October 25, 2011

The Walking Dead is not as good as you think.

If you're a male between the ages of 18 and 45, you probably spend an hour every Sunday night watching The Walking Dead on AMC. This is not the worst way to end your weekend, as it prominently features gratuitous zombie killing. But is The Walking Dead "good television"? Is it deserving of all the attention it's gotten?

In my opinion, it's actually pretty darn mediocre. Borderline bad. The concept's top-notch, it's beautifully filmed and the zombie makeup deserves a boatload of awards. But once you get past all that, the gore and the occasional moment of well-plotted tension, there's not a lot of substance there.

Ostensibly, the show is about a group of people attempting to band together in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, but you wouldn't know that they're banding together or that the world has ended by listening to some of the petty arguments between assorted characters.

The writers have focused on how human interaction -- the "core" of society -- continually frays under the pressure of the end of the world, but the characters aren't constantly hovering at the edge of sanity, like you or I might be. Instead, they blindly trudge through a desolated landscape, wasting precious minutes deliberating about the most inane things.

For example, Shane drunkenly tried to rape Rick's wife near the end of last season, but instead of it being a horrific moment that defines their relationship going forward, she mostly ends up perturbed that Shane has begun treating Carl poorly. He tried to rape you! Who cares if he's also being cold towards your son? (For more wonderfully apt observations like these, consult the mockery-heavy weekly reviews at videogum.com.)

They extend discussions for twice the reasonable amount of time, usually just enough to fill out an episode, while continually refusing to respond like actual human beings up against such a terrible, mind-shattering scenario. One of the things my dad hated about Lost was that no one ever asked the right questions; the writers had everyone dance around the real issues to keep the mystique of the island alive. Well, on Walking Dead, no one ever does the right thing, which is "stop blathering, gather weapons and run like hell, the zombie army is all around you." This may keep the show on track, but at what cost?

So the characters are poorly written; they're also not particularly memorable. I think we all know Rick, Shane and Carl (may he, hopefully, rest in peace), but what is Rick's wife's name? I only found out two days ago that it's Lori. What about the old guy who drives the RV? The black guy? The racist hick with the crossbow? The attractive blonde girl who wants to die? The mom with the lesbian haircut? The stupid daughter who has gone missing?

I have no idea who any of them are. And this isn't because the show is overly complicated like The Wire; it's because they're all bland, stereotypical, and irrelevant. You don't need to learn their names because it's not worth the effort; most of them are only interesting when they're running away from undead creatures, and even then it's fleeting.

The old man is given a few good lines an episode, but he's mostly there to be wise and offer counsel. The daughter disappearing was meant to create tension, but I don't think anyone's overly concerned with her survival. Carl getting shot was mildly interesting, but after the original shock it was just another plot-forwarding element.

Basically, the show works when the characters are encountering/evading zombie attacks. Or when they're learning more about the zombies. Or when someone's stabbing a zombie in the head with a screwdriver. Moments like that make The Walking Dead a fun show to watch.

But when characters are talking, or arguing, or engaging in a drawn-out love triangle that'll seemingly never end, The Walking Dead's flaws are exposed. And they are ample.

This isn't to say that people shouldn't watch the show; just don't pretend like it's God's gift to television. There are plenty of wonderful shows on TV nowadays, but The Walking Dead isn't one of them.

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