Monday, November 24, 2014

WALKING DEAD Plugs Crossed

Arnold Blumberg is a professor at the University of Baltimore and the author (along with Andrew Hershberger) of "Zombiemania," which, though I've been told is quite good, I haven't yet read. A few days ago, I discovered he also does a regular podcast, "The Doctor of the Dead." It's here, here and, where I found it, here on Youtube. Making my way through the eps, I dropped a few comments on timeline problems with THE WALKING DEAD, which led Blumberg to give this blog a generous plug on his most recent installment. Blumberg and producer and co-host Scott Woodard are, to put it mildly, much bigger fans of TWD than I, but they're hardly uncritical of it. I like their show better than TWD. While it begins with TWD and can seem TWD-centric, it covers a wide range of zombie material, from Italian zombie flicks to zombie literature to Z NATION, covered every week alongside TWD. I discovered the podcast, in fact, while poking around for some Z NATION-related material--came across a very good installment in which Craig Engler, one of ZN's creators, was a guest. Blumberg uses the show to support indie zombie flicks, which sure as hell earns him a place in cinema heaven, but he and Woodard put on a good and interesting show in general, a celebration of the living dead that's sure to warm your innards (before devouring them). If zombies are your thing, check 'em out. They do this for free--if you can spare some, give 'em some love.

(They also do Dr. Who, but I don't, so Whovians will have to decide how well they cover that ground.)

While I'm doing plugs, I'll go ahead and throw in one for AfterBuzz, something else I discovered on the same foraging expedition. The web-based AfterBuzz gang seem to produce an extraordinary amount of material, primarily about many (many, many) and varied tv series, and I can't speak to quality of most of this work. My in with them has been their Z NATION coverage, and whatever else they do, they've managed, throughout this season, to snag as guests a large number of ZN's creators and cast. They even brought on the show's casting director (Nike Imoru). How often do you see that? I definitely approve.

TWD this week featured a fight wherein Daryl was being beaten down between two zombies that, left exposed to the weather, had sort of fused with the pavement of a parking lot. To overcome his foe, Daryl stuck his fingers in the eyes of one of the snapping rotters, ripped off its head, and used it to beat down his attacker. Given how easy zombie heads are shown to squish on TWD, the effectiveness of this tactic would seem rather questionable, but sometimes it's the thought that counts, and this moment was fucking cool.

Unfortunately, little else in the ep lived up to it. "Crossed" turned to the Atlanta hospital storyline, which is an original to the series and had, with "Slabtown," started with some promise, but like a lot of last week's installment (which was also focused on it), a lot of this one turned out to be yet another Mazzara-esque delaying action, padding out an underwritten story so that it won't conclude until the midseason break. Showing a complete contempt for anything resembling an appropriate pace, a ridiculous amount of the ep is spent on redundant and entirely gratuitous scenes featuring the group that had been heading to D.C. Also adding to the running-time was the introduction of a new subplot featuring Father Gabriel. The problem with anything having to do with the tv version of Father Gabriel is that he is, by a galactic margin, both the least interesting and the most annoying character ever introduced into the series. His rollout this season has been nothing short of a disaster. It's absolutely impossible to give one shit about anything that happens to him, and as he stands now, every second spent on him is a second that could have--and should have---been spent on something more interesting.

Aside from this, the ep featured some disjointed storytelling, more of TWD's patented teleporting characters--both dead and, this time, living--and a tremendous amount of time spent on setting up an intelligence-insulting cliché on which to end. The word "shopworn" doesn't even begin to cover it--if you haven't figured it out well before it happens, you'd probably be an exceptionally fine choice for a zombie extra on the show. I watched this scene unfold in disbelief. Sure it's TWD, but are they really going to go there? When they did, I realized that was the answer. Yeah, it's TWD.


A final thought: In a story that's becoming rather familiar, Z NATION once again proved to be the Little Engine That Could, offering another solid ep and once again utterly upstaging TWD.


  1. Yeah, this was kinda like "When the Dead Come Knocking" part 2. Pretty disappointed nothing much happened here, despite cinematography and music. This could easily work better as deleted scenes/webisodes. And yes, that ending sucked so hard. The actors are great, but the material given to them doesn't live up to their talent.

    My only compliment is that Daryl head attack and the fact that Rick is actually making the best decisions of the group (only to be shot down, sigh), as opposed to lame season 2 Rick. When he relents to the other plan, an "Are you kidding me?" or an expression of disapproval could be seen. Not as smart as season 1 Rick, but a welcome change.

    I kinda knew this ep would suck since I knew most shows (even those that aren't TWD, sadly) use penultimate eps as set-ups. My only hope for this disappointing season is that the midseason finale (miraculously) wouldn't suck.

    In Father Gabriel's defense...he was really a douche, even in the comics. He's really meant to be an annoying character (even until now) and it's only being made up in recent issues by giving him less screen time. When he does, it's only him giving a eulogy to those who died. So I had that mindset going into this season, and I've been really forgiving of his character. Also, even if you didn't like them, I thought Beth being able to manipulate the stuff around her was a nice touch.

    I just wish Scott Gimple wrote as much episodes as Glen Mazzara did in seasons 2 and 3 because Gimple seems to be the only one who could execute his ideas/themes effectively. Even if his writing crew has been that good lately (Angela Kang remains to be the only Mazzara writer, since it seems Nichole Beattie has left the show), Gimple's scripts have been above par each time.

    1. I don't think this ep was used as a set-up; I think it was used as a delaying action. One has to resort to piling on the padding in that way only becaues one has underwritten the story.

      Yes, Gabriel definitely sucked in the comic. I think he's even worse on tv. It's impossible to care about him or anything having to do with him. Fortunately, he doesn't matter, which means there's no point in spending any real time with him.

      Gimple is certainly the best of TWD's writers, but that really isn't saying much. He's still trying to straddle the line between character-driven drama and soap melordama, and there's simply no way to do that. It's a chasm that can't be bridged, and in failing to recognize this, he's allowing the weeds to utterly strangle the garden.

    2. Do you think its possible Gimple trying and failing to straddle the line isn't so much his fault but AMC's? I mean, up until now, TWD has been a winning formula. So I would imagine Gimple wanting to fix what isn't broke would make AMC nervous. And AMC does have a reputation for meddling.

    3. It's possible, I suppose, but I've seen nothing that would indicate it. Gimple is a guy who was hired during the Mazzara regime, and except for two eps towards the end of Mazzara--neither of them anywhere near perfect, just notably above the show's usual output--his work on the show was as awful as all the others. I just assume he likes to have characters but likes the soap melodrama too, and for whatever reason, can't or won't see that the latter buries the former. Kevin Smith, to name a far more talented creator, has the same problem. He loves intelligent, thoughtful comedy that comes from life and he also loves outrageous, lowbrown, stupid comedy that is, at best, a parody of real life--the milk maids vs. "Fly, fatass, fly!" Both kinds of comedy can be made to work on their own, but both require a context that destroys the other, yet he keeps trying to keep one foot in both in the same projects.

  2. From the condition of the zombies to the scorch marks on the surrounding buildings to Cop Bob's sad tale about Buddy Tyler, I believe those Melted Zombies were supposed to be people lured to the evac site and then napalmed.

  3. One thing I REALLY like about this mid season is Beth. I like seeing a petite, little innocent transform realistically because of the tough enviornment around her. You either harden your shell or be devoured by the harsh enviorns surrounding you. Besides that, the ending of the Walking Dead and the whole arc surrounding it was ridiculous. I laughed because I could see it coming a mile away. To go ahead and go with that conclusion just left me scratching my head. I kind of get why Daryl decided to go with the other plan, but disaster was certain the moment Rick was trumped by his group. The moment the shit hit the fan out of the chute, you'd thought this bunch would say, "You know what, maybe Rick was right in moving in on them by surprise." Gabriel is a character I simply find no use for. Even the clip with the leg and the zombie with the necklace, attempts I guess to develop him, just make him even more of a total wuss that what we have already seen. I did like Carl talking to him about the way things shows him growing into a smart, thick-skinned survivor. My Walking Dead buddies are really growing tired of this mid season, though. By all intensive purposes, it has been a huge disappointment. However, it has some of my favorite zombies of the series. Really grotesque. Eugene surviving kind of left me rather with mixed emotions. Not sure I like the idea of the "bus group" having to endure dragging him along. I guess if there is some extra development of him actually progressively gaining a spine, it could be in same vein of Beth.

    1. The season opener was one of the strongest eps of TWD ever produced, and its immediate sequel was to--as always with TWD--throw out the drag-weights, slam on the brakes, and bring it all to a virtual standstill. Take an episode worth of plot dealing with the cannibals, pile on the padding to stretch it to two eps, and so sanitize the ending that the entire point of the story is lost. Since then, it's been up and down, up and down. Every somewhat decent ep is immediately followed by a pointless waste of space. What you're seeing there--while TWD is at the absolute height of its popularity--is the coming end of TWD. It fell into this pattern in the last season, seems unlikely to ever pull out of it, and it's more wearisome than back during the Mazzara seasons, when it was just a bad show that drew a certain audience. Now, it draws a much broader audience and produces eps that encourage much greater involvement with it then it immediately slaps the face of anyone who extends to it any greater investment. That's the rotating pattern. It's a situation bound to produce frustration, and that will only grow as the boom-and-bust cycle continues and the better eps become less better and fewer in number. I wouldn't want to overstate that--it still has some seasons left in it--and things could always change, as they have so often with this series. That's its course at present.

      I've never really cared for TWD's zombies. They're gruesome and well-executed for what they are, but they reflect a lot of tends in contemporary zombie make-up with which I disagree. Piling on the prosthetics, giving them inhuman eyes, making them look so monstrous in general robs them of their humanity. They may as well be invaders from Saturn or the 8th Dimension. It sacrifices a big part of what makes zombies special. To be fair, treating them in this way comes from the comic. I just don't like it.

      (The only substantive change Darabont made to the first few issues of the comic when adapting them to the screen was to add the business about Morgan's zombie wife returning to haunt him every night. And, of course, that's one of the things everyone remembers best and associates most strongly with the series--to this day, any hint of Morgan sends TWD fans into orgasmic spasms).

      The plot element of the shifting plan for how to handle the hospital business was dead on arrival because it was written as--say it with me, class--soap melodrama. Emotional manipulation as the beginning, middle and end. TWD's writers want to constantly hammer on the matter of the characters' humanity and whether they're losing it. Being soap melodrama, it isn't handled with any intelligence or subtlety. It's, ARE WE LOSING OUR HUMANITY? Written in 20-feet-tall flashing neon and constantly kept in the viewer's face. Here, the alternative plan isn't born of any logical consideration but of Tyreese's squeamishness at the prospect of having ot kill people (said squeamishness is, like nearly everything else on TWD, a problem the writers turn on and off like flipping a switch). Instead of an intelligent, adult conversation about what approach would be appropriate and would work best, it comes down to that, and the final decision is made based on it. As a practical matter, the characters on TWD are about two years into the zombie apocalypse. Look at everything they've been through. Outside of the need to generate melodrama, does any of that make any sense? And, stepping back, I, for one, am really sick of that fucking neon sign.

    2. and the final decision is made based on it.

      And another thing: Daryl's endorsement of the alternative as logical doesn't, as some seem to think, make it logical. He argues it will work because Dawn is politically weak within her group and thus will give in, but that doesn't make any sense at all--if she's seen as weak and then gives in to an attacking force, it just makes her look even weaker. A far more logical outcome is that she responds belligerently, with overwhelming force. This being TWD, everyone gets stupid and none of this is discussed.

      (And the cop who escapes at the end can go right back to Dawn and tell her they're a small group and weak, which makes a fight even more likely.)

  4. Splitting the season in 2 really ruined this show. The story with beth could have ended in 2 or 3 epidodes now it is the focus of this half season and the midseason finale.
    They dealt with terminus in one episode. But this lame hospital arc takes 4 episodes.
    They could have redeemed this show into something truly badass

    1. I actually liked the hospital storyline when it began. It fell apart because the writers went the Mazzara route of writing an ep or two of plot then stretch, stretch, stretching it to fill far too many.