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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dead Island...No, the Other One

I'm going to do my best to keep this one short because my recent blog outputs have been unforgivably verbose. Plus, I need to maintain my busy schedule of sitting on my couch and staring at the wall.

Yep, it's winter intercession. I probably should be doing something productive with my time but a confluence of events that include both my Athens' jobs being unavailable and me not fully understanding the concept of an application deadline have left me stranded in the homeland, Twinsburg, Ohio. And oh has it been boring. But one of the bright spots came this past Sunday with the midseason finale of "The Walking Dead."

I really like "The Walking Dead." But I'm starting to feel like I might be the only person on the planet who still does . My TV critic go-tos, Alan Sepinwall and the A.V. Club have both been lukewarm toward season 2. Ken Tucker at EW and Andy Greenwald at Grantland have downright hated it. And the commenters on all four websites have me fearing for creator and exec-producer Robert Kirkman's safety.

A lot of what the critics say does have merit but I'm started to get a little frustrated with the moving critical target on this show.

Season one of "The Walking Dead" was for the most part, a mess. Over an abbreviated six episodes, a very large unruly cast of characters ran around Atlanta from location to location with shifting sets of motivations. I think the producers felt the pressure to make a good impression with only six episodes and overextended themselves, producing a sense of chaos instead of excitement. Critics pointed this out and rightfully so.

Season two slowed things down considerably with the characters settling on a farm that was largely untouched by the zombie apocalypse. The new setting solved the schizophrenic pacing problems of the first season and has given the characters some space to breathe and interact with each other.

This is where I depart from most critics of the show. Most of them say that yes, it's nice that things have slowed down but it has only revealed that the characters aren't worth following. Some have even opined for the more frenetic zombie-killing porn aspect of the first season. I cry bullshit and for two reasons.

1. Desensitization - The last thing this TV show needs is for its audience to become desensitized to the undead violence its peddling. By kill #3 in most zombie movies, the audience has already become acclimated to the violence and decapitating hundreds of
reanimated corpses becomes no different than euthanizing cattle. "The Walking Dead" has done a great job of keeping its audience (or maybe just me) viscerally frightened and repulsed a the sight of a decaying corpse stumbling around. And the "Walking Dead" has been around for 10+ hours already where most zombie movies are only two hours. Also, if season four of "Breaking Bad" taught us anything it's that a slow burn to an explosive conclusion can be immensely satisfying on cable. It would mean the death of the show for the producers to go "Fuck it, we're not that good at characterization...let's try our hand at zombie-killing porn." We'd all be desensitized within three weeks and the same critics who called for the show to embrace its bloodlust more would say that it had gone too far and now needs to be off the air. But what about their difficulties with characterization...

2. They're Archetypes, Stupid - We get spoiled with TV shows such as "The Sopranos" or "Breaking Bad" and their characters who are so realistically human that we often forget that 98% of all characters who have ever appeared on television are broadly drawn people with a few outsized, exaggerated traits. "The Walking Dead" doesn't have characters as rich as Walter White or Tony Soprano but there is no shame in that. What season two has revealed is that the show has wisely abandoned the ambition to live up to characters in all-time classic cable shows. Instead, it has aimed its sights slightly lower, at an all-time classic network show. "The Walking Dead" is striving to be "Lost."

The characters on "Lost" were not real human beings, they were archetypes. Jack was a generic man of science. Locke was the man of faith. Sawyer was the wild card. Ben was the creepy Machiavellian genius we've all known at some point or another. Occasionally, they would transcend their prescribed roles, but for the most part they represented concepts larger than themselves.

Let's look for a moment at the characters on "The Walking Dead" then. Rick and Shane clearly have a poor man's version of Jack and Locke going where Rick represents morality and Shane represents the sheer desire to survive. They're actually kind of analogous to Piggy and Jack from Lord of the Flies (another classic that "Lost" drew from) as well. Daryl is a Sawyerian wild card as well. Carl represents the old word and how it can potentially be corrupted by this new one. Carol is the capital "M" Mother (and a shitty one at that, mind you). Andrea is a Juliet or Kate-modeled "tough chick." Dale is Rose and Bernard or the wizened elder whose intellectualism is of little use in this new world of physicality. And Glenn? Well Glenn just rocks. Keep doing what you do, dude.

"Lost" was a critical darling from moment one, and while that enthusiasm waned in later years, the reasoning behind it was never "the characters aren't vividly crafted enough."

The more I think about it the more "The Walking Dead" and "Lost" are similar. TWD has replaced "Lost" as the show that people continue to bitch about but refuse to stop watching. They both feature archetypical characters reacting to supernatural events and they both feature a fair share of mysteries. The mysteries on "Lost" are well known and numerous but TWD is building up an impressive roster of them with Merle's disappearance, Jenner's words to Rick and oh year, WHY ARE THE DEAD WALKING THE EARTH?

Anywho, I've prattled on too long. Let me know how wrong or right I am in the comments section.

P.S. SPOILER ALERT. While my brother and I were watching the midseason finale of TWD, my mom was upstairs watching an episode of "The Next Iron Chef" on Food Network. She came down afterward.
Mom: "They chopped Chef Samuelson on 'The Next Iron Chef.'"
Me: "A little girl got shot in the face on 'The Walking Dead.'"
Mom: "Oh. I guess your news is worse."

P.P.S. I started reading the "Walking Dead" comic books recently and...oh man, I don't know if I could possibly hate them more. All I can say is that if there are any fanboys out there who say the show is ruining the book's richly drawn characters, they need to go to a hospital immediately and have the 4 lb. tumor of stupid removed from their brain.

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