Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Walking Dead [television review, part two]

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

I've written well over 200 reviews on this blog and none of them were as much of a challenge to complete as this one for The Walking Dead. As mentioned in the review's first part, I hit creative roadblocks in getting my thoughts from the brain to the keyboard, which continued as I wrote the second part of this review. I actually debated whether or not to just scrap posting this second part altogether because of my unhappiness with the end result. I opted against that due to the large amount of time invested in putting it together, plus the fact that what I wanted to say is all here - I'm just not thrilled with how the structuring and wording of it came out. It's a lot longer than I wanted and the editing process was dragging on as well and I just reached my limit of how much more patience I had to continue working on it. Basically, I just want to put this one to bed already. Yes, it's unusual for a writer to admit that what they're sharing is far from their best work (unprofessional, too, I suppose...not that I get paid for this), but I'm just being upfront. And yes, I get the irony of me bitching below about the show's lazy writing and then typing what I just typed in the previous sentences. On with it then... 

Frankly, I find the writing on this show downright terrible, which is one of the biggest reasons I dislike these characters so much. Season two was defined by far too much talking and bickering amongst the group members, along with an excess of stupidity from the characters. I can appreciate that one's ability to make rational decisions would be diminished in the challenging environment and circumstances these people find themselves in, but that doesn't excuse the many, many boneheaded choices and moves the writers saddled these characters with, resulting in behaviour that alienated me to the point of no return. For example: 
  • Darryl riding a chopper that yes, would be great on gas and advantageous in getting places a bigger vehicle can't access, but is LOUDER THAN HELL and therefore a zombie magnet. Conversely, there was the decision by some of the group members to get around in an RV, which is just about the worst vehicle you could drive in terms of gas mileage (and it was a broken down RV at that). 
  • At the end of season two, we find out that the group doesn't even have their vehicles loaded up with supplies in case they have to make a hasty exit if zombies attacked the farm, as ended up happening. Nor do they have an arranged meeting point should they get displaced from the farm, although that didn't keep most of the scattered group from miraculously arriving at the same time at the same place after the farm attack. In another example of extremely shortsighted planning, they wait until Lori's baby is born in season three before stocking up on baby formula, a commodity that strangely seems to be quite easy for the group to find in abandoned daycares and stores.    
  • On several occasions (even on into season three when he went off alone to find medical supplies in the prison), Carl wanders off by himself with completely ineffective repercussions from his parents. The fact he keeps doing it might point to a kid with a rebellious and adventurous streak - I'll chalk it up to a combination of his not being very bright, crappy parenting, and lackadaisical writing.    
  • In season two, Andrea, feeling empowered with her newly discovered supposed markswoman skills, mistakenly shoots Darryl from a distance because an already suffered injury has him conveniently shuffling along like a zombie and, uh, the sun got in her eyes. It was one of the many unintentionally hilarious moments this series has delivered. 
  • In season two, Shane slices open his good hand to attract some zombies with his blood. I might have chosen the less useful hand I don't shoot or stab walkers with, but that's just me. 
More lazy writing abounds throughout the series, resulting in uneven story elements that eschew logic to accommodate the storylines and enhance the drama. Some of the following would also qualify under the "stupid decisions" category, but here's some examples:
  • The reunion between Carol and the group in the seventh episode of season three after she'd been missing in the prison for an extended period didn't add up. Yes, it made sense that the group was happy and tearful at seeing her again - why, then, was barely any effort made to find her? It struck me as a case of the producers shortcutting their way to the reunion's easy emotional payoff.  
  • In the episode previous to the aforementioned one, the scene between Andrea and a woman guarding The Governor's commune resulted in another unintentionally hilarious scene. The woman states that she's proficient with a crossbow, but then proves to be the anti-Katniss when she's incapable of taking out a slow-moving walker from a short distance. It's an amateurly executed scene both in its dialogue and acting that unimaginatively exists only to demonstrate Andrea's toughness and lack of regard for authority, as she climbs over the barricaded wall to handle the walker herself. The rationale of The Governor having this woman on guard duty, after it's been well established that he runs a very tight ship in regards to the safety of the commune, makes zero sense.    
  • Lori, after stating in season two that the group should avoid making unnecessary trips off the farm, soon after irrationally decides to go after her husband who's out on a mission with some other members, all of whom have demonstrated an ability to take care of themselves. Naturally, she ends up flipping her car en route to saving the day, putting herself, her fetus, and anyone who has to rescue them in danger. Utterly ridiculous.
  • In season two, some characters risk their lives and a lot of their limited ammunition to save the life of a guy that just tried to kill them who ends up impaled on a metal fence post. That was bad enough. Said rescuee is then walking amazingly fine just a week later after being patched up by a veterinarian (Hershel) coming off a booze bender following a decades-long period of sobriety. The comedy gold continues.   
I could continue to rail on about the other things I dislike about this show: its atrocious pacing (an interminable amount of time was spent on the season two search for Sophia, storylines were revisited too often, and many episodes were completely devoid of action until the last five or ten minutes, when the producers seemingly jammed any zombie killing in as an obligatory bone to action-craving viewers); the disgusting double standard that allows the most gruesome violence you could ever see on a TV or film screen air at 9 p.m. on basic cable, yet nudity and the word "fuck" are strictly verboten; how the novelty of the zombies wore off a long, long time ago; and the show's incredibly boring action sequences. You get the idea by this point, though.

I'm sure some of you still reading this are thinking that I need to stop taking a show about zombies so seriously and picking it apart. To reiterate what I wrote in part one of my review: trust me, I'm totally able to suspend my disbelief with a show like this and succumb to its charms. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead has next to none. And my critique is so nitpicky because I am holding the show to a higher standard, mostly based on its overwhelmingly glowing reviews, but also because of the rabid viewer following the show generates. Entertainment Weekly magazine says this of the series: "Pound for pound and thrill for thrill, The Walking Dead could turn out to be the greatest thriller ever produced for television" and "...the real star of The Walking Dead is its sharp, humane writing". Other adjectives I've read and heard to describe it (and from professional TV critics no less) are "brilliant", "great", and "genius". Like the similarly mystifying critical love given to Homeland, I simply don't understand how they're watching the same dumb show I amDuring a recent conversation with a friend about the huge ratings and fan enthusiasm for the program, he said The Walking Dead had probably resonated so deeply with viewers because the horror genre was so underrepresented on TV and nothing like this had ever aired before. That makes sense on a certain level, but crap is still crap, so I'm still mystified why a show that's as hugely flawed as this one has connected on such a massive level with such a widespread demographic and those who write about the medium. And reminding myself about that whole "taste is subjective" thing doesn't make me any less perplexed. 

So why in the world am I still watching a program I've crapped over as much as this one? Partly, it's a bizarre fascination with the massive disconnect between where I stand on the show and where a hell of a lot of other people seem to stand. Another reason is I genuinely do get enjoyment out of watching for the unintentional laughs and colossal stupidity on display in almost every episode. Apparently, this practice has now been coined "hate watching" and has developed into a popular trend. Watching for the wrong reasons only has so much of a shelf life, though, so I'll probably only hang in there for a few more episodes when the second half of season three resumes next month. One other thing that does intrigue me about this show is the upheaval going on behind the scenes with some of the top people determining its creative direction. Showrunner Frank Darabont quit early on in season two and his replacement, Glen Mazzarra, either quit or was fired (the details are a little murky) earlier this month. Perhaps the instability explains the mess that appears onscreen. 

Finally, as much as I've criticized The Walking Dead, I'm not completely without some praise for it. Along with the likable Glen and Maggie characters I've already mentioned, the show consistently demonstrates great special effects and I've also been impressed more than once with some of the artfully composed shots that have appeared (one was an eerie long shot from the episode aired during the same night as the Oscars last year where a lone zombie walked through an open field, another was the death scene of Shane from season two set in another field bathed in moonlight with fog rolling around). And I must admit, the moment in the second season's mid-season finale where a zombified Sophia emerged from Hershel's barn and was gunned down by Rick was outstanding and almost redeemed the entire boring season that had led up to it, even if in retrospect, I felt as dumb as the rest of the characters were for not figuring out before that point that maybe they should have checked the mystery barn on the very land where they were staying. Also, the show has also made some bold moves in killing off major characters, even if that maneuver has now become rather de riguer on other cable dramas like Sons Of AnarchyBoardwalk Empire, American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, and Game Of Thrones. Those last two sentences sum up my at-odds relationship with The Walking Dead - even when I'm attempting to find something positive to say about it, the compliments tend to end up coming out backhanded.

Rating: D 

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