Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s outrageously wonderful black-and-white comic ‘The Walking Dead’ starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I’m absolutely captivated and enamored with the breathless entertainment and human drama that Darabont and his cohorts have unleashed on the small screen. Oh, and it’s also one of the more violent things you’ll ever see, on television or off.
How many major, highly buzzed-about shows open with the hero of the series shooting a little girl in the head? Right. None. (Does it matter that the little girl is a zombie? No? Good!) But that’s exactly the way that ‘The Walking Dead’, AMC’s new creepy crawly great series, begins. Our hero, the handsomely rugged (and ruggedly handsome) Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), guns down a pint-sized member of the undead brigade of flesh chewers.
From there, we flash back to see Rick, on duty in the sheriff’s department, running down some bad guys. He’s shot in the melee, and awakes to a world overrun by zombies. This is something he has to ease into. He gains knowledge by talking to fellow survivors and getting some (if not all) of the story.
In one heartbreaking scene, he’s holed up with some survivors of the plague, a father and son. The father looks out the window and sees his wife, now a zombie, shambling outside. It’s a moment that reminds you that we are in the able hands of Frank Darabont, the writer-director of ‘The Shawkshank Redemption‘, as well as Frank Darabont the writer-director of ‘The Mist‘. (Darabont wrote and directed the first episode, wrote the second, and executive produced the rest.)
What’s kind of amazing about ‘The Walking Dead’ – and this is especially true in the first two episodes – is that it’s as gruff and violent and hardscrabble as ‘Mad Men’ is smooth and stylish and cold. Rick is convinced that his wife and son are still alive, despite widespread mayhem that points to a different conclusion. So he sets out to reconnect with his family.
In a genius moment of pure style-over-narrative-demand, Rick rides into an abandoned Atlanta on a horse. It’s a strikingly beautiful image, evocative and sad and powerful, which more than makes up for some lapses in logic.
In its infinite wisdom, AMC has chosen to make an expanded, 90-minute Halloween event out of the first episode. By the end of it, you’ll feel like you’re really there. You’re stuck in that world of zombie plagues and tanks and abandoned cityscapes; that’s how well-realized and executed this concept is. As a metaphoric device, the zombie is woeful and misbegotten, a ghost made fleshy real, mercifully devoid of any real personality. In this way, it’s the perfect dramatic foil: human character can project into the reanimated corpses as a way of looking inward. Future episodes promise lots more human drama than just flesh eating theatrics, although there will still be plenty of that too. (The second episode grossed me out to the max.)
‘The Walking Dead’ is probably the best new series this fall not called ‘Boardwalk Empire’ or ‘Terriers’. Those who’ve felt the sadness and regret of a season filled with dead-ends and false starts like ‘The Event‘ and ‘Undercovers‘ can take heart – ‘The Walking Dead’ is the real deal. It’s the rare show that pulls on your heartstrings as much as it’ll have you reaching for that barf bag.
Before I go, since I haven’t talked about television in a little while, I just want to go back to basic cable’s other great new show, ‘Terriers’. Is anybody watching this thing? It’s one of the most compelling primetime dramas I’ve seen in quite sometime. It’s irreverent and funny and emotionally raw. Each episode further convinces me of its go-for-broke brilliance. Anybody not watching (it’s on FX on Wednesdays), please rectify that. I can’t stomach it being a one-season warrior. Because it’s so, so good.