Monday, November 08, 2010

THE WALKING DEAD Episode 1.02 Review

I've been reading The Walking Dead since the day it premiered, back in 2003.  I haven't missed an issue.  There have been highs and lows in the comic, but overall, it is one of the most consistent series on the market, releasing its 79th issue this month.

But that's not why I'm watching The Walking Dead on AMC.

I'm of the school of thought that you can't let the source material influence one's critical reception of an adaptation.  You can't let the source material fill in the blanks that might be left in the adaptation.  The adaptation has to stand on its own.  So, I don't care about the comic when I'm watching the show.  The show is it's own entity.

I'm watching The Walking Dead on AMC because Frank Darabont can do no wrong.  Well, almost no wrong, but more about that later.  This is the man who gave us The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, after all.  But to be honest, I don't give a shit about that, either.  Never watched either film.  I understand that they are apparently great films, but I have no interest in them at all.

What won me over to the Darabont camp was The Mist.  Or, more specifically, the black and white version of The Mist.  If there is any kind of tentacled thingy up in the sky watching down on us and granting wishes, I'm going to go out on a limb and offer up something for a black and white release of The Walking Dead on Blu-ray/DVD.

It has to be.

But that's the future.  What about the now?  What about Episode 2, "Guts"?

Okay, let's talk about that, warts and all.

Why warts and all?  Because, as good as this episode was overall, there are some really rough spots.  And as much as it pains me to say it, one of those rough spots is an actor that I enjoy in just about anything he's in.  I'm talking about Michael Rooker.  But it's not so much his fault as it is the script's.

Rooker is introduced this episode as the character, Merle; a redneck, white-trash, blue-ribbon beer kind of guy.  You know, the kind of guy who hates black people, and brown people, and thinks he's the one who should be in charge.  You know, a horrible stereotype.  Merle is the kind of character that the comic goes to great lengths to avoid.  And his inclusion here really does some damage to my enjoyment.

The black guy named T-Dog is bad enough, but the two of them together almost made me want to turn it off.

Luckily, the horrible dialogue (written by Darabont) is mostly of the "establishing characters with a broad brush" kind of stuff, and once we have a handle of just who these people are we can get on with the much more effective "we're all gonna die" kind of dialogue that brings the characters together.

But the dialogue isn't really the point, once the episode gets moving.  It's the plotting and the pacing.

The episode starts strong, with Rick trapped in the tank and Glenn talking to him over the radio, giving him directions on how to escape.  The tension is already ramped up once the titles roll (even if we did have to sit through an awkwardly written and staged sex scene in the woods during the pre-title sequence), and Rick's escape is nicely done.

That's when we get to the boring, poorly written character introduction stage of the episode.  Luckily, once we get through that, the rest of the episode is pretty strong.  And that strength comes from the willingness of the filmmakers not to cut corners on the horror.

How our heroes escape being trapped in a building with hordes of zombies struggling to get in will be familiar to those who've seen Shaun of the Dead or even The Dead Hate the Living (to be honest, it's been so long, I can't remember if this means of escape was in the comic), but should prove absolutely horrifying and disgusting to anyone not familiar with the genre.  It's a good example of just how far AMC is willing to let Darabont and company go with this zombie apocalypse scenario.  It bodes well for the future of the show.

And that's what this is all about, really.  Bringing this genre to the masses.  Or at least to the masses familiar with AMC's programming.  The real question about all of this is can the show appeal to a broader audience than just the typical gore-seeking zombie fan.  The premiere debuted to fantastic numbers, but that was on Halloween night, when audiences would be looking for a scare.  What's going to bring people back to the show on a weekly basis is going to be the characters and the emotional investment in the situation.

That's what makes Mad Men work.  It's what makes Breaking Bad work.  After two episodes of The Walking Dead, I'm not sure if it's got the level of writing and acting necessary to make it something special.  But with that said, for a first try at creating an ongoing television series set during a zombie apocalypse, I'm willing to forgive a bit of clumsy character work in the beginnings.  Particularly since they were only working with a six-issue order.

There are sacrifices that have to be made when you're only being given that small of an opportunity to get your story out there.  In six episodes, you've got to get things moving and let the actors get a feel for the roles as you go, revealing character through the action and relationships.  Dialogue can afford to be functional rather than believable.  Let's get through these first six episodes and then watch the characters develop over the course of the full second season.

But they've got to avoid two-dimensional stereotypes like Merle to make this something worth sticking with.  At least, for me.  I'm picky and annoying, I know.  Maybe the mass audience wants to see stereotypes like Merle get what's coming to them.  Maybe that's the sort of thing that will really expand the appeal of the show.  I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm just disappointed that Darabont felt we had to use caricatures like Merle and T-Dog to bring the viewer in.  T-Dog, at least, turns out to not be the hip-hop cartoon that he seems to be in the beginning.  The question is, if Merle comes back for future episodes (and with an actor of Michael Rooker's caliber, I can only assume that he will), can they do something to make him more of a real character.  I hope so.

I'll definitely be watching, one way or the other. 


  1. If I'm understanding you correctly, yes they did use the same method to escape in the comic.

    I'm not sure about tentacles, but Gale Ann Hurd has said that they're thinking of a black and white option on the DVD release. I was not aware of a black and white version of The Mist; it wasn't an option on the version I just watched.

    And while The Shawshank Redemption is amazing, you're not missing much with The Green Mile.

  2. We watched episode 2 tonight. I didn't hate it, but I'm not sure where it's going with these "made-for-TV" characters. The zombie apocalypse is suddenly feeling a lot more crowded than I imagined it would be. Not to mention some shudder inducing dialogue. It was actually Rick's "we're all in it together" speech that made me wince the most. Just awful. That dialogue must be what zombie guts smell like. This is why I've given up on TV. It all just annoys me and pisses me off.

  3. You should be watching Terriers, Ben. Good dialogue, good acting, very entertaining.

  4. I think I'll pass. I just don't have the patience for TV anymore.