Tag Archives: AMC

The only thing we have to fear is another ‘Walking Dead’ spin-off

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

If these are the people you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with, you might as well just shoot yourself now.

AMC, you’ve gone too far.

Better Call Saul was a great choice for a spinoff. You had a couple of interesting, vital, skeevy, secretive side characters, Saul and Mike, who were part Walter White’s story but weren’t really the focus of Breaking Bad, nor they should they have been. But there was so much going on with those two in Breaking Bad that exploring what got them to the point that they working with Heisenberg was a rich vein to mine, if done correctly. The first season proved Saul has something going on, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

But AMC couldn’t stop there. No, we were force-fed Fear the Walking Dead. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that could have been explored in the Dead-verse. For example, why not focus on the government response to the calamity. What was going on in statehouses? How did the president and his (or her) advisers react to the crisis? We were given a glimpse of the CDC reaction in Walking Dead, but why not follow the research component of response to this pandemic? Why not leave the United States and give us a cast in sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, India, the Philipines? Heck, how about the struggle of the folks up in the International Space Station as they try to figure out what has happened on the ground and how they’re going to get back? The possibilities are virtually endless, restrained only by the imagination of the creative team. Everything I wrote here I thought up as I was writing it. Surely, given time and resources, the Fear the Walking Dead folks could have developed something beyond my abilities.

Instead of a million interesting, unique scenarios, however, we were given a West-Coast version of the East-Coast show we were already watching. It feels like we’re being fed under-heated, leftover lasagna that was overcooked in the first place. We watched as different people made the same mistakes we’d already seen our plucky Walking Dead heroes make over and over again. But, hey, L.A.! That has to count for something, right?

It’s disappointing. It comes off as the sort of crass money grab one would expect from one of the major networks instead of something new and interesting from the cable network who has dropped some pretty interesting drama in our laps over the past five years or so. It’s not must-watch television, period. Heck, after the first season of Walking Dead, I could name most of the characters off of the top of my head. Notice how I haven’t mentioned any Fear the Walking Dead characters by name? That’s because not only do I not remember any names, I don’t consider it worth my time to hop over to IMDB and look them up.

So, sorry, AMC. I eagerly anticipate your small-screen version of the Preacher comic book series, and I’m sure I’ll get into some of your original programming down the road. But Fear the Walking Dead is about as interesting to me as AfterMASH or That 80’s Show. And so, much as I did with those shows and others like them, I’ll turn my attention elsewhere.

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Humanity of ‘Humans’ is what makes series work

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box ... or is she?

Anita is a Synth fresh out of the box … or is she?

I wanted to like Humans more.

At the family level, it works so well. When we’re with the Hawkins clan and their human-like robotic caretaker, Anita, Humans is in top form. The five Hawkins work well together and form a believable, likable and flawed family. Anita’s insertion into the tense marital relationship of Joe and Laura, new “mom” for little Sophie, ideal female form for horny teen Toby and constant reminder that humans are becoming obsolete to the oldest Hawkins kid, Mattie, all make for incredibly well-acted and crafted scenes and explore what the introduction of synthetic humans would mean at the personal level for real humans. You get more touches of that with William Hurt’s Dr. George Millican, a once leading scientist in the Synth field now losing his memories, relying on his Synth and de facto son Odi to remind him of events from his and his wife’s life together. Another ripple is added when we meet Pete Drummond, a detective whose ailing wife is cared for by a Synth that makes him feel worthless as he simultaneously draws the loving attention of his partner, Karen. These three storylines nail the impact of human simulations being released in the real world. It’s a unique mix of awkward, horrifying and touching drama.

Had the first season mostly focused on that, it might have become my favorite show on television. The problem is the dramatic sci-fi storyline, that a handful of synths were created to have consciousness. Humans who already fear the impact of synths on unemployment and the world in general would now have to be concerned that they could be replaced entirely. This part of the story doesn’t flow as well and feels uncomfortable next to the more personal side of the tale. The ending of the first season was clearly also planned to be the ending of the series, just in case. Things get wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly.

Following in the wake of Ex Machina probably doesn’t help me appreciate Humans as much, either. Ex Machina was a taut, quickly paced and intense drama that delved into the impact of AI on our world. Humans is broader, sometimes for the better, other times not so much. Its pace is slower and occasionally uneven, with tension lacking when the danger should be felt most. Where Ex Machina was lean and furious, Humans is too often top heavy and overly earnest.

Will I return for a second season of Humans? Humans hasn’t blown me away like the AMC dramas Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels did. I may do something I don’t usually do and read advance reviews of season two to get a sense of where Humans is going and then decide. Until then, I’m firmly in the maybe column.

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‘Saul’ essence of good storytelling

It was good to see Tuco again.

It was good to see the meditative, calming presence of Tuco again. Man, I missed him.

(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)

HOW DID SAUL GOODMAN end up in a position where he was working with psychotic, slimebag druglords like Tuco Salamanca and Walter White?

You get a sense of how Saul found himself where he found himself in Breaking Bad. Saul’s got that greed, to be sure, but he’s also an opportunist with an adrenaline addiction. He clearly likes to be on the edge, only to get a serious case of the nerves when he gets there. But while Saul is a scene-stealing character on that show, he’s not a primary character, one whose background gets much thought because it’s not really pertinent to that particular story. Sure, it would be fun to know what’s made Saul the man he is, but with all of Walt’s and Jesse’s death-defying hijinks, that wasn’t something Breaking Bad could or should have explored.

But Better Call Saul can and does mine that rich vein of Saul’s past. We get to me the real Saul, Slippin’ Jimmy, a low-rent con artist from Cicero, Ill., who ends up in jail because he takes a dump in the sunroof of a luxury car owned by the guy who was sleeping with his wife … only to find out, too late, that the cheating dick’s son and a fellow Cub scout were sitting in the back seat of the car when the felonious deuce was dropped. Jimmy gets out by promising his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), that he’ll leave the Chicagoland area and go with Chuck to Albuquerque to start over fresh.

When we meet Saul, it’s years later. He’s a lawyer now, hustling small-time cases and scraping together a living. Chuck, a partner in a big-time law firm, can’t leave his house because of a unique form of agoraphobia. Saul is serving all of Chuck’s needs while trying to scrape by a living mostly with public defender cases. Then, Slippin’ Jimmy gets lucky. A multi-million dollar, class-action lawsuit falls in his lap, and now Saul has leverage to get his foot in the door with Chuck’s firm, HHM. The firm agrees to take on the case, and although he is going to receive a hefty payday, he won’t get a job with the firm, and he won’t be allowed to work the case.

Saul is furious. He believes that, once again, Chuck’s partner Howard has kept him on the outside looking in. He won’t allow HHM to have the case, ranting and flailing, unsure of what to do next.

Then the truth reveals itself. Howard has never been against Saul. Turns out, Chuck has refused to allow HHM to hire Saul has anything more than a mailroom clerk. Chuck says Saul’s not a “real lawyer,” and that he is what he’s always been: Slippin’ Jimmy.

That moment, that seminal moment, combined with the death of a close friend from his Slippin’ Jimmy days, seals it. Saul was inspired by his brother to go legit, to cease walking, running down the path that would surely lead to prison or an early grave. But as viewers could see from Breaking Bad, that path less traveled never quite worked for him. That other path, the path of deceit, scheming and double-dealing, well, that’s the path that suits Saul best. And now, finally, he understands who he is, and he embraces it.

Mike Ehrmantaut was one of my favorite characters from

Mike Ehrmantraut was one of my favorite characters from “Breaking Bad.” I’ve seen nothing in “Better Call Saul” that dulls my affection one iota.

BUT WHAT REALLY PUTS Better Call Saul over the top isn’t Saul diving head first into the Slippin’ Jimmy, attorney at law, persona. It’s Mike Ehrmantraut. Because not only do we see the moment were Saul chooses the dark side, we get to see that same moment with Mike. He’d done dark things before he arrived in Albuquerque, but that was behind him. The future of his granddaughter and daughter-in-law, all he has left after the death of his son, now depends on him. And Mike will do whatever it takes – whatever it takes – to make their lives better. Where Saul is wishy-washy, taking years to find satori, Mike knows who he is and knows what matters to him. To him, there is no decision to be made. It is only time to set a course of action to make need or want become reality fulfilled. And so he does just that.

SO I GUESS YOU COULD SAY I’m really looking forward to Season 2. And, hopefully, more Tuco.

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I will continue to walk with the ‘Dead’

Finally, our plucky gang comes out swinging.

Finally, our plucky gang comes out swinging.

After Season 4 of The Walking Dead, I had serious questions about whether or not I’d dive into Season 5 (check out those thoughts here). I won’t go into the long of it in this post, but the short of it is that I felt that the series tended to plod through large parts of Seasons 2-4, and the incessant focus on the background and re-ascension of the Governor in Season 4 felt like filler because the minds behind the show needed to get our heroes from point A to point B, and they didn’t have enough to justify a season just focusing on Rick and company.

Season 5 will – or at least should – be remembered as a high-water mark. The one thing that our crew should have learned – quit trusting everyone and quit approaching everyone as friends or potential allies – finally got through their thick skulls. Yes, their treatment of the cannibals was brutal. As it should have been. Some things aren’t acceptable, and in a world where humans are slowly becoming an endangered species, eating them is not an option, particularly if you’re going to saw parts off while the human is still alive and mock him as you suck down meat off a his calf. The showdown with the gang at the hospital was interesting, in that instead of attempting to turn or recruit them, both went their separate ways. Both groups could have helped each other, sure, but too much water was under the bridge. In a choice between mutually assured destruction and detante, both wisely chose the latter. And when the opportunity to return to civilization presented itself, our survivors were able to suck it up and dump their problems at the gate.

OK, not so much the last one maybe, but some of them – Michonne, Maggie, Carl, etc. – made a good go of it. Some – Daryl, Carol, Sasha, etc. – not so much. It made for some of the best conflict within the group since our original survivors arrived at the farm in Season 2. Watching the struggle with PTSD and shock, particularly with Rick and Sasha, was fascinating and real. The disbelief among our gang about how their new, civilized compatriots just didn’t get “it” was also interesting to see play out. And damn if Carol may not be the most interesting character on that show now. I’m half surprised she didn’t cap that wife-beating piece of shit the minute he walked into the meeting with Michonne’s sword.

The direction of the show has re-energized it, and viewers such as myself as well. Bring on the wacky wolf boys. This time, Rick and the gang – and me, for that matter – are ready.

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Will I continue to walk with the ‘Dead’?

Our plucky band off survivors just keeps on plucking.

Our plucky band off survivors just keeps on plucking.

Lots of spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Instead of “those who arrive survive,” how about “slowly but surely”? Because that both describes the trek to Terminus and seasons 2-4 of The Walking Dead.

Harsh? Maybe. To their credit, the Walking Dead folks know how to create a cliffhanger, both at their mid-season break and at the end of the season. From the execution of Carol’s zombie daughter to the fall of the prison and the death of Herschel, the minds behind The Walking Dead hit the big notes big. Rick finally getting back into kick-ass mode after being so lost for a season and a half was terrific, and I look forward to seeing what happens next fall.

Maybe.

Season 4 was an exercise in frustration for the most part. I was willing to forgive slow starts to both Seasons 2 and 3 because AMC had excised significant portions of the writing and producing staff each time. The death of zombie Sophia in the middle of Season 2 was awesome, but preceded by a lot of twiddling thumbs. At that point, Walking Dead was starting to remind me a lot of the worst of Lost: Two people isolated in some beautiful setting, saying deep, serious shit while staring off toward the horizon.

But, again, the turnover behind the scenes, the knowledge that these people were kind of being thrown into the middle of a hugely popular show, it all made me be patient, even if I was a bit on the annoyed side.

The problem is there is no such excuse for Season 4. There was no purge, no turnover. There should have been an amazing plan for the whole season heading into it, not just a nice start, terrific middle and gripping – if abrupt – end. All of that Governor background in the fall, what exactly was the point of that? We knew he was a selfish, brutal (and possibly slightly mentally ill) guy with a taste for blood and power who never really even believed in the possibility of peace. Were we supposed to believe he’d soften up with his new “family”? Because if so, that wasn’t sold very well. I never bought into it. It played like wheels spinning in snow, a waste of screen time for a character who the Walking Dead folks then proceeded to kill. Not that I have a problem with that, but if you’re just going to kill him anyway and not really make him integral in any part of the future show except the execution of Herschel, then why bother with the lame, useless back-story?

When The Walking Dead returned from Christmas break, we got more background and less plot and action. Michonne had a family, and it broke her heart when they died? Name one character who doesn’t have the same back story. Daryl was a dipshit redneck before the apocalypse? Gee, who would have guessed that? Rick isn’t sure what to do next? Been there, done that. Glen and Maggie love each other? Sweet, but no value added. And in between we get plod, plod, plod, plus a few characters added who, at this point, aren’t very interesting or are already dead.

Really, the second-to-last episode of Season 4, The Grove, where Carol is forced to make another hard choice, is far superior to either of the two that follow it. The second-to-last was another mildly interesting episode that’s sole purpose was to reunite Glen with Maggie. The final episode starts with serious intensity, then watch it crumble to pieces as Rick, Carl, Michonne and Darryl practically run into Terminus without a thought, followed with a display of automatic weapon fire so hokey and poorly choreographed that I’m reasonably certain it was stock footage from The A-Team, and – finally – one great, final line.

Is it worth it? It has been, to an extent. I guess the real question is will The Walking Dead be worth it moving forward? That, I’m not so sure about.

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