October 29, 2010

Review: Living with 'The Walking Dead'

AMC, despite their relative novice status in scripted dramatic television, has an incredible track record thus far with its first two Emmy-winning shows, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Unlike those shows, The Walking Dead is hotly anticipated and hyped ahead of its world premiere this Sunday on Halloween.

The Walking Dead is a critically lauded comic book series by Robert Kirkman (also an executive producer on the show) from Image Comics. The story is about the aftermath of a group of American survivors of a zombie apocalypse. That description sounds pretty standard but the exceptional storytelling is anything but.

The television adaptation has been in the works for quite some time. The show was developed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Frank Darabount (The Shawshank Redemption) who wrote and directed the pilot. It includes some high production values. Many of the thrilling scares are heart wrenching and create captivating scenes of drama within the show's narrative.

The 90-minute first episode of The Walking Dead is great as setting everything up with its stunning visuals, powerful violence, and emotional tension. It remains true to the familiar elements of the source material. The trend of English actors nailing American protagonists on television continues as Andrew Lincoln (Love Actually) does a really admirable job as police officer Rick Grimes, getting the tortured hero vibe pitch perfect. The pilot hooks you in even though there is a minimal amount of character interaction.

The gore and zombie makeup as well as character designs are top notch. The location shooting in Atlanta makes the world of The Walking Dead feel very real, building a very credible fictional epidemic. An eeriness mood permeates every cityscape devoid of any humanity. The serialized nature of television mixed with the cinematic elements of the zombie genre along with the comic book sensibilities makes The Walking Dead another winner for AMC.

The Walking Dead has a lot of the same elements from well-liked zombie movies like 28 Days Later, Zombieland, or the Romero series. The comic book series is very slowly paced with some great psychological turmoil. It essentially replicates conventional zombie stories more intensely but without any ending. The narrative is ongoing, continuing, and seemingly never ending.

Darabount has created a visually embracing world with The Walking Dead. Mixed with Kirkman's strong source material and some reserved, nuanced acting performances, and great set design, the show sets a high bar for what American cable television can achieve with an irresistible serialized series. Tune in and be compelled by a tense, original take on the gripping drama of zombies.

You can watch the first five minutes of the pilot here.

On another note, the last episode of NBC's Community had an amazingly hilarious, Halloween themed take on the zombie genre a la Shaun of the Dead complete with ABBA music and pop culture costumes.

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