A couple Mondays ago I was sitting at the kitchen table trying unsuccessfully to read when my roommate showed me the recently premiered AMC show The Walking Dead on his computer. He mentioned that it was about zombies and said that I had probably seen the promotional posters in the NYC subways. I did not expect it to be a show that I would find very intriguing. I expected it to be television’s usual attempt at transforming a classic cinematic genre to fit the T.V. format, such as how True Blood or Dexter each turn their respective (vampire and serial-killer) genres into fairly formulaic television. I thought, “Zombie-movies themselves are usually—on the whole—unreliable, yet alone if they have to go through the kind of retarded format/formula of T.V.”
Surprisingly, The Walking Dead has not fallen into any such quagmire, and the show’s adeptness at developing long and cohesive story lines fits well with its 45-minute episodes. While some of the dialogue is cliché and the acting is a bit weak, the show’s premise and plot quickly fed on my addiction-prone nature. Pivoting around a small-town Georgia cop (played by a Liev Schreiber look-alike, whose actual name is Andrew Lincoln, who I guess was in the movie Love Actually), the show opens with him falling into a coma in the line of duty. When he wakes from the coma he is in a deserted hospital and meets a plethora of zombies as he attempts to find survivors (in this respect, the show is suspiciously similar to the 28 Days Later film series, although I don’t know at whom exactly my suspicion should be directed). The show also goes along similar lines as that film series’ through having a very blatant rural-urban juxtaposition in the progression from scene to scene (Atlanta being the featured city).
I don’t really understand how I have become so easily enthralled with this program; I guess the endless violence and delayed drama are my main attractions to it. There have definitely been several times throughout each episode when my roommate and I have cheered, “YES!” or “FUCK….” as a human gets bitten by a zombie or a zombie gets their head chopped off by a human. But the violence, while it gets me off, is nicely complemented by the show’s ability to delay drama and get me thinking not just about how explicit the violence is but about also the humans’ contribution to the insanity of its world. The plot is pretty predictable, but such is television. I think that the drama that the show is able to build each episode (as we repeatedly wonder how someone will survive death, or how far insane a survivor of the zombies can become) is effective not in surprising twists but on the suspense it builds as it goes through those twists. The cinematography is what most helps create the suspense: it shows great talent at lingering on single shots and scenes rather than fucking around with different angles and montages (this makes sense, as the show is adapted from an acclaimed comic book of the same name). On the other hand, the show’s score is somewhat corny in a calculated fashion, but this fits the zombie-genre perfectly. It creates a surreal atmosphere wherein the show’s talented depiction of an apocalyptic world is given a soundtrack that is so appallingly campy that it fits with the show’s genre perfectly.
But if you are already a zombie-lover, then you are probably going to check this show out, but you may be wondering what it adds to the genre itself. In this respect, its main strength is that it follows the very realistic bent of films such as 28 Days Later, but that it doesn’t seem to take itself quite as seriously as a statement about politics or society. That being said, there are a couple of white brothers (inadvertent pun) who are very racist and there are scenes dealing with gender issues, but the show doesn’t allow itself to get bogged down in making too many grand statements about the human race. My usual thoughts during zombie movies of “are the survivors really any different than the zombies? (or ‘walkers’ as the characters call them)” have gone through my head as I’ve watched the first few episodes of this show. I feel as if the show is honest that this was one of its thematic purposes yet also honest in that it realizes that people want to get sex and violence when they watch the show (because a show about zombies in which there is nothing edgy won’t make money, and would probably be very boring). Also, the television format actually aids the show in that it is able to develop sex and other dramatic tropes that would seem more ridiculous and less fitting if restricted to a 90-120 minute film.
The Walking Dead should fit well as part of the AMC brand. The other “AMC original series,’” Mad Men and Breaking Bad, are also part of my small television show list, and I believe The Walking Dead will probably become and remain a “staple” of my limited television experiences (it should be noted that another AMC series, Rubicon, premiered this fall as well, but I found it utterly exhausting in its attempt to emulate 70s conspiracy-thrillers). Of course, there have been many shows that I have watched for several episodes or so and then realized I was wasting time. The Walking Dead is a show that will attract people who want to have a show that they can relax to as they watch but still be stimulated at the same time. Further, the show could very well join others dramas such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire as the evidence towards the promise that aspects of the current generation of television offers, and this hope may be its central draw.