But I expected it to be better, given that film director Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Mist”) was steering the creative ship.
I suppose it lives up to the hype if you’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Don’t get me wrong: The show is quite good. It’s just not great, for one main reason, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Our hero is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln of “Love Actually”), a cowboy hat-wearing police officer in Georgia who is injured in a standoff and awakes from a coma in the hospital, only to find it — and the entire town — empty, save for a slew of rotting corpses and shuffling zombies (the show refers to them as “walkers”), thanks to a big, bad virus that’s laid waste to civilization.
Riding a horse down the highway into the city, he eventually meets another survivor, who saves him from quite a pickle and takes him to a nearby makeshift camp of others. Among them are Rick’s wife (Sarah Wayne Callies, TV’s “Prison Break”), son and partner (Jon Bernthal, TV’s “The Pacific”). The former and the latter, believing Rick to be dead, have taken up together. That’s a miniscule problem, however, compared to the ever-present threat of death by zombie.
In its brief, freshman outing — all six episodes of it — Rick and company make to-and-fro trips from the camp for various reasons, the cast thinning all the while. (Don’t get too attached to anyone listed as guest star, which sucks away some of the suspense.) For advancing the story, this approach doesn’t do it, as the characters go in circles — a narrative rut not broken out of until the tail end of the next-to-last ep.
Which leads us to that one pesky problem suffered by “The Walking Dead” that keeps it from being as incredible as it could be: Each episode packs about half an hour of story into double the running time. This results in much padding of wistful dialogue that tends to wear down one’s patience. It’s not that I’m clamoring for all zombies, all the time — I just wish something would happen more often to keep the pace from lagging. This becomes more evident now that you can watch the whole season in one sitting on Blu-ray; without the benefit of seven days in between adventures, the repetition grows more obvious.
All that said, how awesome is it that American television has a bona fide horror television series that’s not an anthology and is a solid hit? God bless AMC, because Darabont and his crew are getting away with some amazing things I never thought I’d see on basic cable. (But if you really want to see it done no-holds-barred, check out the BBC’s recent “Dead Set” miniseries.) This is feature-film-quality stuff, and another example at how TV bests most movies these days.
The Blu-ray should please fans with such behind-the-scenes treats as time-lapse footage of the three-hour makeup process it took to convert one actress into the pilot’s hideous-looking crawling zombie, and the teddy-bearish Robert Kirkman, creator of the ongoing comic book on which the show is based, giving a tour of the post-apocalyptic set.
“The Walking Dead” turned my 13-year-old son into a full-fledged zombie freak, so upset he has to wait until fall for season two. If you’re not already with him, this package may convert you, too. —Rod Lott