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Is 'The Walking Dead' a Dead Zombie Walking?

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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010
If you like zombies, you're going to be excited about this show: the pilot is a solid hook for a television series. If you're mostly indifferent to the undead, the pilot is worth a watch and the content may keep you coming back for a few weeks before you throw in the towel.
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The Walking Dead

Pilot
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal
Regular airtime: 10pm Eastern

(AMC; US: 31 Oct 2010)

In the United States, it’s only fitting that the premiere of The Walking Dead, a television series based off the comic book by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, will occur on Halloween. If the name doesn’t say it already, it’s about zombies.


I’m just going to get to the point, the pilot was a pretty bad ass setup for a TV series. However, it was a little slow and if the series doesn’t blend the perfect combination of pace, character development and post-apocalyptic fright and gore, it’s not going to draw the mainstream audience and it will lose the target audience. Although, AMC has already placed an order for the first season, which will be composed of six episodes, and there are rumors that, before the show has even premiered, discussions for a 16-episode second season are underway. AMC is putting a lot of faith in this and, quite frankly, they have a good reason.
  
Full disclosure: I am a zombie fanatic. You think you’ve got a plan and you could survive the Uprising, I have several plans and many small pre-packed survival kits that only require me to throw them on my back or in my truck and leave. I keep my kitchen stocked with canned goods, not because I like a well-stocked kitchen, but because I like to know that I could hide out the first few weeks of the Turning before making my escape to the countryside. Those are my credentials when it comes to the ultimate “Who the hell are you to write a review about a zombie television series?”


So the good: Frank Darabont (he both adapted Steven King’s The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile into screenplays and directed both films) is the tour de force behind The Walking Dead. Darabont is credited with developing the TV series, adapting the comic book for the small screen and also directing the pilot. Of course, he is also one of the show’s many executive producers. Darabont does a pretty kick ass job and, up until the end of the pilot, stays pretty damn faithful to the first two issues of the comic book. He actually does such a good job that, having read the comics and knowing where this is going, I’m still salivating all over myself to see this get there. In short, I like his vision.


Andrew Lincoln plays Rick Grimes, the protagonist. Right now, the story really does revolve around Grimes. Basically, Grimes is a sheriff’s deputy with a moderately decent life. One day, he gets shot in the line of duty, is taken to the hospital and winds up in a coma. When he awakes, all hell has broken loose, the zombie apocalypse has been going on for a while and he is in search of his wife and son. Along the way, he meets some interesting characters and calamity ensues. Lincoln does a really good job of nailing this role of the disconcerted guy who just woke up and is bumbling through his first couple of days. He also does the transition from “Oh shit, I just woke up from a coma. Oh damn there’s a zombie” to resuming the life of a cop well, so I know the guy can act. What I’m wondering is if directors and actors are going to be able to capture Rick’s slow stumble into stress and insanity and if Lincoln has the acting range to make it believable?


Here’s what dominated: the special effects. Do you want to know what a zombie is going to look like after we’re all dead and gone, this is what a zombie is going to look like. Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of zombies in there that were a little too clean, just not dead enough for my tastes. The close-ups on zombies—the ones that are cut in half and laying in the sun being burned for days on end, their skin withering into a pale, dry, crispy and flaky shell of skin—those zombies looked fantastic.


I know it sounds like I’m praising this, and maybe a little because I do love the comic book, but there is some bad to go with the good and, well, the bad may be the bullet to put down this zombie of a show. First off, it’s a TV show and not a movie. I love zombies, but does the rest of the world? TV shows have to hold an audience for about 41 minutes every week for 13 weeks out of the year; a movie only has to hold an audience’s attention for 88 minutes once, maybe twice. So, the longevity of the show is going to be based around the simple premise that there has to be enough plot and character variability that the audience doesn’t feel like it’s watching the same episode every two or three weeks. Also, for nitpickers and sticklers, is the show going to be able to put these characters through the ins and outs of survival and mix it up enough where the audience doesn’t lose the suspension of disbelief?


The second flaw with this show is that it moves slow. It’s based on a comic book series and in comic books, there is plenty of time for character development and absorbing the environment. Since this show is shot like a cut and dry television drama, not in a stylistic Sin City-esque remake that holds true to the original medium, it’s going to move like a regular television drama. With a comic, there is a lot of room to shift the mood by shifting and transforming the art and that can give the reader a sense of characterization and pacing while saving a bunch of pages. I don’t know if a standardized television show is going to be able to capture that zing of the comic without losing pacing.


Alright, short of the long: if you like zombies, you’re going to be excited. If you don’t like zombies, you’re going to hate it. If you’re indifferent about the undead, you’ll probably enjoy the pilot and want to watch a few episodes. The pilot is a solid hook for a series. Now, what do I foresee: once again, if you like zombies, you’re in for one. If you’re not a fanatic, you might watch it every now and then, but you’re going to get bored and, unless they can catch that comic book feel, the show is going to feel like it drags on and you’re watching the same thing every week. I’m excited to see where this goes and how close to the comic book they remain, so, until the series ends, I’m watching.


The Walking Dead is scheduled to premiere during AMC’s “fearfest” in the United States at 10pm EST on October 31, 2010. Globally, The Walking Dead will be distributed through Fox’s international partners during the first week of November.


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