Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

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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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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Nets wreck writing

I’m not a fan of the CSI series of shows. There’s a lot of reasons: Most of the cops don’t look like cops, the over-stylized visuals that make me wonder if I’m watching a drama or the new Kelly Clarkson video, bad guys that I have figured out before the opening credits are done, etc.

But I do love my guilty pleasures and am willing to put up with some of that … if the people who run the show don’t assume I’m a moron. And the folks who run CSI? They clearly think I’m stupid. Like “I’ve just spent three days on a bus sitting between Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent and now I can barely spell my own name” stupid.

Way back in one of the early seasons of the original CSI when I had a brief flirtation with the show, George and Warrick are in a lab together. The one is trying to lift prints off of an unusual surface or that in some way have been degraded, so he has to use a slightly altered technique. Interesting, right? Here’s the problem: The one lifting the prints explains what he’s doing to the other forensic expert like he’s giving a junior high biology lesson. It was that bad. I’m actually supposed to believe that two professional forensic experts, both of whom have at least bachelor’s (and maybe master’s) degrees and a few years of experience each, need a basic explanation of how to lift a fingerprint with a technique I, a guy with only an English degree and one semester of college bio under my belt, can easily understand even before said explanation is complete?

I suppose I can’t completely blame the writers and producers of CSI. They understand that a good portion of America, unlike me, didn’t pay attention in high school. Plus, CSI is looking for a global market, so not only are you trying to break it down for less-educated Americans, as a writer you are forced to break it down so simply that someone who didn’t get the greatest education in Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg or Saint Petersburg is going to be able to understand the translation.

I can live with bad shows being bad shows. When shows I like get stoopid, it bums me out. Take Fringe. A lot of complex, theoretical science is effectively broken down and modeled by Walter for the non-geniuses around him. It’s done in an entertaining, interesting way each time. It’s a writing coup: Simplification, not dumbing down, of some pretty complex theories and scientific laws. However, every once in a while, even in a show that trusts its viewers to the extent Fringe must, the program does get a little simple. But in odd ways. For example, say Broyles walks up to an unnamed FBI agent and asks, “Have we begun the testing for the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo?” The unnamed FBI agent will shake his/her head, because he/she can’t say anything because then he/she would collect a bigger check. Then Broyles responds, “Well, when you get the results from the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo, tell me immediately.” What was the point of that? It doesn’t really enlighten the viewer in any way, it doesn’t further the story. Any normal human being would have just said, “Let me know when you get the results.” And Broyles should’ve, too, in a perfect TV world.

What’s great is that it’s no longer 1982. Since the networks aren’t getting it right, there are plenty of other options for good screen drama. Once again, I reference The Walking Dead, specifically the latest episode “This Sorrowful Life.” Glenn decides to propose to Maggie. On a network show, this would’ve involved some great conceit, an over-the-top display of affection, or endless speechifying by one or both parties involved in the engagement. But The Walking Dead gets it right. Glenn takes the ring out of his pocket, never showing it to Maggie, just pressing it in the palm of her hand. She says yes, and they kiss. Simple, elegant, beautiful. Glenn and Maggie know they love each other. Neither has the time or energy for speeches or showiness. They nearly died for each other just weeks before, so they do not doubt each other’s commitment to this relationship. The moment is about relief and re-connection, true love, nothing to cheapen the moment. The brief encounter stays true to the characters and the show.

And there’s no explanations or dumbing down. None necessary, none offered. Thankfully.

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The perfect moment

Carl's trip with Pa and Michonne illustrates how much things have changed with our plucky little gang of survivors.

Carl’s trip with Pa and Michonne illustrates how much things have changed with our plucky little gang of survivors.

Kudos to the minds behind The Walking Dead. After a meandering second season (particularly the first half), Season 3 has really upped the stakes and forced the gang to deal with some truly unpleasant realities: the death of Lori, the threat of the Governor and his followers, the reality that survival gets harder with each passing day, the fact that they will all rise when they die, etc.

But I thought Sunday’s episode – “Clear” – perfectly illustrated how the group has changed, particularly Rick. At the open of the episode, Rick, Michonne and Carl are driving, scavenging. They pass a lone human on the highway, who yells and pleads for them to take him along. Michonne, without blinking, drives straight pass. She is soon forced off the road because of accident debris blocking it, and the car is stuck. Rick and Carl get out to find some items to help give the vehicle traction. Michonne gets the vehicle out of the mud, and just before Rick gets back in the car, he sees the loner running up the road toward them, yelling for help. But Rick doesn’t acknowledge him, getting in the car and resuming the trip.

At the end of the episode, after Rick has met up with his old friend Morgan and learned of he and his son Duane’s fate, the trio head back the way they came from. As they pull out of town, Rick notice’s the body of the loner and his pack lying beside the road. Another one bites the dust in post-Apocalyptic America. Then, the camera focused on the pack, Michonne reverses the car and steers back to the pack. Someone scoops it up, throws it in the car, and they are once again on their way.

A brilliant piece of writing by Scott Gimple. That simple act of putting the car in reverse to retrieve the bag summed up the way our gang of heroes has changed. In the first and even possibly second season, Rick likely would have picked up the loner, tried to make him one of the gang. If the loner had died even before coming close, Rick might have buried the man and posted a simple wooden cross, maybe said a few words. But here, there is no emotion, sadness, regret, feeling of any sort. There is only survival. The loner is dead and gone. What he has left may help the gang. The gang takes what he has left. Hope, fear, anger, none of it matters. Emotion has been sublimated by cold pragmatism, the hard, true vision of what needs to happen for survival. That, in the end, is all there is.

Man, I can’t wait for next week.

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‘Dead’ wrong

Not all that long ago I was bitching and moaning about the first half of the second season of The Walking Dead. The pace had slowed considerably after a tight, fast first season. Not one. not two, but three children were put in danger to up the ante. … And more.

Well, they showed me, didn’t they? The slow pace let the underlying problems of the main characters simmer until they were ready to boil, even explode. Shane (pictured above) is full-on scary, so much so that only Andrea – who is blinded by her own anger – doesn’t realize how dangerous he is. Lori is starting to play Rick against Shane. Rick’s ability to walk a line between Patton-like hardass and caring leader gets strained even further. Glenn and Maggie continue to get closer, and the results of that coupling have really helped round out Glenn’s character. Even the relationship between Daryl and Carol, at first seemingly a minor subplot with little if nowhere to go, continues to be interesting and could lead to more interesting situations with those two characters.

Fortunately, on my initial post, I have myself an out, noting that this slow, dragging first half of the season could be a set up. And it was. Thankfully. Can’t wait for the next new episode.

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Bring out your ‘Dead’

The long arm of the post apocalyptic law

Is anyone else at all disappointed with this season of The Walking Dead?

Don’t get me wrong: Slightly off WD is better than Two and a Half Men when it’s dead on … if Two and a Half Men has ever actually been dead on. I’m not saying The Walking Dead creates a vacuum or anything. It’s just not as good as I want it to be.

I’ve narrowed it to two issues: Pacing and my Child-In-Danger theory.

Pacing

The first season was very, very short, but the writers managed to really deliver a flood of character information and a menacing intensity that was the under the surface waiting to boil over. … And sometimes doing just that, boiling over, exploding in ways that both drove the story and served the characters. They had to trim all fat because there was simply no room for it. It reminds me of how concise BBC dramas (I’m thinking specifically of Luther) have to be because they have such short seasons. A BBC show may get eight episodes while mid-season replacements on the major America nets will get 11-13. There’s little fluff and navel gazing across the pond. It’s straight to what’s important, what drives the story. Walking Dead‘s first season had that compactness, and it’s part of what made it so great.

Now … there’s a lot of gazing. A gaggle. A plethora. A ton. It’s starting to remind of the worst aspects of Lost. I’m almost to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack and Sawyer show up to fight over/pine over Freckles. (Hopefully, should that happen, they’ll all be zombies. Fingers crossed.) I’m all for character development. And I realize part of what was happening in the first half of season two was a lulling of the characters (and viewers) into believing the farm was safe and permanent. But there were times I thought I was going to fall asleep. The writers now have more episodes, more screen time, yet if feels like rather than taking advantage of that, they’re just writing what they’ve would have written for a shorter season, only dragging it out. Maybe I’m overly sensitive and things will pick up now that Shane’s forced the issue. I hope so.

Child in danger

One of the things that drives me nuts about TV dramas is that they tend to want to put children in danger solely to play on the feelings of a viewer that should know that kid ain’t going nowhere. They may be hospitalized. Maybe even a coma to really drag the predictable boredom out. But they will not die.

Sure, you’re going to immediately point to the fact that Sophia ended up being as a zombie, then ended up as a dead zombie. Of course she did. Because when you put not one, not two, but THREE children in danger, one of them isn’t going to make it. And when one’s the son of the main character, and the other is a fetus that can stoke the tensions of an ill-fated love triangle, the daughter of the secondary character who ran off alone into the zombie-infested wild? She’s the one getting the bullet in the forehead. A terrific moment, dramatically, because it reinforced what makes the Rick character so vital: He’s the one who will do the dirty job when the time comes. He won’t put it on anyone else. He won’t hide it or hide from it. But I thought having all three of the pre-junior high age kids put in mortal danger was too over the top and came off in a soapy way.

All of that said, I’m not dumping The Walking Dead anytime soon. I often complained about the pacing of the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but when I reviewed it after the series ended, it worked much better than I’d believed at the time. I have a feeling, despite my uneasiness concerning the first half of season two, that I’m going to come to a similar conclusion in this instance.

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