AMC’s Walking Dead is breaking records for cable TV nearly every week now in its 3rd season. I made several abortive attempts to catch up with this show and finally got through the six episodes of S01. I am just a little busy with Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Homeland, Sons of Anarchy, and Treme (so much TV, so little time) but since I was caught up on those, I figured it was time to get with the program on The Walking Dead.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have certainly heard of this zombie apocalypse sensation. It takes place – at least in Season 1 – some 190ish days after some as yet unknown virus wipes out nearly all of mankind leaving an as yet unspecified number of survivors to fend for themselves with no power, almost no food, ruined civilisation, and, of course, hungry flesh-eating zombies (or “walkers” as they like to call ’em) somewhere near Atlanta. The show starts in a hospital where the main protagonist Rick is waking from a coma in an abandoned hospital still teaming with zombies. He eventually makes it out, makes a few friends, survives a zombie attack by hiding in a tank in Atlanta, and many other zany adventures before reuniting with his wife and kid and his best friend (but predictably also the wife’s lover in the interim – very similarly to Brody’s return home in Homeland with Mike and Jessica now that I think about it) out near a quarry northwest of Atlanta. There are misadventures and zombie attacks at the campsite and eventually, they make a desperate run for the CDC hoping to find some answers. Their arrival and flight from there constitute the last episode of the season.
I had a really difficult time getting through the first three episodes and I am still not entirely sold on the show. I think the acting is OK but that the characters themselves are barely two-dimensional – there are good guys and bad zombies and there is not as much nuance in there as there is in any of the other shows I am watching, such as Boardwalk Empire. The makeup and special effects with the zombies is extraordinary (great sound effects as well when heads get smashed and so forth). Admittedly, the plot is pretty original, but the script just seems to drag in episodes 2 and 3 without really filling out the characters as much as I would have liked to get hooked on the show. I feel like they are forcing me to like Rick because he is the real optimist and conscience of the group, but that they didn’t really give me a lot of choice or show any more shady or questionable sides of his character. The other actors are not spectacular either IMHO with the exception of the scientist Jenner in E06 who, I thought, was very well-played.
I’ll go through S02 and catch up on S03 now that my other shows are winding down and let you know what I think then. But for the moment, despite the through-the-roof ratings that WD is getting, I don’t think that it really towers above the other shows that I am addicted to. Homeland is far more intense and features the incredible acting talent that is Claire Denis. Boardwalk Empire has the most amazing characters, costumes, and sets. Despite its dipping popularity and impending death after S04E05 (-sniff-sniff-), Treme has great acting (most of the best ones coming from The Wire, David Simon’s previous show) and two of my favorite things in the world and which are so typical of the Big Easy: food and music. Sons of Anarchy has me hooked because of the characters and their intermingled stories for the most part. I’ll skip the January shows (Game of Thrones, and Justified) and my favorite (Breaking Bad) because I have talked loads about them elsewhere.
Perhaps the one that I’d put at the same level now would be Dexter. The level of gore on WD is probably superior, but the irritating dramatic music and the mediocre acting from the supporting cast and in particular the kneejerk screenwriting (particularly in S06 and S07 of Dex) does get on my nerves. When I think about it, that’s why really makes Breaking Bad stand out for me: the music is only thrown in one each end of the show and occasionally for the montages but it is NOT used to force me into thinking a certain way about a character or situation. In Dexter, it is a little too much like a soap opera with all the music. On WD, the music is always foreboding so sometimes it kind of gives away the drama, at least that’s how I felt.
Back to the title I chose for this article, I thought that the first episode kind of dragged on in a hopeless apocalyptic nightmare and I really wasn’t drawn into the story. Perhaps I am just not an zombie apocalypse kind of guy because – other than Planet Terror from Roberto Rodriguez – I usually do go out of my way for zombie flicks and don’t enjoy apocalypse stories such as Blindness from Nobel laureate Saramago. But, I decided to plod through to the ending where I was rewarded with a better episode and a great special effects explosion at the end. I guess that was just enough to make me want to stick with it and try S02.
As pointed out by my one comment (thank you!), this series is based on a huge series of comic books – 107 in total – created by Robert Kirkman and originally illustrated by Tony Moore. I did read the first one in book form and found it pretty good. Not as amazing as Batman, but good, realistic graphics and perhaps more compelling characters than the TV version. I looked for some of the other ones and need to probably head to another bookstore over the next few days. They significantly changed the story on the TV version with regards to one of the main protagonists (no spoilers, I promise), but then one always has to use some artistic license to properly build a story. I prefer Sin City in terms of a hyper-violent comic and a splendid big screen interpretation, but Walking Dead is still pretty good for gore and suspense. Speaking of Batman comix and Sin City, that gives me a few ideas for a couple of posts!
More later once we wrap on all these shows. Oh, I am re-watching Breaking Bad from the beginning and own you thoughts on that as well.