I often complain about Network Decay (warning, tv tropes). It seems to be a natural process in which niche TV networks abandon their roots, and change their programming in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. This is the process that turned the much loved TechTV into G4 (TV network that shows COPS reruns, Silly Japanese game shows, and sometimes airs shows targeted at the console gamers), Scifi Channel into SyFy (a wrestling oriented network which sometimes shows low budget monster movies) and made History Channel programming to be dominated with reality shows, supernatural investigation and UFO shows in lieu of real history. Up until recently I thought this was always a negative process in which networks turn to low brow, cheaply made programming in search of a quick buck. But it appears that sometimes Network Decay can go the other way.
The American Movie Classics (nowadays known as AMC) used to be primarily focused on airing old movies. It was the network where you would go to see some good old John Wayne westerns, or black and white classics. But in the last decade, the Network Decay kicked in and they abandoned that premise almost entirely. But instead of spending all their money on sensationalist reality shows, they decided to actually produce good television. All of a sudden they made the critically acclaimed Mad Men, and a well received remake of The Prisoner, only to follow it up with an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel The Walking Dead.
When I first heard about the “new zombie show on AMC” I was skeptical. As much as I like zombie stories, I did not think they could pull it off. The genre is tricky – zombie flicks tend to kitschy and shallow. Same goes for graphic novel adaptations – few people know how to do them well. The secret seems to be slavish faithfulness to the source. The hubris of produces and directors who decide to improve upon it with their own ideas almost always results in a complete failure. Hell, making a watchable TV series is a slowly fading art too. So making The Walking Dead would mean overcoming these 3 non-trivial challenges: making a zombie story that doesn’t suck, making a comic book adaptation that doesn’t blow, and making a series that will not get canceled after the pilot.
In a rather surprising move AMC has assembled a crack team of people who actually knew what they were doing. They got Frank Darabont (known for Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile) in the dual role of a director and a producer. They got a nice group of executive producers: Gale Anne Hurd (who worked on Terminators and Aliens movies), Adam Fierro (Dexter, The Shield and 24) and Charles H. Eagle (Dexter, Dark Angel, The Shield). They got Bear McCreary to compose the music (he previously worked on Battlestar Galactica and Sarah Connor Chronicles). They also got Robert Kirkman himself to aid in writing the scripts and make sure the series is not veering off the course or breaking away from his vision. I don’t know about you, but for me this seems like a pretty good team.
It turns out that everything people have been saying about this series is true. It is very, very good! After watching the entire season in the span of two evenings I’m craving more. I honestly can’t wait for the next season!
I haven’t actually read Kirkman’s comic so I can’t really say how it differs from the story, but from what I’m told it is pretty close. In fact, most of the characters seem to look like their drawn counterparts. Whether or not it departs from the source I could not say.
One thing is certain though. Kirkman created a story that I have always wanted to see, but up until now no one was up to a challenge. I always thought that Zombie genre had a great dramatic potential. Think about it: the civilization has ended, the few surviving humans live in constant fear, besieged on all sides by un-thinking, un-caring beasts. They have to wake up every morning knowing full well, that a single bite or scratch can turn them into mindless beasts. Worse, they may actually witnessed their close ones bitten and transformed into monsters. There is a lot of room here for some very introspective, philosophical and character driven storytelling. It is surprising that most zombie themed movies and shows up until now have been more about shooting the living dead in the face, rather than about characters struggling with their loss.
The Walking Dead is different. It focuses primarily on the characters, their relationships and how they cope with their loss, their new life and tensions in the small community of survivors. It tells a story about the rifts and tensions within the group when the dire circumstances cause racism, sexism and jealousy rear their ugly heads. Kirkman populates his world with interesting side characters such as the viscous street gang which [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] takes over an old retirement house to take care of surviving elderly, or a failed scientist who realizes that he is not smart enough to actually find a cure to the plague. It is a series about people. Living people, since the dead ones are just a background. But a very well done background.
The zombie costumes and effects are actually done exceptionally well. I really did not expect AMC to pull it off this well, but zombies are just awesome in their full gut spilling, brain splattering glory. It’s actually kinda silly – no one in the series ever utters a curse word, but when it is zombie killing time blood, guts and puss spill by the gallon. The special effect guys never miss a chance to show you a close-up of a well executed head shot or a nice panning shot of a feeding horde ripping their victim to shreds. Kinda funny if you think about it, but I don’t think a zombie show would actually work without the gratuitous amount of gore. Don’t you think?
Excellent show! It definitely gets my seal of approval. Thanks for recommending it.