The first time I noticed Courteney Cox, it was 1984 and she was on MTV. Bruce Springsteen pulled her onstage to dance with him in his “Dancing In the Dark” music video. (Yes, kids, MTV used to primarily air music videos.)
When Cox joined the cast of the truly dreadful “Misfits of Science” in 1985, she was “that girl from the Bruce Springsteen video.” (She was 21 at the time, playing a teenager, and calling her “girl” was sexist. That’s how we talked in the 1980s, for which I apologize.)
Honestly, I don’t remember much about “Misfits,” except that it was bad and NBC axed it after 16 low-rated episodes. It was about a bunch of people with super powers, so maybe it was just ahead of its time. But probably not.
Cox had better luck she signed on as Alex P. Keaton’s (Michael J. Fox) girlfriend, Lauren, in the final two seasons of “Family Ties” (1987-89). Although Lauren dumped Alex when he cheated on her.
In 1993, Cox was back in another sitcom: “The Trouble with Larry.” Bronson Pinchot (“Perfect Strangers”) starred as a guy who was dragged off into the jungle by apes and was presumed dead. Ten years later, he returned and discovered his wife had remarried. Cox played Larry’s sister-in-law, who hated him. Larry fell in love with her.
It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was worse. CBS yanked it off the air after three low-rated episodes.
That was, believe it or not, just a year before the premiere of “Friends.” And, while not much of anybody had high hopes for “Friends,” it went on to become one of the best sitcoms ever; Cox’s character, Monica, became a TV icon; and it made Cox unbelievably rich.
Nice work if you can get it.
Post “Friends,” Cox starred as a gossip tabloid editor in “Dirt” (2007-08). She was good, but the show never really came together. And then she starred in “Cougar Town,” a really good comedy with a really bad title, which may account for the fact that the show never got the credit it deserved. It ran for six seasons (2009-15).
And now she’s back in “Shining Vale,” a horror/comedy in which she proves that she’s a better actress than she’s given credit for. (The first two episodes premiere Sunday on Starz — 8:21 and 8:50 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 11:21 and 11:50 p.m. on Comcast.)
“I love to be scared and I love to laugh, and this is such a unique combination of these two things,” Cox said. “This genre I’ve never seen before. It deals with real-life issues, family, infidelity [and] mental illness.”
She stars as Pat Phelps, who — along with her husband, Terry (Greg Kinnear), and their two teenagers — moves from a small apartment in Brooklyn to a big, creepy house in Connecticut. They’re looking for a new start.
“In other words, Mom boned some rando so we have to move here,” says Pat and Terry’s daughter, Gaynor (Gus Birney), who’s really obnoxious — even for a teenager.
The plan is that Pat is going to resume her writing career. She’s been blocked since she wrote a surprise bestseller 17 years earlier. But Pat quickly starts seeing ghosts. Or maybe she’s having a mental breakdown. (Be warned, she swears a lot. F-bombs fall with great frequency.)
Pat sees one ghost in particular — the ghost of a woman (Mira Sorvino) who died in the house decades earlier. And things start getting really creepy. There are a lot of jump-scares, and a few really horrifying moments, but it’s not particularly gory. The title, “Shining Vale,” is not a coincidence. Although co-creators/executive producers/writers Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan also tossed in odes to “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” too.
And it’s funny — particularly the interplay between Cox and Kinnear.
“Do you think I’m going crazy?” Pat asks.
“Nope,” Greg replies. “I think you’ve alway been crazy.”
In Episode 2, Pat dreams that the ghost burns her with a cigarette — and when she wakes up, she has a cigarette burn on her arm. Terry, however, doesn’t believe in ghosts. He suggests Pat splattered grease on her arm while making bacon.
“When was the last time I made bacon?” she asks.
“When was the last time a ghost burned you with a cigarette?” Terry replies.
Cox said that when she read the “Shining Vale” script, she immediately knew that she wanted to play Pat. So she contacted Astrof — a former “Friends” writer.
Astrof said Cox called him and “she said, ‘I read “Shining Vale” and you wrote it for me and I have to do it.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds great! Let’s do that!’”
And, he said, he and co-creator/executive producer Sharon Horgan “didn’t have to really rewrite a word of it” for Cox, even though, “Courteney is like you’ve never seen her before.”