A tale of two zombie shows (well, kinda)
This is a tale of two zombie shows.
One is massively popular, based on inventive and rich source material, and shown on a network that is responsible for giving the world some of the best television drama ever made. It is also god awful and fast becoming completely unwatchable. The second is set in France and shown with English subtitles, getting an American remake that looks too horrible to even contemplate, and shown on a network that hardly anybody gets let alone knows about. It also happens to be incredibly creepy, painfully original and watched by virtually no one.
The first show of course is The Walking Dead, which had its mid-season premiere on Sunday evening. I’ve written before about my frustrations with this show, but I’ve always given it the benefit of the doubt. After Sunday, however, I’m just about done giving it second/third/fourth/fifth chances.
Here’s what you need to know about me when it comes to zombie shows/movies – I should be THE target demographic for this show: massive George Romero fan, loved Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (book not the movie, haven’t brought myself to see the movie yet), have read a decent amount of the WD graphic novels, and watched this show religiously on Sunday from day one and the frankly amazing premiere. That premiere episode held so much promise with the incredibly creepy scenes of Rick waking up and slowly discovering that the world has literally collapsed around him blending into the heart wrenching portrait of Morgan and his son Duane, holed up in their house and struggling desperately to survive. It was everything you could have hoped for with this type of show: tense, moody, shocking, a bit gory (but not overly so, fear and scares were more important than outright carnage and violence), and above all, populated with compelling, interesting characters. It’s no coincidence that by far the best episode since the premiere was last season’s “Clear,” which involved Rick, Michonne, and Carl going on a search for additional weapons and supplies and encountering Duane.
For the most part since the premiere, however, The Walking Dead has bounced between disappointing and just outright boring, with only one weapon left in it’s dramatic arsenal, the surprise death of a major character. I understand this is a zombie show and there needs to be a certain amount of death to make it realistic, but it can’t be ONLY about Michonne wielding a katana, Darryl being awesome, and the occasional Herschel or Lori dying and stay compelling over the long run (or, maybe it can – this is basically all that has happened in four years and the ratings are 50% higher than the Breaking Bad finale and many times higher than the best audience Mad Men has ever pulled.)
Anyway, for me this show has simply been one missed opportunity after another, and I’m pretty much done. Seriously, how was the Welcome to the Tombs episode not an amazing, claustrophobic battle between Rick’s group, the Governor’s people and the walkers instead of the anti-climatic thud of a clunker that aired? You know, pretty much what ended up happening anyway several episodes later, only set INSIDE the prison, with the maze of dark, treacherous passageways providing a hellish atmosphere and natural advantage to Rick’s group, negating the superior numbers at the Governor’s disposal? (Ok, I’ll stop. Promise. But you know I’m right. That would have been AMAZING.) Instead, what we’re left with is Carl eating an industrial sized can of pudding and Rick stumbling around like Rocky Balboa after one too many beatings (if you imagine Rick and Carl’s sniping last night as Rocky and Adrian arguing it was infinitely more entertaining – “You can’t win, Rick!”). I’m probably going to watch one more episode next week, lured in by the promise of Darryl doing something awesome, and if things don’t improve drastically and a compelling way forward for the show established, then I’m out for good.
Now, about that other show. I’ve written briefly before about The Returned and how amazing it is. It is literally the anti-Walking Dead – no gore, no cheap stunts, and actual characters. It’s not even a zombie show, even though the dead are returning from the grave. It owes as much if not more to David Lynch than it does to George Romero, and much of the tension and scares come from the atmosphere created by the cinematography and the soundtrack as it does from the story itself. I won’t repeat myself again about all of it’s virtues, but mention it here for two reasons: as an example of what The Walking Dead could be with a little more care and vision, and to tell you that season one is coming to Netflix streaming at the end of February (February 24 to be exact, the same day that Breaking Bad Season 5 drops).
If you trust my taste in anything, I implore you to binge watch the living daylights out of this and revel in how horror and mystery can be done without massive special effects budgets and the need to constantly raise the shock bar. May I even suggest that you open up some free time on Sunday evenings to watch by eliminating a certain other show from your DVR? (And no, I don’t mean Downton Abbey. Long live the Dowager!)