Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Rise of THE WALKING DEAD ...!


There have been some real gems this TV season, and, in terms of drama, there have been some freshman series that have really blown me away with their level of quality and craftsmanship. BOARDWALK EMPIRE on HBO has really developed into a complex, fascinating period drama - filled to the brim with great acting, impeccable period detail, and compelling plotlines. Meanwhile, TERRIERS on FX has quickly become one of the best shows on TV, period, and maybe my favorite show of the moment. Each week, Terriers combines humor, heart, and absolutely awesome writing and acting to make for a kickass hour of neo-noir TV. If you're not watching it, you have to start. Meanwhile, TV's best sci-fi show, FRINGE, continues to be on a tear. It's ambitious, multiverse-spanning storyline this season has upped the ante, and its stellar cast continues to impress (John Noble!).

So to me, it makes it that much more impressive that one more badass drama was able to come to the party late and absolutely tear the roof off the joint. No, it wasn't really a surprise - I did, afterall, list THE WALKING DEAD as my most anticipated new TV show of the Fall. But, I was still pretty floored by just how awesome the pilot episode of the show turned out to be. And I say that already having been a huge fan of the comics, and having already read the pilot script several months ago.

The thing is, even though there'd been a lot of hype and anticipation for The Walking Dead, it didn't fully hit me until I watched the pilot on TV: this was a zombie apocalypse TV show of the highest quality. An A-list cast and creative team, on a creatively daring cable net, were actually delivering a serialized adaptation of the best comic book series of the last five years. Are you kidding me? This is the stuff of fanboy dreams. Until now, this kind of stuff simply did. not. happen. I still can barely believe that this show exists, that it's so well made, and that it turned out to be a huge ratings success for AMC. The times, they are a-changin'.

Focusing in on the pilot, I thought it was an absolutely terrific piece of television, feeling almost like a complete film in terms of its narrative scope and ambition. The mood, the atmosphere, the sense of dread - it was all established perfectly by Frank Darabont and team. Rarely have we seen the zombie apocalypse so fully and realistically realized - on film or TV. The only real comparison is the source material - the superlative comics on which the show is based - and very quickly, the series proved that it would be a faithful adaptation, especially in spirit.

A huge part of that is Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the hero of the series. Without a great Rick, there's no way the show would work well. Luckily, Lincoln pulls off the role of leader and voice of reason to a T. He's a cop, meant to keep his cool and his wits in crazy situations, now thrown into the craziest situation imaginable. Lincoln nails the whole dynamic from the get-go.

All in all, the pilot of THE WALKING DEAD was just plain awesome, and very quickly leaped to the top of the list of "Best TV Pilots of 2010." This is how you kick off a show. And, this is how you kick off a new era of bold, take-no-prisoners genre TV. Congrats to all involved - this was epic win through and through.

Pilot grade: A

- Now, the second episode of the show wasn't quite as crisp as the amazing pilot, but it was still damn good. There was a lot to like here. First and foremost was the introduction of Glenn, easily one of the most beloved characters from the comics. Glenn was every bit as cool and fun and likable on the show as he is in the books, and Steven Yeun did a great job of making that happen. I also thought that the episode had some positively kickass setpiece action sequences, with the closing car chase really kicking things up a notch and being a better-than-movie-quality barnburner.

I guess, like many, my main issues with the episode were in the somewhat forced character dynamics. Not-in-the-comics character Merle just struck me as too contrived. It just felt like the whole rascist angle of his character was too forced and cartoonish. Worse, the conflict between Merle and another new character, T-Dog, made for some pretty hamfisted dialogue and cringe-worthy character moments. The whole T-Dog character was pretty bad as well, again just sort of one-note and cartoonish. I'm not sure if T-Dog was meant as an update to Tyrese from the comics, but man, I hope not. Tyrese was one of the books' best characters, so I hope he gets to appear on the show and take part in some of the great moments from Robert Kirkman's original stories.

Still, despite some clunky scenes, the overall awesome-factor of the show was still pretty damn high in episode two. The introduction of Glenn was great, and the action was phenomenally done. And Andrew Lincoln continued to anchor things. I'll be very curious to see some of the other characters get the spotlight now - we got glimpses in this episode of characters like Dale, Andrea, and Rick's wife Lori, but should be interesting to see the melting pot that comprises the camp of survivors start to come together.

Second Episode Grade: B+

In any case, all hail the triumphant debut of THE WALKING DEAD. It's awesome to see the television medium stretching to accomodate new genres and forms of storytelling, and the show is proof that serialized, high-quality TV adaptations are the perfect way to translate comics and graphic novels to the screen. Y: The Last Man, Preacher, and Fables say hello. I say, bring 'em on.

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