Monday, 25 June 2012

The Indolently Strolling Dead

This is probably a stupid thing to post just hours before the newest episode airs, since for all I know we're about to land in the middle of a zombie killfest.  But sweet nukekubi of Ryukyu, this is some slow shit we got going on here.

Maybe it's got something to do with whatever went down behind the cameras and caused the ejection of Frank Darabont.  Perhaps it's because the show's second season is more than twice the length of the first one.  Or it might be - and this is the way I'd bet - because of the budget cuts that are probably related to those first two options anyway.

But something's up here, and it's causing some real problems.  Consider that the first four episodes of the first season each adapted a single issue of an already exceptionally decompressed comic.  That's about a page every two and a half minutes; which frequently means less than one panel every sixty seconds.  That's a slow-motion crawl, basically, and Darabont did exceptionally well beefing up the series to the point where they could run at that pace without it being a problem (of course, why he pissed all that away and shoved the survivors into the CDC for the last two episodes is anyone's guess).

Compare that rate of progress with the second season.  The season opener ditched the events of issues 7 through 9 almost entirely, finishing with the cliffhanger at the end of those books without using anything in-between (choosing instead to focus on the hunt for Sophia, which is fair enough).  In the five issues since then, the show has shuffled through the events of issue 10, and some of issue 11.   That's almost four hours to wade through 33 pages.

That in itself, of course, wouldn't be a problem.  I try not to get too militant regarding adaptations of my favourite stories, and it was always obvious that Walking Dead in particular could never make the leap from page to screen without some reworking.  But alteration is one thing; padding is something completely different.  We're now six weeks into the hunt for Sophia, and I've long ago lost interest.  A child in peril story has a definite sell by date, especially since I no longer believe this show has the balls to kill a kid on-screen.  They might go so far as to never find Sophia, but that brings its own problems; namely that all this angst and running around will have been a waste of time narratively as well as structurally.  It probably doesn't help that the show hasn't done nearly enough to develop Carol to the point where I feel like I should care any more about her daughter than the tens of millions who have already died.

Even such slow progress towards what's coming (and yes, maybe if I hadn't read the comics I'd be more engrossed by the gradual wind-up) wouldn't necessarily be pissing me off so much if it wasn't being justified with such awful character development.  Laurie Grimes in particular gets more unbearable with every passing episode, to the point where she's now explicitly confessed that she has no interest in listening to logic any more.  Maggie seems determined to beat Rick's wife in the intolerable stakes, though, spending almost every moment she's onscreen attempting to be as big a vicious bitch as she can be.  Even Andrea, who's difficulty in dealing with her denied suicide started as genuinely interesting, has now been reduced to sulks and screams and the shooting of other main characters so as she can be guilty as well as petulant.

If you're noticing a common theme with all three of those character, you're not the only one. Whilst the women of the camp seem determined to piss me off, the men seem equally bent on making me fall asleep.  Rick continues to operate as the most vacuous of ciphers - almost every word he says seems designed not as dialogue, but as a reminder from the show-runners regarding what we should consider the unassailable truth (in fairness, this is definitely a problem in the source material, too, often even when Rick fucks up it all turns out for the best).  Daryl and T-Dog don't seem to be making too much of an impression either (though the former has some interesting hallucinations of his lunatic brother that break up the monotony a bit), and whilst Hershel's defiant clinging to religion could have been handled worse, it could have been done a whole lot better as well. Glenn isn't bothering me too much, I suppose, I'm probably just sick of him because his arrival generally means Maggie can't be far away.

Basically, it's button-bright hangdog Dale and lunatic Jewish werewolf Shane that are keeping me watching at this point.  Jeffrey DeMunn is always a delight to watch as he surveys the madhouse he's found himself in and wonders - occasionally aloud - exactly what the hell he's going to do when everyone else is utterly determined to go batshit crazy.  Jon Bernthal, meanwhile, is just a vibrating blur of unsettling intensity, a powder keg atop a pressure cooker trying to find a solution to being tied to an adopted family that wanted him for all of five minutes.  In a sea of characters that can mostly be summed up in ten words or less, Shane is a spectacular creation, and quite the best thing about the show right now, even if he has threatened to kill Dale and therefore half its watchability.

Sean and Dale can't carry this thing, though.  The show is stuck in a mire, and not enough of the people stuck alongside us are worth holding a conversation with.  Something major has to happen soon, or the show will just drift off into total pointlessness. I guess we'll learn more tonight about whether the show can pull itself around.  

Well, you can, if you like.  I'm watching Veep.

Update: Ho ho ho, what's this?  Not only was episode 7 a distinct improvement, it also proved me wrong in one very important way, that in retrospect I'm annoyed I didn't see coming.  The obvious question now is whether the show can continue at this level, or if it'll sink back down into irrelevance before ramping up at the season finale.

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