Zombies on TV: Review of “The Walking Dead” and “Dead Set”

Sitcoms are back and reality shows are more popular than ever. I’m not criticizing those types of shows, I’m just making the point that the television climate has changed over the past two years and it seems like the high-concept show is gone, for now. Personally, I feel it too. My taste in television has changed.

I know that “The Event” and “Fringe” are two high-concept shows, but I haven’t watched either because I don’t want to get involved in the ambiguity, especially after being emotionally abused by “Lost” for six years. I know that it is a foolish reason for not giving a show a chance, but I am just not in the mood for painfully-long storyline arcs which, inevitably, lead to the beginnings of new arcs. What I feel like, right now, is a straightforward show that is event-driven or plot-driven. I want simple characters in plausible situations and I want the arcs to have some resolution, once in a while.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” appears to be a show that can meet my needs. It is only four episodes in, but I do like what I see. It doesn’t break any new ground, as far as the zombie subgenre goes, but it does give the viewer great-looking zombies, a shocking amount of gore and tense survival situations. The typical zombie rules apply: the virus explanation, the contagious zombie bite and the good-old headshot (as the way to kill a zombie). But, my main criticism of the show is that everything in it has been done before. The show is finely-tuned, beautifully shot and it is a nice encapsulation of 40 years of zombie cinema, but it needs a little something more to make it “can’t-miss television”.

I am not familiar with the graphic novels, upon which the show is based, so I do have to give it a break. However, the derivative content of the episodes is definitely noticeable, by anyone who is familiar with the zombie subgenre. Episode One was an imitation/combination of “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend”. Episode Two was a lot like “Dawn Of The Dead”, “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend”. Episode Three was a strange combination of “Saw”, any zombie film, and an akward version of “Sex and the City” (the vibrator conversation was terribly written – usually, I like that sort of thing). Lastly, Episode Four was a lot like Episode Two and its influences, but it did become interesting towards the end. My point is that I enjoy seeing the influences in the story but I am still waiting for more original content.

In its defense, I really liked one part of Episode Two. The trooper/hero and another survivor wanted to sneak out of a surrounded building, to get to a nearby truck. So they killed a zombie, inside, and dismembered it. The two then smeared the “guts” all over their clothes so that they would smell like the zombies (they discovered that zombies have a keen sense of smell for live humans). After the smearing, the two made their way to the truck. More “unique” scenarios like that are what the show needs.

Overall, the acting is quite good, but another criticism I have is that I am not emotionally invested in any of the characters, yet. I started to loose interest during Episode Three, because I really didn’t care about the trooper/hero finding his family. It was nice to see that arc complete itself, but I hope that the show doesn’t delve fully into the dramatic side of things. I’m not in the mood for it; I just want simple characters and a straightforward, original story.

The part of the show that does keep me coming back for more is that it brings forth the message that most humans will band together and help one another, in a large-scale survival situation. It has a realistic view of human nature, but it does entertain the idea that there is good in everyone and that people can always change. I like that bit of optimism and its a nice contrast to the gloom and doom of it all. Despite all that I said about lack of originality and general boredom, that overall message is a pleasant surprise.

On the other side of the dial, the five-episode British miniseries “Dead Set” appeared on IFC this Halloween. It seemed to tell the same tale as “The Walking Dead”, only with a more pessimistic view. Just like “The Walking Dead”, “Dead Set” is very derivative, with the whole five-episode span being pretty much a re-imagining of the orignal “Night of the Living Dead”.

The premise of the show is as follows: On the final eviction night of British “Big Brother”, zombies start to appear and everyone clamors to survive. The “Big Brother” cast-mates are inside the locked-down house and are unaware of the outbreak, until a few people from the outside make their way into the house. That’s the whole five-episode miniseries. It’s just a group of people trapped in a house with zombies attacking from the outside.

That’s not to say that it is a bad show – it’s not. In fact, “Dead Set” is a well-produced and polished show. Like “The Walking Dead”, it adheres to the traditional zombie rules, with one exception: the zombies run fast. They are pretty intense-looking, like the “28 Days Later” zombies and the action is more frenetic/violent as a result of the hand-held, shaky, POV-style camerawork. There is a lot of gruesome material and a lot of gore, similar to the Italian style of zombie films. The headshot reigns supreme as a manner of disposing of zombies and the virus explanation is present. But, aside from the urgent pace and the “Big Brother” setting, it really doesn’t add anything new to the zombie subgenre. Like “The Walking Dead”, it can be tedious at times.

I do admit, the action is great and the overall message of the show is thought-provoking (humans are their own worst enemy, humans are already zombies, etc.), but my attention wavered a bit because (again) I really wasn’t interested in any of the characters or the average zombie scenarios. In fact, the only truly interesting character was the cutthroat producer, whose self-preservation was top priority. But even that character wasn’t anything new; that type is often seen in zombie films and horror films, in general.

I guess what I am trying to say about both “The Walking Dead” and “Dead Set” is that I like the shows, but I don’t love them. I enjoy the zombie traditions, but I would like to seem some originality. In essence, they are both the same show. Whatever one you prefer is a matter of personal taste. If you want a faster, darker, meaner zombie story, Britain’s “Dead Set” would be the best choice. If you want a slow, cinematic, hopeful tale, then “The Walking Dead” is the show for you. As for me? For some reason, I have a good feeling about “The Walking Dead”. It hasn’t “hit its stride” yet and it deserves a chance to do so.

 

Review and Bytes by Peter Syslo

 

 

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