Friday, January 4, 2013

The Walking Dead [television review, part one]

The first half of season three aired on AMC from October through December of last year; the second half of season three premieres on February 10th

Warning: major spoilers ahead if you haven't seen up through the eighth episode of season three

Record ratings for a basic cable show, along with critical and viewer raves be damned - I think The Walking Dead is one of, if not the most aggravating TV programs I've ever spent time with. I've tried to write a review of the show a couple of different times over the past year or so, but found myself repeatedly hitting a creative roadblock, as will happen occasionally when I'm trying to formulate my thoughts into words on a particular subject. So I've just been stockpiling plenty of observations and opinions over the course of watching all 27 episodes of the AMC drama during its two and a half seasons on the air. Because I have so much to say, I'll break up my review into two parts (as I've said on here before, most people look at a bulky 2000+ word review - which is what this full one would clock in at - and aren't exactly willing to dive right into it). Part one looks at the show's biggest weakness: a crippling lack of likable and sympathetic characters.

In my 42 year lifetime of being an avid TV consumer, I'm hard-pressed to come up with another show I've watched with a large ensemble cast that has so few agreeable characters and as many thoroughly unlikable ones as this one (The Newsroom would be a not-too-distant second). There's exactly two characters since the show began that I enjoy, who either haven't annoyed the hell out of me or made me shrug with indifference: Steven Yeun's Glenn and Lauren Cohan's Maggie (Norman Reedus' Daryl might qualify as half a likable character). Everyone else on The Walking Dead I've felt absolutely no attachment to and completely failed to be intrigued by, which is a huge problem as a viewer watching a program built upon the concept of rooting for the survival of the main group. Here's a rundown of the show's main characters and my many issues with them:

  • Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln)...the show's protagonist has admittedly exerted more sensible authority in the first half of season three than he did during his bumbling time as de facto group leader in the first two seasons. Rick's stupid choices and numerous moments of indecision earlier on were obviously meant to complicate the character and convey the difficulties of navigating the changed world which the group inhabits - his actions just had me slapping my forehead repeatedly, though. This and Lincoln's tendency to overact has always kept me at arm's length from warming up to the character. 
  • Lori (played by Sarah Wayne Callies)...Lori was a huge nag who repeatedly proved incapable of keeping an eye on her adolescent son Carl (played by Chandler Riggs), despite the fact that danger lurks around every corner since, you know, there's a zombie apocalypse going on and all. Plus she hooked up with Shane, Rick's best friend, a little too quickly when they thought Rick was dead after the world went down the crapper following the virus outbreak. It seems I wasn't alone in disliking the character, judging from the overwhelmingly negative reactions online from viewers.   
  • Shane (played by Jon Bernthal)...the season one and two character, who was incredibly stubborn and irritatingly cocky, had "weaselly prick" written all over him almost immediately (see the Lori hookup, among many other examples). 
  • Carl (played by Chandler Riggs)...I cannot remember the last time an actor annoyed me like the precocious Riggs has over the past two seasons. I know ripping a kid for being a crappy actor is mean, but screw it - he simply is. Like Keanu Reeves, you can practically see the acting mechanisms whirring in his head. Riggs didn't have much to do until about halfway through season two, at which point Carl started being worked more into the important storylines, usually as a result of his bratty behaviour (like wandering off again and taunting a walker stuck in the mud, an action that would come back to have major implications). Season three has unfortunately seen the show's writers establish Carl as much more grown up and able to take on bigger responsibilities, all while wearing his dad's sheriff's hat (subtle symbolism there, writers). That bloody hat has been glued to Carl's head for every scene Riggs has appeared in during season three's first half, which has somehow made the character even more intensely annoying to me. I doubt we'll see it, but I'm desperately hoping Carl meets a very grisly ending. 
  • Dale (played by Jeffrey DeMunn)...while on the topic of grisly endings, such an occurrence thankfully befell this character in season two. When the sanctimonious Dale became zombie chow, I literally bounced off my couch, pumped my fist, and exclaimed "Yes!" with delight. I will give this to The Walking Dead - it definitely provokes some emotional reactions, even if they're not the ones the show's brain trust are necessarily looking for (the show also elicits plenty of unintentional laughter from me). 
  • T-Dog (played by IronE Singleton)...the combination of a character with a lame nickname who was usually given less to do than the background scenery, played by an actor with an even stupider first name adds up to one more member of the group whose fate I simply had no investment in. I also always felt an uncomfortable "token black character" vibe with T-Dog, like the producers felt obligated to at least have some black representation on a show that looks awfully white for a story that takes place in Georgia, where one third of the population is black (in Atlanta, where the show started out, the black population is over 50%). And yes, I get that this is a show about zombies and one obviously needs to suspend disbelief about a lot of things - it's just an observation. Granted, the black Michonne character, a major one, was added in season three, but the "token" thing stood out to me even more after one of the secondary black prisoner characters was briefly given a more prominent role right when T-Dog was mercifully put out of his misery near the end of the mid-season finale from the most recent run of episodes. And as soon as that prisoner went down for the count, another black male character named Tyreese was almost immediately then introduced. It's interesting (and rather amusing) is all I'm saying.
  • Michonne (played by Danai Gurira)...I'm just not caring whatsoever about this one-note character, boringly played by Gurira with a perpetual scowl. 
  • Andrea (played by Laurie Holden)...Andrea feels like the female version of Shane - arrogant and unlikable from episode one of the series. It seemed fitting that the two got together for a brief fling, one that had all the sparks of a soggy Roman Candle.
  • Carol (played by Melissa McBride) of the many examples of very poorly written female characters on The Walking Dead, Carol never really has much to do, all while doing it with quite possibly the worst hairdo in TV history. She's such an admired part of the group that they hardly bothered to look for her after she went missing during the zombie attack on the prison in episode four from this season. 
  • Merle (played by Michael Rooker)...I had hopes for Merle, whose return to the series after being abandoned early in season one was entirely predictable. Since reappearing this season, he's been an uneven mixture of at times being his old, nasty redneck self and other times being a man seemingly neutered by his current overlord, The Governor. 
  • The Governor (played by David Morrissey)...the writers can try to inject all the dark and complex duality into this character that they want - he's still forgettably dull.
  • Hershel (played by Scott Wilson)...not quite Carl or Dale-level irritating, but Hershel's propensity for dispensing his folksy wisdom had me hoping that the zombie bite he took on his lower leg earlier this season would mark the departure of yet another hard-to-take character. No such luck. Hershel's addition of a priceless ponytail this season provided some good laughs, while having the same grating effect as Carl's ever-present chapeau.
Part two to follow...

Rating: D  


  1. While I love the show and can't agree with a lot of your points, your review did make me laugh a couple of times. Poor Carl!


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