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THE WALKING DEAD (AMC)
(Sundays at 10:00/9:00c beginning October 31)
The network's description: ""The Walking Dead" is based on the comic book written by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics. The six-episode series tells the story of life following a zombie apocalypse. It follows a group of survivors, led by police officer Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln ("Love Actually," "Teachers," "Strike Back"), traveling in search of a safe and secure home. Jon Bernthal ("The Pacific," "The Ghost Writer") plays Rick's sheriff's department partner before the apocalypse, Shane Walsh, and Sarah Wayne Callies ("Prison Break"), is Rick's wife, Lori. Supporting cast include Laurie Holden ("The Shield"), Jeffrey DeMunn, Chandler Riggs and Steven Yeun. Three-time Academy Award-nominee Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile") serves as writer, director and executive producer. Chairwoman of Valhalla Motion Pictures, Gale Anne Hurd ("The Terminator," "Aliens," "Armageddon," "The Incredible Hulk"), creator of the original comic series, Robert Kirkman, and David Alpert from Circle of Confusion serve as Executive Producer. Charles "Chic" Eglee ("Dexter," "The Shield," "Dark Angel") and Jack LoGiudice ("Sons of Anarchy," "Resurrection Blvd") are Co-Executive Producer."
What did they leave out? The opening installment runs 90 minutes (including commercials).
The plot in a nutshell: Mortally wounded during a shootout, sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens from a coma to the unthinkable: a zombie apocalypse. That's right, all that's left of his small Georgia town are dead bodies and destruction, that and you guessed it - the walking dead. His wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) nowhere to be found, Rick quickly finds himself the target of the zombie horde. Fortunately, two survivors - Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner) - rescue him and explain the new status quo. These walking dead or "walkers" have overrun the entire world, leaving precious few alive. The only piece of hope: there's rumblings that the military has created a safe zone in nearby Atlanta. If Lori and Carl are alive, that's where they'll be. And with that Rick embarks on an Odyssean journey to find his wife and son.
What works: The show's central drive - a weekly series devoted to the fallout of a zombie apocalypse - is as wonderfully intoxicating as advertised, a facet made all the more stronger by focusing on the simple act of survival rather than some convoluted conspiracy about how or why said event happened. The end result is something truly horrifying and not in a "shit that jumps out from around the corner" kind of way. It's terrifying in that it taps into our basic raw emotions: What will you do in the face of the impossible? How quickly will you abandon things like kindness and mercy when chaos descends? "Walking Dead" give us a well-meaning, moral fellow in Rick Grimes - wonderfully portrayed by Lincoln - and quickly turns the aforementioned screws on him.
Helping matters is just how fantastic Frank Darabont and company make the show look and feel: whether it's David Tattersall's gritty cinematography, Greg Nicotero's feature-esque makeup work or Bear McCreary's solemn score, everything infuses the show with an ethereal consciousness that's both beautiful and unsettling at the same time. Lincoln however is the unexpected draw: in his hands, Rick Grimes is the guy who knows what to do even at the darkest moments and somehow manages to emerge with his dignity and honor intact. It's a delicate balance, one made all the more impressive by being able to pull it off without seeming preachy or like an unflinching do-gooder. Beyond Rick, we'll meet not one but two other groups of survivors. It's hard however to say much about them without spoiling but suffice it to say there's an interesting collection of voices that will ultimately comprise the cast.
What doesn't: The show can be artistically self-indulgent at times as the there's really no need for the premiere installment to be 90 minutes other than to soak in the ambiance of the new world order. Some will find that choice engagingly meditative, others will be irked by the slow burn as a result. In either case, you'll likely be happy to know things ramp up rather quickly in episode two. "Walking Dead" also occasionally falls into the "Lost" trap of having people not asking questions any rational human being would. Rick for instance never asks Morgan basic questions like the date or specifics about how this game changing event transpired, he simply accepts the vague explanation without question.
Even more oddly, unless I missed something, the word "zombie" is never used - almost as if they're an alien occurrence. A valid artistic choice, but in the light of the current hyper-awareness of vampires, superheroes and the like in our culture, it feels kind of silly. A few plot contrivances also come across as a little too pat for my tastes while what's sold as a big reveal early on is unfortunately undone by just knowing basic details about the show (even just reading the aforementioned network's description). All in all, they're by no means close to fatal flaws, just notable stumbling blocks out of the gate. All things considered, "Walking Dead" is a more than welcome addition to the television landscape both for its uniqueness in genre and its raw study of the human condition.
The bottom line: It's a cheap one I know but: I'm hungry for more.