The Halloween premiere of AMC's Walking Dead knocked the socks off critics and viewers alike and earned the network the biggest audience for any of its original series to date. Last Sunday's episode ("Guts") looks to have been just as successful, triggering countdowns to when AMC will order a second season and prompting some to make comparisons to Gone With the Wind and High Noon and others to dub it the best new show of the year.
Boardwalk Empire, Terriers, and Louie might have something to say about that, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Because before we start anointing a two-episode old series the next Sopranos maybe we should see if it's actually everything it's cracked up to be. As of right now, I'm not completely convinced.
I should start out by saying I'm a huge fan of zombie horror -- no really, ask anyone -- and was thrilled to hear AMC was turning this into a series. It's not my intention to pick nits, and this has nothing to do with comparisons to Robert Kirkman's comic series, because I'm still working my way through it. I just feel there are some...areas of concern the creators might like to address.
Reign In The Dumb In order for your "world gone mad" horror story to be effective, the pre-insanity world needs to be as believable as possible. For all I know, all cops are likely to hold off on securing a scene until the officers in question are done chatting about their flak jackets, and maybe a guy who'd survived the first few weeks of a zombie apocalypse would also be prone to setting up in front of a big bay window for his undead turkey shoot (I know he was emotionally distressed...he was also smart enough to survive for a month, pick one). The audience is being asked to accept the premise of the dead rising from the grave to devour the living, at least have the surviving humans act like they deserve to, you know, survive.
Been There, Eaten That It is to the genre's (dis)credit that scenes like swarming hordes of ravenous undead and desperate escapes from same seem familiar to us. And much as I hate to admit it, unlike vampires, there are only so many ways to spice up zombes: they can run, or they can't, and maybe they can learn, but there are some understandable limitations to the capabilities of an animated corpse. That said, The Walking Dead has already featured a number of elements that go beyond "familiarity" and stray into "déjà vu."
1. Poor Little Zombie Girl - The first episode opened with deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) encountering a zombie-fied tyke. A chilling introduction to Walking Dead's new world order, and quite a shocker to anyone who hasn't seen a certain 42-year old movie:
2. Have a Nice Nap? I had to check dates for the Walking Dead comic (2003) and 28 Days Later (2002), because both begin with the protagonist waking from a prolonged coma to find the world overrun by...well, not zombies in the latter's case. "Rage infected," let's call them. Anyway, I suppose there's not really a better way to have your main character miss out on the main event (Guitar Hero marathon?), but they could have done a little better job filing off the serial numbers.
3. They Walk Among Us Okay, this one isn't quite as obvious, but when Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun) cover themselves in entrails to disguise their smell, I couldn't help but think of this scene from Shaun of the Dead (2:30 mark):
Lose the Computer Generated Blood Did the BP spill destroy our nation's reserve of fake hemoglobin? I'm sure it's probably easier to just punch a button and digitally insert some carotid spray, but it looks like shit. See also Centurion.
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Again, I'm not looking for the show to fail. I'm a fan of the genre and couldn't believe AMC actually brought The Walking Dead to life (no pun intended). I mean, ten years ago would you have believed there'd be a prime time TV series about the zombie apocalypse? Especially one as refreshingly bleak as this one?
But after seeing over a hundred zombie movies and TV shows (and reading the All Flesh Must Be Eaten anthologies, 'zines, and unfinished Romero screenplays), I want to make sure TWD is deserving of all the accolades before I embrace it wholeheartedly.
I've been burned before, after all.