Guest Blog: ‘The Walking Dead’: a brain munchin’ good time

1 11 2010

by Eric Gray

Grimes, his ill-fated horse, and a street full of zombies.

I don’t read comic books. I can’t stand them really. Maybe I just don’t get the format, but it’s not really my thing. So, I’ve never read Kirkland’s work. But I did hear of it, and I followed the development of The Walking Dead television series closely. I was excited for the premiere, and I came away with a pretty clear statement: “That’s the best damn show I’ve ever seen.” And really, it was.

Another little thing about me, just so you can get some perspective about what I’m going to talk about. I’m a detail-oriented person. I notice the little things, and attention paid to the little things often define the line between something being “good” or “bad” in my eyes. Case in point, the new Star Trek movie? Bad on details, so subsequently I didn’t like it very much (for a buncha different reasons, but the detail was a killer). What about Terminator: Salvation? Loved it (although it seems like no one else—besides Jess—did), partially because the detail was there, down to minute stuff no one would ever recognize or think was important. But I saw it, and said to Jess, “Hey, you know that little so-and-so? That was in the third movie and they’re bringing it back here as a little tie in! Brilliant!” For me, The Walking Dead uses details to explosive effect. These choices make for a TV show like I’ve never seen on cable—never seen, period.

I’m going to skip plot for the most part, just because we don’t need it quite yet. The show just started, there wasn’t a lot of character development beyond meeting them, and we leave our hero, Rick Grimes, stuck in Atlanta, in a tank, covered with zombies. I am going to talk about the chances this show takes, and why it succeeds. First, the obvious: this show takes a BIG (honkin’ even) chance on violence. I’ve not quite seen violence like this on cable TV, ever. A couple of times, I had to remind myself that this wasn’t HBO or Showtime. Risks are taken from the very first scene, where we get a point blank shot to the head on a zombie kindergartner, complete with CGI bloodspray, splatter, and a ragged, oozing gunshot wound on the forehead. We both looked at each other and said, “this show just killed a kid, on screen, within the first five minutes, HOL-LEE SHIT….” This happened likewise with Bicycle Girl, the first real zombie Rick comes across. That was another one of those “holy crap, they just blew her brains out in an unbroken shot!” moments. Jess applauded the adultness of the show, but I’m actually curious as to why this ISN’T on Showtime or HBO.

On to the more subtle parts. The sound and visual design is pretty close to flawless. Shows don’t often like to be quiet, but The Walking Dead thrives on it. Background music (composed by Battlestar Galactica‘s Bear McCreary!) was used minimally, and more often, whole scenes played out in absolute silence, with only ambient noise. It was used effectively to add tension to scenes, and also really increased the impact of sound when it was used. The punctuation of a gunshot drives the point home; the shot is allowed to echo and reverb, making it just that much louder. Naturally, we get this to full effect when Rick fires off his gun inside the tank. Although the inclusion of the severe ring in the ears was a nice touch, I would imagine that ruptured ear drums would be more likely, as well as the very real danger of a ricochet.

No other show I’ve seen has taken such risks on filming, either. There were large stretches of the pilot where literally nothing happens, we’re left to just take in the whole vista of post-zombiepocalypse. The bleakness was apparent and frightening, especially when Rick wakes up in the hospital. The slight and occasional use of jump cuts adds a nice little distortion and sense of surrealism to the scene as well. I was glad to see that technique used to such an effect. Also, I’ve never seen a show choose to light a shot with just a single match, and allow the camera to plunge into complete darkness several times. The scene in the stairwell was by far the scariest part of the whole show. I want more of this in the coming weeks.

And finally, we have to talk about the zombies. We’ve seen the setup before, but that’s not really the point. It’s more about how it’s done. There’s a serious creep factor here. For instance, turning a corner in a deserted city and finding the street crammed from sidewalk to sidewalk with zombies? Yeah, that’s pretty damn scary. But viewers have to remember, this tale is not about zombies, it’s about the survivors. We have to look at this series as not redefining the zombie genre like 28 Days Later tried to do. Instead, this is a story of the human condition under extreme duress. The choice to make this a weekly series is a strong indicator in this regard. So, I would remind would-be detractors to hold off with their comments calling this “hackneyed” or “done before.” Yes, we have seen this premise before. No, we haven’t seen it quite like this.

The product of these various elements creates a television show that evokes the best that cinema has to offer. The Walking Dead is truly a cinematic experience—one I am glad to have seen, and one that I will continue to enjoy throughout its six-episode season.

Happy Halloween!

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Jess’s Fall TV: What you can expect to read about.

27 08 2010

Fall Leaves photoMy TV schedule changes with the leaves. I will continue to blog Weeds, True Blood, and Big Brother until their respective finales, but this fall, I’ll be watching:

America’s Next Top Model, CW, Wednesdays at 8. Premiere: Sept. 8. I’ll be DVRing this one once Survivor starts, but I should still be able to blog about it.

New day! After 9 years of airing on Thursdays, Survivor (CBS) is moving to Wednesdays at 8. Premiere: Sept. 15; this season takes place in Nicaragua. This show is basically why I started a TV blog, so you can expect plenty of coverage.

Grey’s Anatomy, ABC, Thursdays at 9. Premiere: Sept. 23.

Private Practice, ABC, Thursdays at 10. Premiere: Sept. 23.
(GA and PP are so related that I may combine posts; we’ll see how it goes. I am taking two classes and working full time this fall.)

Dexter, Showtime, Sundays at 9. Premiere: Sept. 26.

The Walking Dead, AMC. Premieres on Halloween—Sunday, Oct. 31, at 9. It conflicts with Dexter, so the DVR will be getting some action.

Others:

-I’m behind on Gossip Girl, so although it premieres on Monday, Sept. 13 (CW, 9 PM), I probably will not be able to cover it. Unless I catch up. Hmm….

House starts on Monday, Sept. 20 (8 PM, Fox), but I’m a few episodes behind still. We’ll see.

-I’m going to give Shit My Dad Says a try, but I don’t know if I’ll blog about it. If not, I’ll at least give you my initial reaction and review. Premiere: Thursday, Sept. 23, 8:30 PM. (CBS).

-I’m still behind on The Office and 30 Rock, but they both start on Thursday, Sept. 23 on NBC.

The Amazing Race (CBS, Sundays, 8:30) premieres on Sept. 26, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll blog about it.

Is there anything else you want covered? Check out EW‘s Fall Cheat Sheet for a full list of premiere dates.