Thursday, 9 December 2010

TV Review | The Walking Dead (Season One)

Oh well.

But didn't it start strong?

With The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont at the helm, it'd have been stranger, all things considered, if it hadn't have done; if the breakout talent behind one of the greatest films of all time had suddenly gone to ground, particularly given such fertile territory to stake a claim on. Sadly, what begins with a bang - literally, with Andrew Lincoln as Sheriff Rick Grimes separating a pitiable little zombie girl from her skullcap - ends with a fizzle (albeit an explosive one) symbolic of all this show's woefully misspent potential.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Wounded in a shoot-out before the outbreak, Rick awakens alone from a coma to find society in utter disarray. But for the rotting, flea-ridden corpses piled one upon the other, the streets are unnervingly empty. Those survivors that there are seem to have gone feral in their desperation - shovel, let me introduce you to face - and the undead responsible for driving them to such depths aren't particularly chipper either. They seem oddly... what? Hungry?

Despairing, Rick goes where I expect we'd all go under such circumstances: he goes home, and though his wife and son are absent, so too are their family albums. Sure against all good reason that they've not been gobbled - what would a zombie want with a collection of sentimental photos, after all? - the county Sheriff puts a bunch of guns in a bag and takes to Atlanta, where the word on the street is some survivors have gathered. Who knows? Maybe there's a family reunion on the cards after all.

Following the events of the comic book by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard near-enough panel for panel, The Walking Dead begins brilliantly, perfectly replicating some powerful imagery and twisting things for television just so. A superb pilot and a more moderately impressive second episode leave you with the distinct impression that we could be looking at a truly great show, here - certainly with Darabont and Kirkman pulling the strings behind the scenes and an at-times virtuoso performance from Andrew Lincoln, who carries the lightweight narrative handily, all signs point to the positive.

And then... well. Then the milk sours. The moment we've all been waiting for - the pay-off of all the tension and dread established throughout the escapade in Atlanta, the coming together of the various survivors, not to speak of Rick's decidedly unlikely luck - the moment is a nonsense: fudged, awkward and unconvincing. The uneven ensemble cast assembles at last, foregrounding all its myriad flaws. Certainly the strongest link in the great chain of survivors, Rick puts on his conflicted family man hat and sadly recedes from the forefront of the action, the better to attend to a wife who seems to have been rutting in the woods with another guy the second she heard of his death (reports of which have been greatly exaggerated). And ill in conception and execution both - I don't suppose we can hold Darabont accountable for this much, given the similar beats of the source material - the very real threat of the undead fades away to make room for the more traditional dangers of desperate people taking desperate measures in desperate times. Precisely the sort of stuff The Walking Dead needs to be getting right if it's got any hope of remaining engaging in the long term - however much it might diverge from the comic, this show can't very well be about the zombies every week.

Instead, it flounders. The tension so deliberately established in the first few episodes dissipates like so much smoke - and the fire's gone out too, except for a couple of guttering embers here and there amongst the ashes. The creature effects are great, the visuals often tantamount to iconic, and Battlestar Galactica's Bear McCreary offers up a spare yet effective score. As the main man, Andrew Lincoln holds his own even when presented with some truly excruciating scriptwriting and supporting actors whose performances approach the cartoonish, and when the big movers and shakers are involved beyond a yay or a nay in the latter half of the show's short first season, The Walking Dead sparks briefly back to life. Whether or not it can sustain for any length of time remains to be seen, but at this rate, front-loaded and flat thereafter, I'm afraid The Walking Dead is apt to burn out well before its due.

Alas, poor zombies... alas. I had hoped to know you well.


  1. Nice review sums up my own feelings quite eloquently. Perhaps with the writing team fired and new writers to come up, it'll get better. The season finale was just terrible though.

  2. I've given up, I'm afraid. I've already run sobbing back to the graphic novels and sworn never to be unfaithful again. Didn't even bother with the last episode.

  3. I was forced to watch it and it's a rough and very short season with lots left left where did the zombies come from in the camp site ( I'm thinking the stolen truck and the handless brother) and then there was the denial of salvation in the CDC blowing up.

    I'm looking forward to the next one. I've not read the comics but there seems no hope in the series just lots of tensions. I guess I'll have to see how it all plays out.

  4. Hey, Gav. So you were forced? Kinda like I made my misbegotten other half sit down and watch The Walking Dead with me? I'm a terrible person... it's true.

    But yeah. Lots left hanging: the here and then gone handless brother, as you say, the guy and his kid from the pilot, the unresolved tension between Rick and Shane, the whisper in Rick's ear at the very end there - mayhap wifey might be pregnant? So I'll be watching when season two comes around as well - there was enough to love in those first few episodes that I can forgive much of the mediocrity which followed. I'll just be hoping against hope Darabont can claw back what was undeniably good about the show from the brink of the utter nonsense that came after Rick's arrival at base camp.

  5. Oh --- the comic's pretty sweet too. I don't read many comic books, and I'm only two trades through this one, truth be told, but it's been superb so far. Well worth stepping out of your comfort zone for, as I have.