Monday, November 08, 2010

"The Walking Dead" and the Struggle for Consistency

What a difference a week makes. I had been really looking forward to the second episode of "The Walking Dead" after being captivated by the premier. I don't get this giddy over television shows anymore and it's not unusual for whole seasons to accumulate on my DVR before I decide to play catch-up before the new season. But it seems I may have set my expectations a bit high.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. If you're a fan of the genre, you probably have seen the grumblings on Facebook and Twitter about Sunday's show (I know I have) and my friend Charles over at Razored Zen has a great post up about stereotyping and where "The Walking Dead" went wrong.

I'll just make a quick mention here, and try not to be spoilery about the episode, and the subject line that didn't sit well with some viewers. The show is set in Atlanta and, as we all know, one of the most common stereotypes about the South is that of the Southern racist. We all know that people like that exist, but the South is a lot more than some characterization out of "Deliverance." I have family from the South who work in the medical field, and they're justifiably tired of the ignorant hicks that are regularly featured on television shows with their conspicuous Southern twang.

But I wonder if "The Walking Dead" staggered (pun intended) on their second go-around because of a clichéd plot? Or could it be because they switched directors?

I know it's not unusual for television shows to have a revolving door when it comes to directors. Just click on the episode guide of your favorite show on Wikipedia (I did this for "House" and got a page full of different names) and a lot of shows don't suffer a bit in quality or consistency. But the premier of "The Walking Dead" was so good that it's hard for me not to credit that the direction of that episode must have been exceptional. I am somewhat biased toward the direction of Frank Darabont, who was the director of the first episode, because he directed one of my all time favorite movies-- "The Shawshank Redemption." And I did feel that the premier episode of "The Walking Dead" had the same kind of feel. Darabont is the master of quiet intensity. He also wrote the script for the show so there's a good chance that first show was really his baby. And the underwhelming feel of Sunday's episode may be what happens when someone else does the babysitting.

"The Walking Dead" is going to have a few uphill battles. The zombie storyline can get old if it's not finessed properly, and that was another complaint I heard about the last show. The show has so far defined itself as being best when it concentrates on the human story and isn't just about the merry-go-round of killing zombies and trying not to become one yourself. Which is why I think there was such a sense of disappointment about this second effort-- the human story failed to rise above the stereotype and as a result didn't feel real.

On the one hand I'm glad there is a show that has the potential to excite me; on the other hand I hate that a show has such a potential to disappoint me. I also have some trepidation going forward since "The Walking Dead" is slated to have different directors for pretty much every episode. We've all watched new shows and know what it's like to see some growing pains-- and that's what I hope is going on here. If we're lucky we'll see the actors grow into their roles and some of the rough edges go away.

I almost hate myself for becoming so invested, this quickly, in a television show. Shouldn't I know better by now?


Victor Stanciu said...

I thought I was the only that was surprised at the sudden change in direction. It went from a potential new milestone for zombie works to a clichéd zombie flick in just two episodes. I will watch the next episode, and will probably quit after that if it doesn't get back on track.

SQT said...

Victor-- I've read quite a few comments on Facebook that were basically asking what happened?. There was a big swing in quality between the two and it was kind of heartbreaking. I hope the next show is better or I'm going to be too bummed to keep watching.

Showtyme said...

Guys, what happened wasn't because it was a switch in directors, it happened because that's what happens in the comic. They're keeping it true to the comic as much as possible, and that episode was just as close as the first.

SQT said...

Showtyme-- Did the comic have the same shift in how it felt? That's what got me from one to the next. They just felt like two different shows that had been strung together.

Budd said...

Episode one ended with him stuck in the tank, so they had to get him out of the tank and out of the city. This episode did a good job in doing that and showing how hard it was going to be. It also introduced us to some new characters, set up a romantic interest for the protagonist that will eventually turn into a love triangle or rectangle or something. We also get vital information on the zombies. They can smell us. I doubt we have seen the end of the skinhead.

It wasn't the premier, but what show ever is.

I agree that I hate the southern stereotype. I think the Sheriff does a good job offsetting that, but I hope a southern white guy isn't the only racist person that they showcase.

M. McGriff said...

This week's episode was the first one I watched and after reading this, I really want to see the premier. Though I liked it, I also felt it was the run of the mill, "let's kill the zombies and get away" deal. I don't know anything about the human story. You're right, the zombie story can get old rather quickly so I'm curious to see how they're going to handle the next episode.

SQT said...

Budd-- The show wasn't bad, it just wasn't exceptional like the first one. They set the bar sooo high.

M. McGriff-- If you can, I totally recommend seeing the first one. Even if that's the only one you see, it's worth it.

Charles Gramlich said...

There were some good elements to the last episode but a lot of little stutter steps too. I didn't even realize it was a different director, although I can see that now. Yes, it does seem a bit risky to go with a new director every time. It could keep it fresh but would likely make the series very eratic in quality I'd think.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I think the Walking Dead is going to struggle as a television show. Zombies will lose their threat with continued exposure. Even though so much focus is on character, if that character lapses into soap-opera stereotypes, audience interest will drop quickly. I didn't see this week's yet, but I did read the comic. I don't remember much stereotyping going on.

Wilson said...

Noooooooo! I skipped reading this posting after I read the disappointment in the opening paragraph...I just finished downloading the 2nd episode ><

Will form opinion after watching it tonite :P

SQT said...

Charles-- I just hope that once the show gets into a groove it gets something back. We'll see.

Stewart-- A zombie series is a tough one isn't it? Shows like "Fringe" have endless possibilities, but zombies seem limited. Being based on a comic book series may be the saving grace here-- I hope so anyway.

Wilson-- Don't throw in the towel yet. I'm not.

Showtyme said...

The comic felt very similar to this episode. Like Budd said, Rick got stuck in the city, and had to find some way of getting out. Luckily there were survivors currently foraging in the city that spotted him. That "feel" you had in the first episode was because Rick was all alone, now he's with other people, so of course the tone is different.

Don't worry, the story is good. Even though it is zombies, they keep it fresh and interesting. You just have to give it time. So far, they've covered 2 issues in 2 shows. At this rate they could have at least 70ish (not sure what issue number they are currently on) good episodes already written up.

SQT said...

Showtyme-- Thanks! You probably just reassured a lot of people. :)

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Shawshank was phenomenal!

So, should I rent a DVD of TWD or what?

wheels209 said...

I agree with you on the human factor. For me I think some of the suspense went out the window in this one. However, I think Showtyme is right about the "feel" being different because Rick is no longer alone. Overall I will give this season a good shot before making my mind up.
Take Care,

SQT said...

LBB-- It just started on AMC. If you can catch reruns of the first one, I totally recommend it. They may have the episodes up on their site. It's worth a look.

Wheels-- I think Showtyme has a good point about the story shifting from one person to many. I'm nowhere close to throwing in the towel on this one.