Feb 24, 2011

[TV] The Walking Dead: Season 1

The Walking Dead: Season 1On a purely intellectual level, you'd think that zombies shouldn't be scary. They are stereotypically depicted as having very little fine motor control, little to no real intelligence to speak of and the inability to wield power tools, firearms or other means of killing people. And yet the zombie movie remains quite the classic staple in horror and a concept that is continually revisited in order to further expand the notion.

I think I can handle zombie movies the best as compared to other horror classics like vampires, werewolves or plain old crazy people who wield weapons with deadly accuracy or crazy purposes. And yet I when I do sit down to watch a zombie horror movie I tend to get scared bonkers anyway. I guess there's something about them that makes you feel that their success seems almost inevitable. The dead naturally outnumber the living and having them come back with a singular purpose of consuming the living is pretty creepy when you get down to it. It's worse when you have other writers who have explored the notion of smarter zombies or faster ones.

Now for a TV series to try and take the zombie concept to the small screen seems like a highly difficult challenge. Television doesn't look too highly on the kinds of displays of blood and gore that have been synonymous with the genre. But at the same time, the rise of pay TV channels such as HBO has lead to the rise of TV shows with more risqué content and all that good stuff. So it's quite impressive that this show has done as well at it has in its first (albeit short) season despite those odds against it.

And yes, this is still the kind of TV show that had me trying to distance myself from the TV, much to the amusement of my partner.

The Walking Dead is an AMC television series based on the comic book series of the same name originally created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. The TV series is developed by Frank Darabont, who also wrote and directed movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist.

The series centers around a sheriff's deputy for a small town in Georgia named Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln from Love Actually), who wakes up in a hospital after the advent of a zombie apocalypse. Alone and still weak from a gunshot wound he was still recovering from, Rick finds that it appears his entire town has been overrun with zombies with his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies from Prison Break) and his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) missing. After a chance encounter with father and son who have survived thus far - Morgan (Lennie James from Jericho) and Duane Jones (Adrian Kali Turner), he sets off for Atlanta in the hopes of finding other survivors and ultimately his family.

His wife is alive though, and is together with a small group of survivors who have settled a few miles outside the city. The group includes Rick's partner and best friend Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal from Eastwick), a young Asian teen named Glenn (Steven Yeun), sisters Andrea (Laurie Holden from The Mist) and Amy (Emma Bell) and the elderly Dale Horwath (Jeffrey DeMunn also from The Mist) and a number of others. Rick eventually gets reunited with his family because of Glenn's help and now the group needs to figure out what to do next in their efforts to survive.

The series does a pretty good job of capturing the dark, somber feel fit for any zombie tale initially maintained pretty strong ties to the comic book. While I haven't read the series myself, my partner has and he has noted though that the story has begun to veer away as the show has progressed. It's hard to determine if this is a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective of adaptations, but the story does seem generally interesting for the most part.

A participant of a Zombie walk, Asbury Park NJ...Image via WikipediaThe zombies are a lot faster than I expected although no where near the speeds seen in movies like 28 Days Later. My partner mainly complained about how they made more animal-like noises instead of mere grunts and moans more associated with human zombmies, but that's a minor thing to pick on. Make-up though is pretty awesome and the zombies are sure to give you the willies when you least expect it. Or maybe that's just me since I scare somewhat easily and rather intensely to boot.

The show is meant to be quite the strong character drama and I do see a lot of potential with the assembled cast. Beyond the obvious comment on how many of the players are Frank Darrabont regulars from past projects, the group is an interesting mix with varying degrees of acting credits to their names. I don't think they've fully matured as an ensemble cast, but that really comes with time. The second season should prove interesting in that regard.

Lead actor Andrew Lincoln has certainly come a long way from his character in Love Actually. His portrayal of Rick Grimes is an interesting mix of generous optimism mixed with a firm commitment to seeing things through and keeping his family safe. I can totally buy into the idea that he's with law enforcement and thus it becomes almost natural for the group to just follow him in order to find eventual safety.

The writing of the show is pretty good with a nice mix of elements from the comic book translated into something that can work for television. Sure, we still have those grandstanding moments that we love to create for TV, but they're not overly distracting to the story. It's also interesting to note the various sub-plots laid out for future development including the romantic connections between Lori and Rick's best friend Shane. You know that the truth behind that little love triangle is bound to come up at the most inappropriate zombiefied moment.

The season did end on a bit of a whimper though, at least from my perspective. Plus it was an ending that (1) veered away the most from the comic as per my partner and (2) didn't actually involve many zombies. This is the one bit that really makes me pause and hope that the writers stop feeling too obligated to write plot twists instead of simply expanding on the established source material. Given how the series will focus more on farming out writing jobs instead of being developed by an in-house team, the potential for overall fragmentation and loss of narrative focus remains ever-present. I don't want this show to turn into another failure of the geek arena.

The Walking Dead remains dramatically gripping and enjoyably scary at times though and I look forward to seeing how they'll expand the story with a full season of 13 episodes instead of the paltry six of this debut. It gets 4.5 animal sounds made by shambling "walker" zombies out of a possible 5. The series is now available on DVD and Blu-ray online or via your nearest retailer.

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