The Wearisome Dead

wd10The tenth season of The Walking Dead recently commenced, and I felt duty-bound to watch the first episode. As I have remarked here before, after so many seasons of The Walking Dead, it has felt something of a chore carrying on (surely season six was the last time the show was decent), but really, stopping now makes all those years/seasons seem such a waste. So grit your teeth and bear it somehow seemed to be the only course of action, seeing it through to the bitter end. An end had to come, surely.

But there was an eighth season, a ninth, and now a tenth. Still no end in sight, either, if the truth is told. I think the show runners seem to believe this thing can run forever, or at least pay for some more swimming pools, summer houses or luxury cars. There certainly seems little other point to the ordeal, and ordeal is what it has become. Even the cast look interminably bored, or perhaps they are all just distracted by thoughts of swimming pools, summer houses or luxury cars themselves.

So anyway, I dutifully found the Walking Dead folder on my Tivo, which had already recorded three episodes of season ten before I finally got around to it (that’s a certain sign of how grim it has become, when after a long break a new season begins and I’m in no rush to watch it) and off I went in some vain hope of some fresh direction, some excitement, something new.

But no. Its the same bloody show. Its like they just don’t want to save it. The same characters going through the same old motions (except Negan is a gardener now, as if that’s what the show feels is progress/development). Open with some zombie action, a training exercise that, you know, is sure to go wrong but our heroes manage to survive. Various shots of zombies getting stabbed, sliced and diced. Christ, even the zombies look bored. How many ways can you depict a walking, shambling dead guy and how many ways can you stab, slice and dice one? Its not as if anybody is ever in any danger, and at this point the whole routine has become so tiresome the thing is becoming a parody of itself.

Mind, it was probably already that a few seasons ago. The Walking Dead is a show that was creatively dead a few years back, its just become a zombie itself, a tv show way past its termination date, shambling along. Its very title has become ironic.

I feel like a zombie myself, sitting here watching it. I think all the fans still watching it are zombies at this point, watching the show from some kind of habit, loyalty or stubbornness. I’m put to thinking of that scene in George Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, with all the zombies in the shopping mall, and a character reflects that the zombies are repeating the actions of their old lives, when the mall was an important place in their lives. That’s us, now, watching this show.

I remember when the zombies were interesting, when they were dangerous, when there was a sense of tension when encountered. That’s long gone, now, and when that happened the show lost its heart, its pulse. The show is a zombie going through the motions and so are we, watching it.

So this first episode ends, and I go back to the Tivo and the second episode is… oh shit, that’s it. Its a flashback episode. The hell with this shit, they are still cranking out that old routine of stretching plot-lines out forever. There’s a hint, just a hint, of something happening at the end of the first episode, and then they go abandon it for a flashback, making us wait for episode three or four for anything even approaching a development.

Well, the hell with that. I’m pulling the ripcord baby, I’m out. Delete episodes two and three and cancel that series link. I’m done. I tried, God knows I tried.

Fear The Walking Dead- Season One (2015)

2016.2: Fear The Walking Dead Season One (Blu-ray)

fear3Considering the huge success of AMC’s hit The Walking Dead, it was inevitable that a spin-off would eventually see the light of day. Oddly enough the project doesn’t seem to have had very much confidence behind it- rather than going with a full season, AMC instead went for a six-episode mini-series, sort of dipping its toes into the water as it did with the first series of the original show. I’m not sure why they did that- the original The Walking Dead has proven there is an audience for this stuff, and limiting this series to six scripts to establish its world and characters handicaps the whole project, resulting in a show that doesn’t really have a lot of time to establish its characters or enthuse our interest. The first series of The Walking Dead achieved this by literally throwing its protagonists into the deep end, civilization already fallen and maintaining a constant tension and mystery over its slim episode count. Fear The Walking Dead doesn’t do that, it slowly (oh-so-slowly!) unfolds the nightmarish events and six episodes are just not enough. As it turns out though, that’s only one of the show’s problems.

Fear The Walking Dead is a prequel, located on the West Coast with an entirely new set of characters. Its main selling point is that it starts before the outbreak (or whatever it is- neither show calls the monsters ‘zombies’ or explains what has caused the dead to walk), so we should see some of the mystery of The Walking Dead explained, seeing our ‘normal’ world prior to the buckets of blood hitting the fan, and then watching the fall of civilization as the show progresses.

fear1Trouble is though, that Fear The Walking Dead doesn’t really deliver on its promises. It teases the End of the World but doesn’t see it through. The establishing episode portrays the world on the eve of the Apocalypse, and its interesting enough, and we’re waiting for the dead to walk and society collapse. And then… and then… Well, the family unit that is the central group of the show split up, so we are given an A and B story similar to the format used in the original show. Group One is caught in a street riot so ends up stuck in a barber shop- we catch glimpses of the rioting but the group is cut off and doesn’t know what is going on (no-one heard of a radio?). Group Two meanwhile is stuck at home playing Monopoly (!) waiting for Group One to show up. Power cuts maintain their ignorance of what is going on in the world beyond their street (again, no-one heard of a radio?). Once both groups are reunited back home and an undead neighbour eating a dog is dealt with, they dither a little longer before deciding to leave, whereupon they bump into a military unit that returns them back home to more media blackout. Its the End of the World and our folks know nothing about it other than some kind of bug is going around. We don’t see news reports, internet chatter, rumors of events elsewhere in the world, anything. Its like the Information Age was terminated overnight.

The premise of this show should make for fascinating viewing, and to an extent it does when it finally gets going, but there are so many frustrations. In The Walking Dead, the post-Apocalypse protagonists have come to terms with what is happening and fight to survive it. In Fear The Walking Dead, the characters are like morons at the end of the world. They don’t understand it, cannot believe their eyes, cannot understand what must be done. On the one hand that’s perfectly understandable, the show taking a real-world ‘this can’t be happening/everyone in denial’ kind of approach. But it’s so frustrating as a viewer with five seasons of undead apocalypse behind you. The characters may be behaving realistically but it also makes them look very stupid in the face of whats going on. I felt like shouting at the screen at several points utterly aghast at character behaviour. Unfortunately characters acting like idiots don’t engender much empathy, and frankly I was watching hoping a number of them would just get their stupidity rewarded by bloody demise.

meet the neighbour...

 

And if the stupidity wasn’t enough, well, these aren’t the most likeable bunch of characters anyway. Something went wrong when the writing team set up the main characters or when the roles were cast because as a family unit nothing really convinces. It seems impossible to really care about any of them; they almost seem to deserve the end of the world. If AMC had gone with a longer season one order, maybe even just up to ten episodes, somehow established some empathy and sympathy with the protagonists before the dead start to upset their suburban idyll, maybe that would have sorted some of the show’s problems, but six episodes just isn’t enough.  Likewise limiting it to pretty much one family unit is putting all your eggs into the one basket and here it comes up wanting, particularly as this family unit is so annoying. The Walking Dead has always had some diversity to its characters; there is always someone to root for, some  differences to give drama and conflict. There’s little here though- Mom has an irritating junkie son and irritating lovestruck daughter; Mom’s boyfriend has an irritating ex and an irritating son who doesn’t answer his phone and is preoccupied with his camcorder. None of them really seem likeable and all of them are pretty and stupid.

Its incredible how much this show falters and how many things are just done so wrong. After five seasons of The Walking Dead I would have thought this would have been a walk in the park and opportunity to use its wider canvas to make a better show than The Walking Dead, tell stories the other show can’t. Instead it just shows how good The Walking Dead is in comparison.

I only hope that the creative team can use the longer second season to fix some of the many problems that Fear The Walking Dead has- get back to telling the story that it should be telling and perhaps rethink the cast (and drop some of them quick). There is a chance that the problems can be fixed but failing that, I can’t really see this show getting to a third season.  As it is, this six-episode first season has the feel of an extended tv pilot that doesn’t really work, and has just gotten by on the excitement fans have for the original show.