Walking Dead: Off the Rails

I had such high hopes for Walking Dead. Certainly, the first episode was astounding. One of the best hours of TV I’ve watched. Though, looking back, I now realize that I was more dazzled by the special effects than anything else. I’m also very forgiving of post-apocalypse shows.

Hell, I sat through the second seasons of War of the Worlds, Jeremiah, and Jericho. I secretly enjoy the TV versions of Planet of the Apes and Logan’s Run. And…there are worse that I don’t dare mention. If I start talking about the Amish space drama of The Starlost, the only decent thing left is to shoot me while I’m standing at the kitchen window staring forlornly at the naked autumn trees.

Needless to say, you have to stray pretty goddamned far to disappoint me, and Walking Dead has now proven to be the biggest TV apocalypse disappointment of the year. Maybe even of the decade. It’s worse than the dreadful Survivors remake and the atrociously clumsy BSG finale.

I was willing to forgive the change in gears and overall brainlessness of the second episode, but then the show dragged into a trailer park social drama full of boring red shirts. With the fifth episode, our survivors finally break out of the weird rut where everything has felt like a season of Survivor gone awry and finally hit the road…only to foolishly head for the CDC and the mysterious Dr. Exposition and his deus ex stupida.

I am all about diverging from the comic. There’s nothing wrong with taking a potentially excellent show and gently divorcing it from its mediocre source material. After a while, reading the comics is much like watching The Starlost. You start to hope that a stranger will come along and shoot you to stop the twisted, horrible impulse to keep going. The curse of the completest is that, once invested, you have to keep going. It’s why we suffer through the second seasons of Buck Rogers and Twin Peaks and, god forgive me, the original Battlestar Galactica (the dreaded Galactica 1980).

For some reason, though, the show has chosen not to be clever with what works well – a journeyman sci-fi/post-apocalypse survivor death march – and has decided to go with a sitzkrieg full of annoying characters, improbable sub-plots, and pointless tangents. It starts to go wrong in the second episode, but it’s the third episode where things take a turn for the worse and the show begins to dwell on women’s rights, social inequality, and the plight of the American redneck all while Rick and Company lead large groups of people on wild goose chases around Atlanta. Fun product placement drinking game for episode three – chug whenever someone mentions their Maytag washer.

And chug during the gripping bolt cutter/radiator hose negotiation scene!

For episode four we open up with the two blondes catching tons of quarry fish since, when the world ended, all the shoes and tires and refrigerators at the bottom of that quarry turned into beautiful healthy trout, but the episode is really marked by a ludicrous trip back to Atlanta where Rick and Company run into a team of Hispanic “gang members” with hearts of gold, who are protecting the residents of an old age home. We’ll not question how Atlanta has now survived over 100 days post global apocalypse with sewage and water intact, and how the millions of corpses (living and dead) haven’t turned the city into a cesspit of other horrible diseases, and how the Atlanta zombies are suddenly lazy and somewhat passive, or why Rick gives a group of doomed fuckups half of his weapons cache. The entire subplot is pointless filler designed to illustrate what we already know – Rick’s a leader, and he’s got soul. We kind of got that in the first ten minutes of the pilot.

The fourth episode does make up for two hours of sing-along’s about the Maytag repairman when we get an all-too-brief zombie attack on the camp…which we then spend the first half of episode five discussing and moaning about. But, really, do five minutes of desperate zombie shoot-em-ups make up for 40 minutes of post-apocalypse angst at the Shady Rest Zombie Home guarded by custodians with hearts of gold?

By the time they break camp and hit the road – with only 15 minutes of episode five to spare – I’m mainly watching because I like the cinematography.

I mentioned the Survivors remake above, and episode five steps right in line with everything that was wrong with Survivors – otherwise healthy people gallivanting through urban areas with no worries about illness. In post-apocalypse Atlanta, everything appears to be in somewhat good order, despite the bodies — when they arrive at the CDC HQ, I can’t help but notice that the lawn service people are still showing up three months after the apocalypse. Are they mowing around the bodies? I must know!

Having Dr. Exposition suddenly appear is both sloppy writing and the show’s biggest roll-eyes moment so far. It’s just like when the Survivors remake constantly, for two seasons, was derailed by the secret government super lab. We don’t care! And we don’t need it. The original Survivors was about the oftentimes grim task of rebuilding civilization. Yes, it was mostly Little Apocalypse on the Prairie, but, hey, even the worst episodes were better than running down corridors pursued by mad scientists.

Now we’ll get CDC guy who’ll either join them and set them off on some idiot quest (as we eventually get in the comics), or he’ll be batshit and try to kill them to replace his samples. Either way, it’s a mistake. It exists only to explain things to the more idiotic viewers and artificially advance a story that could advance on its own without any assistance. It also means that, with only one more episode to go, we’re not going to get fucking anywhere this season.

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