MTV’s Valemont Doesn’t Pander to the Vampire Craze

Vampires, as anyone who hasn’t been sleeping under a rock can tell you, are the hottest thing going these days. But what’s interesting when you consider the MTV-produced, Verizon-sponsored Valemont is that MTV, whose target audience is the most consumed by this phenomenon, has waited this long to tap into the recent vampire craze — barring, of course, debuting Twilight footage whenever possible.

Produced by NewTeeVee Next Big Thing Electric Farm Entertainment, Valemont is a moody mystery set at a college campus for the young, beautiful and elite. New freshman Sophie (Kristin Hager) is in fact young and beautiful, but she’s not elite — she’s a foster kid using a false identity to try and discover who murdered her brother Eric (Eric Balfour, recognizable from 24 and Six Feet Under).

Six episodes in, which air as Hills interstitials on MTV Tuesday nights, and can also be found at MTV.com, Valemont the series has remained coy about the dark secret at the heart of the university, which is appropriate to the mystery genre. However, given the fact that press coverage has not been shy about using the word “vampire,” watching the narrative unfold is reminiscent of going to see The Sixth Sense after a friend of yours has already told you the ending — “He’s been dead the WHOLE TIME,” you long to shout. Or, in this case: “Vampires! They’re all VAMPIRES!”

Who, exactly, is a vampire, and what kind of vampire isn’t yet clear, however — all the students at Valemont certainly seem capable of going out into the sun, and none of them sparkle. But the mystery is moving along quickly, with the first hints of supernatural activity popping up in episodes five and six, and the writing by Six Feet Under‘s Christian Taylor is particularly sharp; some strong characters have already emerged.

But what’s most notable about the show is the ARG component, taking the form of two interactive community sites — Valemontu.com and Valemontcommons.com — which have created an online student body for the fictional university. Visitors are encouraged to apply as a Valemont student (no matter what their age, one presumes) and participate in Rush Week and other events; the material is dense, fun to explore and well-developed.

Most of the characters also have Twitter accounts being updated as the show progresses, interacting with each other and fans; one secondary character from the show, Sophie’s roommate Poppy, even has her own Blogspot blog. This is the sort of transformative experience that separates TV shows you can watch on the Internet from truly new media.

Product placement is much along the same lines as Electric Farm Entertainment’s other big web series of the month, Woke Up Dead — the sponsor’s product is integrated into the narrative, with relatively minimal brand-name mentions. In Valemont‘s case, the cell phone is a central component, as Eric’s abandoned cell phone is the best tool Sophie has for discovering who murdered him. Verizon definitely gets in its on-screen branding during close-ups on the phone, but in the first six episodes I can’t recall one mention of Verizon by the characters; the cell phone is simply present.

Valemont is a solid example of a web series that knows its audience but doesn’t patronize them, and gives them plenty to play with. So much so that it barely even needs the vampire stuff — though that certainly doesn’t hurt its chances.

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