Review: Valentine 1×1

Saints preserve us


In the US: Sundays, 8/7c, The CW

Valentine is one of those high concept shows that could, depending on how they’re implemented, turn out to be fundamentally excellent or fundamentally awful. “The Greek gods are alive and well and living among us”. Brilliant, hey? I’d buy that book/watch that TV show, because it’s a great idea.

But, and here’s the problem, if the gods just sit in front of the TV all day, it’s going to be very dull; if they demand human sacrifices or set nation to war with nation to reduce the excess population, it’s going to very dark and scary. So pitch is very important.

US TV tends to go for light and/or fighty when dealing with the Greek gods. Hercules (yes, I know he’s Roman) and Xena (completely made up) went for light and fighty on the few occasions when they went modern-day; Cupid (also Roman and coming around for a new series some time soon, despite having been cancelled once) went for light. They were all fun in their way, sometimes extremely imaginative, but generally nothing to make you mourn their passings too much.

Valentine (yes, not even Roman but early Christian), in which Aphrodite, Eros, Hercules/Heracles and other gods try to fix mortals up with their soul mates, goes for light in a big way. Starring Jaime Murray (Hustle, Dexter) as Aphrodite aka Venus aka Grace Valentine, it’s imaginative, quite fun, but at times excruciatingly bad – as well as instantly forgettable.

Ridiculously long plot summary
Have you found your soul mate? Because, let’s face it, these days it’s not that easy. In a world where online dating shows millions of possibilities, they could walk right past you and you’d never know it. But thankfully, help is on the way. The gods of love are on the case. Turns out the Greek gods of myth and fable are alive and well… and living among us in Mount Olympus, just off Hollywood’s Laurel Canyon. From Executive Producer Kevin Murphy (“Desperate Housewives,” “Reaper,” “Ed”) comes Valentine, a story about what a rare, strange, and often hilarious thing love is — a gift that brings out the divine in all of us.

Meet the Valentines, a family of Greek gods who’ve been watching over us throughout the years from their mansion high up in the Hollywood hills. Grace Valentine (a.k.a. ‘Aphrodite’) is the matron of the family… but don’t let that fool you. She’s as sexy and seductive as she ever was. Grace believes in the power of love, and strives make others believe, too — a tall order in such cynical times. Her son, Danny Valentine (a.k.a. ‘Eros’) is a little more pragmatic. As the god of erotic love, he’s traded in his bow and arrow for a magical gun that makes people temporarily fall in love. You see, Danny’s all about the heat of the moment — sex, passion, passing infatuation. He’s cocky, a bit of a scoundrel, but his heart’s in the right place. Helping him out is Leo (a.k.a. Hercules), the muscle of the family. Despite Leo’s physical strength, he’s not afraid to show his sensitive side. Leo’s totally dedicated to the job, and acts as Danny’s moral compass. Rounding out the team is Phoebe, the family seer. Though Phoebe appears to be an innocent young woman — charming, funny, if a little odd — she’s really much older than the other gods. Phoebe runs the Oracle (of Delphi), a mysterious pool deep inside the mansion.

With Phoebe’s guidance, the Oracle shows who a person’s true soul mate is. It also shows the disastrous path that person’s life will take if the gods fail to make a love connection. But locating the couple in question is the easy part. Actually getting them together requires a little more creativity. Our heroes, the gods, have to infiltrate the lives of potential lovers while keeping their own identities a secret — and they never know what role they’ll be asked to play. They can be plumbers one day, movie producers the next. It all depends on the whims of Fate. That’s the way it’s worked for hundreds of years…

… Unfortunately, times are changing. People are growing more jaded. The more they rely on instant messaging and speed dating, the less they believe in true love. And because of this, the gods’ powers are weakening. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that Grace has decided to take drastic action. She’s enlisted the help of a mortal woman to aid in their work — a woman named Kate Frost. Kate’s a romance novelist, and though she hasn’t had much luck in her own relationships, she believes in love with all her heart. Kate’s idealistic and uncommonly resourceful. She balances out Danny’s more impetuous side, despite being a constant source of irritation to him. But even Danny can’t deny that Kate’s special combination of blind faith and unusual insight gives the family new perspective on love.

And the gods need all the help they can get. If you think your family is complicated, imagine being stuck with the same band of misfits for thousands of years! They may think they’re above the petty squabbles of men and women, but they’re worse than any of us. With all the rivalries, affairs, and schemes, it’s a wonder that any work gets done. And just wait until their relatives start showing up!

So that’s how it goes. There are gods among us, masquerading as airline pilots, certified accountants, circus clowns… you never know what they’ll come as next. But one thing’s for certain: when they do, they won’t give up until love conquers all.

Is it any good?
It’s pretty scattergun. Some things about it aren’t bad at all. Some things make you want to stab your own eyes out and offer them to the gods in the hope they’ll stop tormenting you so. If only you weren’t in Tartarus, you might be able to change channel – alas, and indeed, alack.

We have two plots per episode, one in which the gods try to bring two tedious and stupid mortals together, encountering various problems along the way; the other in which we get to know the gods and their new mortal assistant a bit better.

The romance plot in this first episode was acceptable enough, if a bit teenage, fluffy and dumb: girl going to marry douche guy doesn’t realise that dorky best friend is her true soul mate. It had it moments, mostly towards the end, but was nothing to write home about.

The gods plot was more interesting and would have been more interesting still if they could have dumped their tedious mortal assistant: when even the characters are hating her, you know you probably have a problem. Particularly when it turns out that not only does she writing appalling romantic fiction, she casts people with abysmal accents to enact them, even in her own imagination. Liam McDougal? WTF? Settle on a country for your English highwayman tales, please.

The various off-the-cuff comments about life in the old days, and the relationships between Aphrodite, her ex-husband Hephaestus and current husband (?) Ares (to come next episode) are all intriguing if you happen to know the myths, even though they’ve been recast slightly in the light of modern US familial attitudes. Quite why Aphrodite would have been shagging Euripedes ‘when she was young’ will take a bit of thought, though. And the interplay between Hercules and Eros when they’re out on their missions is moderately amusing.

All the same, the sex-obsessed Eros is intended more as an antidote to the romance levels that might have overwhelmed the programme than a fully fledged character; Phoebe is irritating; and Leo aka Hercules pretty much has the Willy from Mission: Impossible strongman role.

Which just leaves Aphrodite. I would say fully 75% of the “please stab my eyes out” moments in the show come from Jaime Murray’s portrayal of Aphrodite, fully one of the most awful performances she’s given yet – and there’s a lot to pick from. Whether it’s the stilted delivery, the tortured accent or the fact she looks like she’s under the control of a drunken puppeteer, I was not convinced for one second that she was the goddess of love*, which shouldn’t be too hard in a bit of fluff like this but apparently is.

There’d be a lot more of those moments in the show but she’s wearing a bikini in them, which brings them down to the level of “just about tolerable”. So the remaining awfulnesses are down to the music, which is a combination of Harry Potter and old Looney Tunes cartoons themes; the cloying ickiness that occasionally creeps into view; and the daft and simultaneously easy resolution of the romance plot.

Not an absolute waste of everyone’s time – indeed there are some good things about it – it’s just there are some badly miscalculated elements that are very likely to condemn it to life in Hades before too long.

Here’s a shiny promo vid for your enjoyment:

* What do you mean there isn’t a goddess of love in real life?


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.