Archive for THE WALKING DEAD

THE WALKING DEAD Season 2.5: When Characters No Longer Matter

Posted in Blu-Ray, DVD, TV, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2012 by halmasonberg

Warning! Spoiler Alert!

It seems I am NOT your average viewer. I readily confess to being baffled by the reactions I get from others regarding the TV series THE WALKING DEAD. I’ve blogged about this show before (THE WALKING DEAD: Dead On ArrivalTHE WALKING DEAD Season 2.0: Rising From The Ashes) and I feel the need to keep my thoughts updated as the series progresses. To summarize my feelings, I thought the first season suffered from lazy writing. Poor dialogue, a lack of inner logic, and lazy solutions and outcomes that seemed to serve the writers’ needs more than the characters’. Add to that, generic zombies that came across more like extras in makeup than people we once knew and engaged with in our day-to-day lives. All that said, writing is difficult and challenging and how the first season turned out may not be a reflection of the talent of the writers involved. Many more factors enter in to what finds its way to the screen.

Regardless, the result was that I initially had no plans to continue watching the show. Until I heard that an all-new team of writers had been brought on for Season 2. For me, the first half of the second season elevated itself far above the first season. Finally, characters were being developed over time and acting within the limits of what had been set up. I didn’t feel the writers rushing to the next zombie attack, but letting it happen organically while understanding that nothing mattered or had consequences if the characters themselves were not believable and offering some measure of dimensionality. Though the writing never managed to become great –and certainly not as good as the show had the potential to offer– it was, to my mind, leagues ahead of where it had been, even if it still showed signs of laziness from time to time (the zombie in the pharmacy). I finally felt myself being pulled in, sorry to see each episode end while excited to catch the next.

Sadly, as the second half of the second season aired and came to a close, I personally felt the show and its characters dropped back into the pit of unmotivated actions and behaviors, events of convenience (more for the writers again than the characters). In essence, I stopped believing in this world. I stopped caring. What had begun to excite me, now had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Again.

But it seems I might have been alone.

The few conversations I’ve had with others have shown me just how outside the mainstream I might be. It seems those I talk to felt the first half of the second season was boring; not enough zombie action and too much talking about feelings. Which I interpret as “I don’t care about character development, I just want to see some really cool shit.” I had a conversation last night with a nice gentleman who agreed that a lot of what was happening wasn’t really motivated or particularly well-written, but he was thrilled to see “something finally happening.” But what I saw were things happening that betrayed the characters, the world of the story, and any audience member with a desire for inner logic and organic character development. What the show returned to for me was a world in which characters show up in places they would never go and at times they could never realistically manage. Characters who would say things I don’t believe they’d say and come to conclusions that any believable person simply would not come to (without a writer breathing down their necks): Dale wandering alone in a field at night for no good reason and then having a zombie suddenly “appear” inches behind him out in the open and unnoticed. Carl wandering around stealing guns and poking at zombies deep in the woods. Carl showing up in an open field at night just after his father has killed Shane. Talk about place and timing! Especially since Shane went to all that trouble to set up an elaborate scheme to lure Rick through the woods and into this field (that is oddly right outside the house they started at!), only to have Carl find them there. And why would Shane want to kill Rick out in the open instead of in the woods? And why would Carl not tell his father that Shane has risen and is coming up behind him? Instead, he chooses to take the risk that he might accidentally shoot his father? Or that he might miss them both and his father will be eaten by Shane and become a zombie himself?

And then there’s the attack on the house at the end. Silly. Zombies reaching out and grabbing people from off frame as if the edge of the frame were also the edge of the characters’ sight lines. I’m sorry, running from a crowd of zombies, you know if you’re running alongside one. Again, it’s more act of convenience than anything else. Andrea falling down and the others assuming that the zombies “got her” instead of opening the door to find out and help her. Don’t buy it. And everyone turning on Rick at the end, wanting to go their separate ways. And Rick never fully explaining that Shane created this elaborate plan that included killing a man just so he could lure Rick out to the woods to murder him and take position again as Rick’s wife’s lover and the father to their boy (and unborn child). He never mentions that Shane held him at gunpoint. Kind of an important fact to leave out, especially when all your friends are judging you harshly for your actions. And despite any guilt Rick has (and some of that guilt is just), there’s not one character there I believe would blame Rick or question Shane’s intent. Not for a second. And I certainly don’t believe they would all turn on Rick. Particularly not his wife Lori who is the one who warned Rick about Shane, that he was dangerous and planning something and that Rick needed to take action. Add to all that Rick’s sudden decision to declare himself the group’s dictatorial leader… No, it’s all a matter of convenience; I can feel the writers’ wheels spinning in desperation. Very little of it feels organic or keeps within the logic of the series. But the comment I keep hearing is “at least something’s happening.” I guess as long as you have zombies attacking, it doesn’t matter if the writing’s awful or lazy. It doesn’t matter if the characters are devoid of dimension or behave in unbelievable ways.

It all falls under what I now call The RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES syndrome; when some of the laziest, most logic-defying, downright god-awful writing is lauded as intelligent and engaging. I suppose it’s my personal Twilight Zone.

The same gentleman I had been talking to also complained that the storyline surrounding Carol’s missing daughter, Sophia, was “dragged out” over six episodes when it should have been wrapped in two. Am I the only one who understands that this was the backbone of season two? That what happened here would forever effect these characters and how they view not only this new world, but themselves and one another? This was the human element that the show was finally dealing with. Hope versus hopelessness. Humanity versus inhumanity. Compassion versus savagery. THESE are the issues that will allow a show like THE WALKING DEAD to be more than a series of zombie attacks. This is the event that either separated people or brought them together. Without this storyline, Darrel would never have had the opportunity to grow beyond simply being “the hick.” No, that little girl became a symbol. And a complex one at that. And the power of the final reveal of Sophia’s untimely death and the manner in which it took place and what it meant for each character, would not have had near the impact or significance had it wrapped in two episodes. No, it seems people would rather have “stuff happening,” than an actual story about human beings struggling both internally and externally in a horrible, nightmarish setting.

Sigh…

Regardless of whether or not I stand alone in this, the beginning of the second season of THE WALKING DEAD had me on the edge of my seat. The show was finally giving me a reason to care. They were finally addressing some of the deeper issues, some of the thematic and moral and social issues that this new world would offer; emotional survival IN ADDITION to physical survival. But now, as with the first season, I simply don’t give a shit. Nor do I trust the makers of this show to find a way to offer quality over quantity. Now the show looks like it’s about to dive head-first into its graphic novel roots which will either make it a really fun, cool show, or simply even more ridiculous. Given what I’ve seen so far, I’m expecting the latter. And I can’t say that I’ll actually be sticking around to find out. Maybe if I hear people complaining about it, that “nothing’s happening,”  I’ll tune in because, as the first two seasons have shown me, what I like and dislike about this show is out of sync with those I engage with about it. But I’ll be sticking to my guns on this one. I’m a demanding audience member and have no intention of lowering my standards to find satisfaction within a show that cannot live up to its potential. I don’t know if that makes me too much of a geek or not enough of one.

What I do know, however, is that the spine of THE WALKING DEAD is slowly being severed from its brain and, if someone doesn’t step in and stop it soon, there will be nothing left but an inanimate corpse, not dangerous or interesting, just simply dead. And unfortunate.

At least so far as this viewer is concerned.

THE WALKING DEAD: Dead On Arrival

Posted in Film, TV, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2010 by halmasonberg

Let me start out by saying that I am fully aware of the extreme popularity of AMC’s new show THE WALKING DEAD. However, popular does not make it good. I will also say right up front here that I consider myself a huge zombie film fan. How did that happen? Well, it was probably seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a theater by myself when I was only 9. It was on a double bill with THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. I was traumatized and thrilled, all at the same time. Ever since, zombies, when done well, have scared the living crap out of me. And no one does zombies better than NIGHT director George Romero. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be done well by another. That’s why I had such high hopes for the Frank Darabont/Gale Anne Hurd-produced series THE WALKING DEAD.

About five years ago, a producer I was working with (not a particularly honorable fellow, but a lover of horror films) handed me the first two graphic novels in THE WALKING DEAD series. He knew I loved zombie films and he thought these graphic novels would make a great series. I read them and felt, ultimately, that the characters were too thin and the plot too, well, tired and simple to be of much interest to me. I found the idea of a zombie series exciting, but if we were going to do something like that, I couldn’t see starting out with such lightweight material. Not that it wasn’t entertaining on a certain level, it was, but it was never truly engaging. And it certainly wasn’t thought-provoking. And contrary to studio belief, a story needs to be both if it is to be successful on more than just a monetary level. And while I do love me some money, it is almost never my main motivator.

So I passed on pursuing that particular avenue. When I heard it was finally being made into a series and that Darabont was attached, I had seriously hoped that he would bring something special to it; elevate it beyond its graphic novel roots. But four episodes in, I have to say, while mildly entertained, I’m more disappointed than anything else. There was a time when this might have been hailed as “ground-breaking” TV, maybe even daring. But the bar has been raised so high by cable shows like THE WIRE and DEADWOOOD, THE SOPRANOS and AMC’s own MAD MEN that, by comparison, THE WALKING DEAD is almost rubbish.

“But it’s just a zombie show! It’s not supposed to be MAD MEN!”  Wrong attitude. Was THE WIRE just another cop procedural? Was DEADWOOD just another western? THE SOPRANOS just another mob flick? No. So THE WALKING DEAD had a chance to be more than just another zombie film (or series, as the case may be). But it’s not. The writing is average, nothing memorable or revealing, nothing elevated beyond the depths of a CSI or COLD CASE episode. Not that those are terrible, mind you, they’re certainly entertaining, but they don’t strive to be anything more. Even George Romero, over 40 years ago, recognized that his subject matter was ripe material for social commentary. And just as importantly, he knew how to make his zombies scary, and that’s another area where THE WALKING DEAD fails miserably.

One of the things that always made Romero’s zombies so vastly unsettling and downright terrifying, was that we recognized them. If not on an individual basis, then as types. They were our neighbors, our teachers, our friends, our children, ourselves. Any random image of a zombie in a Romero film would strike a chord, reach inside and mess with some part of our collective psyches. The zombies in THE WALKING DEAD are defined by “this one has a hanging jaw, this one isn’t wearing a shirt, this one is crawling, this one is limping.” They are “effects” not characters; mere background, not players. The filmmakers here have failed to allow the zombies to be us. Even when our hero takes a moment to identify and honor the body of a walking dead member of society whose guts he’s about to smear all over himself, it’s an intellectual exercise, not an emotional or visceral one. We never see the face of this once-person. He represents nothing to us, the viewer. There’s only one moment so far in the entire series when a zombie is actually disturbing and scary, and that’s in the first episode when one character must face the fact that his wife, now turned zombie, is wandering around outside the house with some vague memory, some basic instinct, to return to the house where she had once stayed. But in THE WALKING DEAD, she’s one zombie in a thousand. The rest are extras in makeup, nothing more.

Ironically, while it’s the zombies that should be societal archetypes in THE WALKING DEAD, it’s our main characters that are written as such instead. The Hick. The Cop. The Wife. The Best Friend. The Old Man. The Racist. The Smart Kid. The Son. The Crazy Guy. Tired melodramatic scenarios borrowed from too many other series are used here with little originality or invention. Secondary characters given special attention during an episode’s opening teaser, will most certainly meet a gruesome demise by that same episode’s close. The plots are predictable, used. They lack inspiration. The action is borrowed and rehashed from other zombie genre entries, with the characters never for a moment attaining three dimensions. Even the teaser from the very first episode was lacking in surprise or meaning; it was an unnecessary moment that seemed to have more to do with trying to “shock” the audience instead of engage it. It was poorly executed, devoid of character, sorely out of place in the chronology of the storytelling and, sadly, set the tone for the rest of the episodes to come. It felt as if the filmmakers didn’t trust their own audience right out of the gate.

It’s unfortunate. I had sworn off watching new shows before they were complete and available on Blu-ray. I’m not a fan of the wait between episodes or, even worse, between seasons, a gap that has grown so wide I find it takes me half a season just to remember the previous! But THE WALKING DEAD lured me out of my self-induced exile from currently-running series. It will also, unfortunately, send me back.

I will watch the remaining episodes of the first season out of some vague hope that it might get better, and out of some misguided allegiance to the genre. I suppose that makes me a zombie of sorts myself. But now that the show has been picked up for a second season, it’s gonna take a lot more than good word of mouth to lure me back in. I’m looking, hoping, to find something to hang on to here. But so far, I’m just coming up empty.

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