Monday, December 6, 2010

Tube Steak: The Walking Dead

I initially started writing this post as soon as I finished watching the series premiere.  I fell asleep while writing it and never really came back to it until it was far too late.  This is probably for the best. 

You see, I have begun to think that maybe it is best if I do not comment on shows until seasons have run their course.  Sure, there will be exceptions here and there, but as someone who primarily watches serialized television, it always feels like I'm writing about the first three chapters of a book or the opening act of a movie when I write about a pilot or season premiere of a show with season arcs.


The first season of The Walking Dead, a Frank Darabont produced adaptation of the synonymous comic book series, completed its six-episode run last night.  Its premiere was pretty damn great--essentially a Southern gothic retelling of 28 Days Later.  There were these oddly soothing almost pastoral scenes cut into the madness that the Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln*) awakens from a coma into.  It also contained the most affective scene in the entire first season, one in which the man who first comes to Rick's aid tries to pull the trigger on his zombified wife.  This moment successfully elucidates what the world has devolved into, with Morgan's pain as he trains the sight on her tearing your heart out.

*Who I luckily did not remember from the particularly cloying and distastefully saccharine Love Actually that I have apparently mostly blocked out to protect myself from repeated harm.  Instead, when I started watching, it just felt like I was watching a guy who was channeling Josh Lucas, which I can deal with.

The similarities between the pilot, "Days Gone By," and 28 Days Later are pretty obvious, and it was really hard to watch the episode without linking the two.  Things could be worse, of course, but the familiarity of the protagonist's circumstances didn't help make things feel fresh.  The thing that set it apart was the fact that he was also searching for his family, who he believed to still be alive.  He sets off for Atlanta from the rural Georgian county that he was a sheriff's deputy in and finds it to be in the throes of a full-blown zombie apocalypse.  After being cornered and trapped inside a tank, he is contacted via short-wave radio by a looker-on. 

The second episode picks up at this point, and Rick ends up joining with a group of survivors, helping them orchestrate their escape from a hairy situation in the city.  Now, despite the similarities between the Danny Boyle zombie masterpiece 28 Days Later and the pilot, it was a rather compelling 70 minutes, and there were few problems.  The second episode is solid, but it seems like after the first episode the pacing is a little off.  By the beginning of the third episode, he has already found his family because the group of survivors that came to his rescue in Atlanta were running a scavenger mission for a camp in which his family was staying in.  This coincidence is a little too convenient, and it seems like Darabont and the writing staff probably should have drawn out his quest for his family a bit longer.  After all, prolonging his search only builds the dramatic tension and creates a deeper conflict when he reappears to a wife who has been sleeping with his former partner. 

These second and third episodes are interesting.  I may have issues with the pacing being too brisk, but the first three episodes are pretty strong.  The fourth episode, "Vatos," was simply not that good.  The hostage exchange storyline and the ensuing discovery of the elderly and infirmed colony is basically a dead two-thirds of an episode.  Nothing interesting happens until the camp is descended upon by a bunch of walkers as the guys are re-approaching the camp.  In the penultimate episode, "Wildfire," too much time is dedicated to the Amy/Andrea storyline, and then it is discovered that Jim (essentially a 'red shirt') was bitten in the attack.  Both of these stories consume the episode.  It certainly seems like this series is going to be centrally concerned with how we hold onto what makes us human in circumstances as dire as these.  I get that much of what I'm complaining about in the fifth episode is doing just that, but it is simply not that interesting here, especially Andrea's near catatonia while she waits for Zombie Amy to arise. 

Then comes the finale...  The only part that stuck out as being extraordinary was the flashback sequence in the beginning of the episode, showing Shane in the hospital trying to evacuate Rick.  While he's trying to take Rick out, the military is massacring innocent people in the hospital.  Showing what actually happened as things reached the boiling over point seemed like a harbinger of doom, looming over the entire episode, was probably the most interesting part of the last half of the season. 

As the season comes to a close, everything looks pretty damn bleak.  Their hope is extinguished as the CDC blows up (crappy effects), and they are left to move on.  Aimless.  With survival being their only objective. 

While there probably needed to be at least two other episodes placed before the third episode, the first season was certainly solid enough to keep watching.  It had its flaws, but Andrew Lincoln is a compelling lead, and let's face it, there aren't any other zombie shows on the tube.  Until there are, this is probably the only place we'll be able to get our fix.


qualler said...

I watched the first season while I was sitting around at home sick last week. Overall, I think the show has some serious promise to be a really good "genre"-type show. It's what I wish shows like True Blood were -- trying to actually be frightening and dark instead of fucking around with gay vampires and the side characters that tell stupid jokes and all that. I was concerned going into it that there wouldn't be anywhere to go once they exhaust the obvious story options: someone in the survivor group becomes a zombie, people are reunited, people die, people shoot zombies. But the finale showed me how they would be able to make it more like a show about the apocalypse with the backdrop of zombies, rather than a zombie show set to the backdrop of the apocalypse, if that makes sense.

Old Man Duggan said...

Totally makes sense. I know the review made it seem like I was unhappy. I definitely wouldn't go that far, and I fully intend to keep watching. It's just that I had some pacing issues with the season-long story arc, and "Vatos" was no bueno.

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