24 November 2011

Walking Dead show and why it is bad (not a rant)

This fall and winter I've been following 3 tv shows, normally I prefer to wait until the whole season have aired so I can watch the show in one stretch. The shows I want to talk about are; the 4th season of the Polish show Czas Honoru previously reviewed on this blog, and the second season of both Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire. I watch all 3 shows every Monday, in some ways hoping that at least one of the shows will turn out to be good this week. Originally I thought I would post all 3 in one post but the text became way too long, so you'll get my thoughts about the other two shows tomorrow while today I will focus on the Walking Dead.

This text includes minimal spoilers about the episodes aired to date (S2 E6).


Walking Dead season 2
Now this is a very hot and controversial topic. There are basically two camps. The people who just like it because it has zombies in it and the diehard comic book nerds. Here's my take on this show. I read the comics up to issue 70+, pretty much read them all in two days on my computer. And it is easy  to see the bigger picture and long plotlines when you work your way through a couple years worth of material. You basically sort out the boring parts where nothing or little happens in your brain and remember the good stuff from the comics.

With that said, I think the best would have been to not read the comics and have as little knowledge about the comics as possible when watching this show. Because it is "based upon" the comics. Season 1 starts out fantastic, I loved it. The first two three episodes were great and very close to the source material. However the show lost me at the midseason mark when the authors completely made up the content for the remaining episodes and just went their own way. I not only found those episodes pointless from knowing the long mapped out plot of the comics, but also terribly bad in terms of writing and the I dare to say pathetic finale.

One year later we get the 2nd season, and looking back at season 1... everything is forgiven. Compared to what season 2 is made up of I want the stuff from 1st season back. Season 2 suffers from so many things that it pretty much bleeds in front of your eyes as you watch it. And the show is in trouble, economically they had their budget cut in half while having to make twice the amount of episodes. Also, something must have pissed off someone because the main director, Frank Darabont was canned halfway through the 2nd season under unclear circumstances. The funny thing is that the producers of the show admitted that the second half of the first season was subpar and proceeded to fire the ENTIRE writing staff and recruited new people for the second season as a means to improve the storytelling aspects.

So what exactly is wrong with the second season? In my opinion, when you make an adaptation you either stay true to it or make a "loosely based upon" deal. Walking Dead and its troubles derive much from wanting to do its own thing but being to scared to do so. What I mean is, the show has characters from the comic, and the main plot from the comics is still there. They also lift the story arcs from the comics and put them in some of the episodes. What is also done is that they introduce a lot of new characters and make up a lot of things. The new and the original comic material simply does not fit together.

The major problems with this show are:

1) Original characters acting like idiots because they are forced to due to the halfbaked story.

2) Original characters stay in the background while new characters steal their storylines and character traits, rendering original characters useless.

3) Original characters that should be dead are still around.

What I mean with nr1 is that, this whole second season is pretty much based upon a single comic. Almost. The Hershel farm while important in the comics did not make up 20-30 issues. The second season is totally centered upon the Hershel farm, which go figure, means a lot of padding and filler situations that lead absolutely nowhere. From an economic point of view, it is grateful to be stuck in a farm area and just shoot the same street over and over again or another "search party scene" in the woods. Lori acts like a retard with her pregnancy (especially last episode with the "day after pills" taken 1-2 months after the fact. The pregnancy is also such a badly kept secret that when it is revealed as  the "big thing" you don't even raise an eyebrow.
Or how about Shane and Otis and their little "flare distraction" scene. Did they seriously not even consider having spare flares for when they were going to exit the building?

The ridiculous amount of time they search for that Sophia kid would have been forgiven IF there was actually something of worth put into the dialogue between characters while they are on the search or at least have them run into something interesting. Just chit chatting about nothing and walking in the woods does not count for a story.

As for nr2, this is a major problem. Daryl, I like this unwashed bum of a character because at the end of the day he is the only one not acting like a or being a complete idiot. However, he does steal a lot of characteristics from the "core characters" especially rendering Glenn redundant. Glenn who is one of the major characters in the comics is also the scout and scavenger. In the show he is just he Asian guy in the background, sometimes popping in to have "secret pregnancy" talks with Lori. T-Dog dude is so useless both in terms of helping the survivors and for the plot that I just see him as a walking redshirt. And yet he survives and has this meaningless "hey remember me, I'm still in the show" moments where he is shoehorned into a scene.

Nr3, perhaps the biggest thing impacting on the show is the fact that Shane is still around. In the comics he dies pretty early on. With Shane AND Daryl around you get two additional competent males. Both are badass, both can take care of themselves and in the end both undermine the character development of the rest of the cast and Ricks authority by their mere existence. Who needs Glenn to scavenge and scout when Daryl is clearly the more competent and able survivor person of the group? Who needs Rick to take the leadership and make hard decisions when Shane makes them instead.

Nothing in the show really works because there are so many conflicts in regard to the content. So it’s not only a budget thing. What I think should be done is, either stay as true to the original material as possible - OR - just use the world of Walking Dead and have maybe Rick and his family alone with a completely new story and characters.

In the end maybe the show would have been salvaged by good writing. But this season had so many facepalm moments and arms thrown up in the air out of desperation because of the poor writing that together with the budget cuts are killing the show by choking it.
And a lot of people will say "well it is a show about humans with a zombie backdrop - not a zombie action movie, duh!". I don't need zombies to explode or overrun every episode. But it becomes painfully apparent that the writers throw in the lone zombie or pair of zombies into a single scene just to remind the audience "oh yeah they are still around". Examples, the episode where Daryl goes out to look for Sophia on his own and ends up having his shoe chewed by a zombie, or the absolutely moronic scene in one episode with the "fatty zombie" down in the well. The later was actually a breaking point for me. Not only did half an episode center around a completely redundant situation that didn't move neither plot nor character development forward  but made the people look and act like complete full-blown retards.

Their best plan was to hoist down Glenn so he almost died? They actually thought that they would get drinkable water out of that well ever again? Their best plan was to pull up a swollen rotting zombie with a noose? They were amazed that it tore in half? Mind you that the zombie looked good and the effects were nice. But having so many adult people acting like idiots in one single scene was painful to watch. Especially their “ooops” faces when it tore apart and slid down into the well again. Also they seem not to be overly worried about spending gasoline for their cars either....

Out of curiosity I will tune in to watch how the show progress even after the mid season break next year. I am curious whether the show will turn out to become better or worse with a new director and someone else in charge over the second half of the season. I don't find it to be a bad zombie show. I just find it to be a bad show with lots of padding, very weird situations that make little sense, characters that either do nothing or do really stupid things.

Just thinking about the show and taking away everything I know about the long term plot and character development from the comics, it appears to me that the show completely lacks direction and each episode seems to be made up on the spot through improvisations. There is too little to do for all the characters in the show at the moment. The main plot is, I think at least it is meant to be, finding Sophia besides the obvious "survive the zombie apocalypse". But how interesting and engaging is that plot and the way it has been laid out?
Again bringing back the topic of either making it all up or staying more true to the source material. In the comics characters were both more fleshed out and acted like normal real people. Not like two dimensional cardboard cutouts and caricatures that made stupid decisions to move things along. But of course you can’t have the characters act normally if you strip them of characteristics and traits and share them between multiple new characters.

That's how disjointed I think the show appears. I would love to hear what you guys think, especially if you have not read the comics and just judge the show and its content on its own merits. I want to know if I see all these flaws simply because I'm "tainted" by the knowledge of the comic material or if I make sense and have some logical points.

11 comments:

  1. I have come to this conclusion as well and have never read the comics, disappointed so far, excellent, well described non rant.

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  2. I'll play Devil's Advocate here and suggest that keeping the Comic Fans and those who like a more cerebral element happy, only form a small element of the audience figures required to keep the programme alive.

    If you look at other programmes which failed; like 'Jericho' and 'Caprica', they were pitched to an intelligent audience and failed to attract the average 'dumbass' that forms the bulk of the viewing public.

    'Lost' had to resort to expanding the cast and becoming more superficial to survive. Your average viewer seems to thrive on pretty faces and lots of them. A storyline that doesn't require the viewer to have to think too deeply is a must too.

    Your post is spot on to my mind though and as usual, engaging and well written!

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  3. Very well written. I'd also agree with Arlequin's reasoning behind direction of the show. I want to believe there are marketing research reasons behind it all rather than plain stupidity, but then I always wish for more logic in the world ...

    I know nothing of the comic, but here is my short take on the second season (so far); It's frustrating. Nothing works; the communication between the characters is unnatural, their decisions are stupid, the zombie part is just slapped-on. I found myself desperately hoping it's all just very complex and setting the scene for the long-term story arc and character development, but thinking about it, it's probably just a mess. Even if there were any grand plans for the story, I think it should be should crafted it so that in any given moment it makes sense to the viewer. That's why literary masters created novel series about generations of characters and it was not a painful waiting for it all to come together.

    Here's to the hoping though ...

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  4. I haven't read any of the comics not a single one. I can see your point but surely if converting a novel to film is a nightmare surely a comic is even worse?

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  5. @Brummie, yep - which is why I also planned to write about the Watchmen comic and movie next week and talk about the pro's and con's of a very close adaptation.

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  6. This is one of the reasons I don't read something before I watch it. Then I start to expect something and when it does not happen, it sucks.

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  7. I have not read any comics either (Shane spoilers, yikes). The series did start of fantastically, and only slowed down from there. I don't care if it doesn't follow the original story that closely at this point (Lord of the Rings had the same sort of complaints when it first hit the theatres), but the slowness of the show, and almost complete lack of zombies is getting annoying. And lame pregnancy storylines don't help things.


    I still hold hopes that things will get better as they level the farm, and resolve the Sophia storyline.

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  8. This is very well written. I just watched the whole 6 episodes of the second season and quite disappointed of the lack of movement. the last 3 episodes (42 minutes!) haven't budge.
    Well, we can say: it's realistic, as the group was moving forward until now and find a quiet place to rest.
    Still some attitudes are weird. For instance the fat zombie scene doesn't make sense at all, while after spoiling the water, nothing is said or nobody is worried.
    Some secrets are completely absurd when you imagine what they just lived (the Farm secret for example).

    Finally I would say, for people who in the first season were so worry about gas and ammo, they are wasting them big time in the second season.

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  9. I love zombie movies and badly want this series to work, it started good, but I agree the story line is poor, and some of the characters need to start being killed off, I did like Shane and Otis' last scene though, that was pretty cool, there just doesn't seem to be enough desperation in the group, and there is no direction, where are they going and what are they doing? and that stupid campervan keeps breaking down, GET SOMETHING BETTER!!!!

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  10. Someone else summed it up perfectly by pointing out the complete lack of "danger" this season. In the first season at least they were afraid of zombie attacks, had to scavenge weapons, ammo, gasoline, food and look for a safe location to spend the night. This season they found the safe haven at the farm and are just rolling their thumbs, pretty much ignoring the whole zombie apocalypse which does no longer impact on their lives.

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  11. I haven't read the comic either and I am less than satisfied with the second season. From a plot point of view the old world is gone with its now redundant morality. If it was me and mine being threatened with being turned out of the safe haven, Herschel would be taking a dirt nap, or just be tossed in the barn with his "strange" livestock. The search for Sophia is about the only thing keeping me watching.
    I am still going to give it a chance but maybe not for too long.

    ColKG

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