, we’ll call them “the gang,” focus their attention on the creepy camp director Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell), her mysterious box and the mask in her closet that showed up in Cricket’s horrifying dream. Hoping to trap Deb and reveal that she is a satanist in disguise (an element of the show that would be cheesy if it weren’t actually an accurate portrayal of the time period), Joel “Alfred Hitchcock” Goodso diverts from the plan when his Harold & Maude attraction gets in the way.
For a summer camp show that hasn’t had a lot of romance so far, three couples end up kissing in this one and it’s not hard to figure out who they are, though the jury is still out on whether that was actually Amy who came back from being struck by lightning in the last episode.
Aside from the speechifying and the what-millennials-think-the-’80s-were-like treatment of the time period – something only made more evident by the recent release of the far superior Netflix series Stranger Things – “Modern Love” continues to set the tone for a show that isn’t nearly as bad as the pilot set it up to be. While many of the characters (I’m looking at you, leader of the cannibals in The Walking Dead) are making me rethink my stance on the believability of so much death in summer camp horror flicks, I’m genuinely curious to see what happens and what character back story we get to learn next.
- It wasn’t clear in previous episodes, but that is a Jackie Robinson No. 42 jersey that Joel Goodso wears. It’s keeping with his character too since he’s an appreciator of older things like Alfred Hitchcock, Harold & Maude and the camp director.
- Joel references Friday the 13th: Part VI in talking about Amy being hit by lightning in the previous episode. In the film, Jason is struck by lightning and comes back to life even stronger and more terrifying than before.
- “I’m not sure what a post lightning strike regiment should be but my mom makes a mean chocolate milkshake.” This is what the smooth move police deputy says to Amy when she shows up at the diner.
- Blair wears a Clash London Calling t-shirt in this episode. The double-album was released in 1979.
- In a flashback scene, Drew’s mom finds a flier on her floor for a Sonic Youth show on February 23 at The Metro in Chicago. Sonic Youth played at The Metro, back when it was called the Cabaret Metro on July 17, 1986, October 14, 1987 and November 5, 1988, according to this website.
- When Drew’s mom shows up at the club, she sees Drew dancing with some people – one of them a punk with charity spikes – to David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” which of course gives the episode its name. Perhaps, that was the music playing before Sonic Youth came on to play?
- All that build up about the box leads to a reveal of a paperback copy of the Jack Kerouac book Dharma Bums.