Hi, I'm Keith R.A. DeCandido and this is the twenty-fifth installment of Couch Potato Salad, a critical look at genre television. This means I must buy something silver…
The Walking Dead premiered on AMC to great acclaim and record-setting ratings. Based on a long-running comic book, the show stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick, a deputy in a small Southern town who takes a bullet during a shootout, lapses into a coma, and wakes up in the hospital to discover that he's slept through the zombie apocalypse.
Both the comic and the TV show start the same way as 28 Days Later, which is a warning sign in and of itself. However, the premiere episode picked up tremendously by pairing up Rick with Morgan, played by the magnificent Lennie James. Morgan is a tragic, wonderful character, and the first episode really is about him—which makes it all the more disappointing to have him and Rick separate toward the end of the pilot, and Rick is the one we follow.
We don't see Morgan again, though he is apparently coming back for the season finale [I recorded this the week before the season finale aired, and thought that was the case, based both on IMDB and something someone said at Philcon. As it turned out, no Lennie James as Morgan in the finale, and the finale was poorer for it, sadly. ---KRAD], and that's really too bad, because without Morgan we soon come to realize that Rick is an idiot. He grabs a horse and rides to Atlanta, because Morgan heard that it was a safe haven. The road out of Atlanta is choked with burned-out abandoned cars, while the road in is empty. Rick isn't bright enough to realize that this is danger sign. Rick then enters the Atlanta city proper, finding no people and an abandoned tank. Rick still isn't bright enough to think that he should leave a town in which things are so bad they abandoned a tank. His horse is bucking and wanting to leave, proving to be smarter than our main character. Sure enough, the zombies show up and almost eat him—they do eat the horse, who, frankly, deserved better.
Rick is rescued by a group of people whom I've been watching for several weeks now, and I still can't tell you much of anything about who they are. Zombie stories by their nature do not have interesting antagonists. They just shuffle about and grunt a lot. Zombies are force-of-nature villains, which don't, in and of themselves, make for good stories. What you need in a zombie story are interesting living characters. Sadly, the group of survivors assembled for The Walking Dead are a dull-as-dishwater collection of dim-bulbs from the Central Casting Cliché Handbook. I find it impossible to credit that these imbeciles—who don't have a proper lookout rotation on their mountain retreat, who stand dumbly in front of a big piece of glass that zombies are pounding against, who can't even figure out that a guy digging graves is in fact digging graves—have survived this long. [I didn't mention in the review, but also want to add that one character decides to "take over," not back at the retreat where his like-minded brother also is, but when there are only a few of them on the road, where the tactic is senseless. ---KRAD]
Having said all that, while the show as a whole is dumb, there have been some great moments. The sheer joy that Morgan and Rick and Morgan's son take from the simple act of taking a shower. Andrea standing over the corpse of her younger sister, refusing to let anyone come near, waiting for her to come back as a zombie so she can give her a proper goodbye before shooting her in the head—Laurie Holden plays it superbly, making us think she's being as stupid and crazy as everyone else has been in this show, and turning it into a tender moment that absolutely makes your skin crawl. Noah Emmerich appears in the fifth episode as the last man standing at the Centers for Disease Control, and his breakdown is quite a lot of fun to watch.
And then there's Michael Rooker's tour de force at the top of the third episode as Merle, a redneck who's been left handcuffed on a roof—he's starving, thirsty, and going somewhat crazy, and Rooker is simply amazing.
But there aren't enough of those moments to hang together in an actual interesting show. I found my attention wandering repeatedly throughout the first five episodes. This is a dumb show about dumb people who only have slightly more personality than the undead creatures they're running away from.
The Walking Dead has been airing on AMC on Sunday nights, and its six-episode first season will no doubt be repeated any number of times. Check your local listings.
Finally, we have Cathode to Joy, where I praise a show in fifteen seconds or less: the Canadian show Intelligence only lasted two seasons, but it's available on DVD and you should watch it. From DaVinci's Inquest's Chris Haddock, and starring Ian Tracey and Matt Frewer, this brilliant show about cops and criminals is a Vancouver version of The Wire. Check it out.
For The Chronic Rift I'm Keith R.A. DeCandido with "Couch Potato Salad."