Monday, November 1, 2010

[TV] The Walking Dead Premier Review

Every studio and network markets their new shows as intensely as they can afford because they want them to do well. We call this "hype," and it can include everything from TV commercials to print ads to viral marketing campaigns and Internet web-content. Frank Darabont's The Walking Dead, which premiered Halloween night on AMC, had all of these. It was hyped to the max. It had commercials, print-ads, preview trailers, a whole slew of content on the website (including a 17-minute-long "behind the scenes" preview), and the marketing gurus even arranged for "zombie invasions" at various cities around the country (around the world?), with actors made up like zombies staggering around to draw attention to the show.

Hype tends to be a good thing - if you do a good job of hyping the show, people are more likely to watch it. There's a danger, however. If the show doesn't live up to the hype, the backlash can be extreme. You can be a hit one week, and an utter bomb forever after. If you're going to get the Internet-savvy geeks to rally their less zombie-educated friends to tune in and watch the premiere, it had damn well better fire on all cylinders, or those same geeks will rip you to shreds all over the Internet, and your show will die a slow and grizzly death.

Let me be very frank and clear about The Walking Dead - there is categorically NO chance of that happening. The Walking Dead stepped up and earned every word of enthusiasm and excitement generated before the premier aired. Mild spoilers follow:

The Walking Dead tells the story of Rick Grimes, a deputy sheriff outside Atlanta, Georgia. He's having a typical day on patrol with his partner, Shane Walsh, when he gets shot during a shootout and lands in the hospital. He wakes up some days later and the place is deserted. He's weak, dehydrated, and the hospital is a shambles. He staggers outside and finds the parking lot lined with dead bodies wrapped in sheets. Hundreds of them. He's baffled.

He staggers home through deserted streets, but his beloved wife Lori and his son Carl are gone. A neighbor's house has become the temporary home of Morgan and his son Duane. They're suspicious of Rick at first, but when he convinces them that his wounds are simple gunshots, they take him in and explain what's going on. There's a disease. It gives you a high fever and you die. Then you get back up and you want to feed on the living. Morgan's own wife had died and risen right there, and they hadn't had the heart to leave as she wanders around outside their little bunker.

Rick, Morgan and Duane head over to the sheriff's office, clean up, grab some guns, and then part ways. Morgan and Duane head back to their bunker for some "target practice." In truth, Morgan goes to an upstairs bedroom and starts shooting zombies from the window, hoping to summon - and put down - his own wife. It's a heart-wrenching scene as he looks at the woman he loves through the scope and struggles to pull the trigger.

Rick, meanwhile, hopes to find his family safe and sound at an Atlanta refugee shelter. The emergency broadcasts had told everyone to go there, where they'd find food, shelter, and military protection. When his squad car runs out of gas, Rick partners with a horse from a nearby farm and rides into the barren wasteland that Atlanta has become. The place is deserted... except for the enormous mob of zombies he encounters around one streetcorner. They lumber after him, drag him off the horse, and attack the poor beast as Frank scrambles to escape. His only hope - a tank that's been abandoned nearby. He's dropped his bag of guns, and all he has is his revolver. The premier episode ends with his frantic battle to make it into the tank and its armored - if temporary - safety.

Everything was done well in this Comic Book-turned-series. The characters are believable and likable. You want them to survive, which is vital. If we wanted the zombies to win, the show wouldn't work at all. The zombies, also, are perfectly frightening in their mindless hunger, their torn, rotten flesh. The settings - of buildings and familiar-seeming places damaged in pitched battle against the undead and then abandoned because there's nobody left alive, and untainted, to occupy them - are spot-on perfect to build atmosphere. And that atmosphere is chilling, desperate, and tense. The scenes involving Morgan's wife were at once touching and frightening - especially the scene where she approaches the front door of their house and peers in the peep-hole.

If you missed the premier of The Walking Dead, it appears to be on umpteen more times on AMC, so tune in to one of them and watch it. If that doesn't work for you, you can buy each episode through's video on demand, though the first one isn't up yet so I can't tell how much it'll cost. Whatever it is, it's likely worth it. This is a terrific opening to what I hope will be an outstanding series. I highly recommend it.

No comments:

Post a Comment