Posted by Eric Shapiro
A character drama in a post-apocalyptic zombie setting is a surprisingly brilliant concept. Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" has run for 79 issues (rare for a creator-owned series) and wowed comic fans since 2003.
On Oct. 21 the TV adaptation premiered on AMC, at long last giving non-comic geeks a chance to experience the cult phenomenon for themselves. Alas, thus far the show has failed to fully capitalize on the promise of its masterpiece of a first episode, with the exception of several great moments interspersed throughout subsequent installments.To start with the positive, it is clear from the outset that the series' main creative architect, Frank Darabont, has nailed the visual style of the comic. Never, at least on TV, have flesh-eating zombies looked so human and hence, so sympathetic.
However, the eerie, quieter moments of mounting tension and calms between the blood-soaked squalls are most memorable. Rick Grimes, rank and file cop from Cynthiana, Kentucky, wakes up in a hospital after sustaining a gunshot wound. It isn't long before he comes to the horrifying realization that the dead no longer stay dead and his wife and son have fled town. A series of improbable coincidences lead to a blissful family reunion, complete with cheesy music.
Things don't stay happy for long though; in addition to the obligatory zombie attacks, the group of survivors has to deal with danger from within their own ranks. It seems that a zombie invasion isn't easy on the fragile human psyche, and therein lays the main hook of "The Walking Dead."
Unfortunately, the characters are, with a few exceptions, pretty flat, occasionally crossing the line into offensive stereotype. Case in point: the two redneck brothers that Grimes has the misfortune to encounter. As they constitute some of the biggest departures from the comic it is disheartening that they fit in so poorly and contribute so little.
The core cast is more of a mixed bag. Rick remains an unflinchingly noble blank slate throughout the season (although, to be fair, Kirkman takes a while to flesh him out in the comic).
His wife Lori comes across as selfish and manipulative without any real depth. This is a problem, considering her pivotal role in the plot. It's difficult to see why Shane, Rick's friend and fellow police officer, is smitten with her to the point where he would consider killing his own best friend. Regardless, the men's rivalry for Lori's affections and for leadership of the group is one of the show's most compelling elements. Shane is one of the few characters with any genuine depth; it's too bad the writers see fit to make him so detestable.
The supporting cast is a colorful, albeit underdeveloped, bunch. We pity them because of the situations they face (watching your sister get her throat torn out is enough to earn my sympathy) rather than any real concern for them as people. To compensate, the writers tend to linger on certain admittedly tragic events longer than they should, diluting their impact and coming across as a tad manipulative.
A dramatic zombie series is appealing, but a zombie soap opera is just insipid. The show's other main weaknesses are hackneyed writing and poor pacing. Hopefully, the next season will strike the perfect balance between zombie slaughter and character development.