Public Service Announcement 10 of 2014: The Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation

Lots of shows coming back/starting up over the next few days so we’ll have at least one or maybe even two more PSA’s before the week is out. But sticking with today (Monday) and tomorrow for now, first up is the second half of season 4 of The Walking Dead which returns from winter hiatus tonight at 9pm on Fox UK.

Possibly the most depressing tv show I’ve ever watched, I only managed the first season of the zombie misery-fest before I decided to choose life over walking death – I did mean to watch season 2 but, in the end, I just couldn’t do it to myself. However, there’s no denying it’s high-quality, serious tv with an excellent cast and a huge following who will be delighted to catch the usual carnage and despair only 1 day after it’s being shown in the US. Kudos to Fox UK for treating an American genre show and its fans with respect.

Talking of which…. a slow hand-clap for the BBC who are finally getting around to showing season 3 of the wonderful Parks and Recreation. The opening double bill starting tomorrow on BBC4 at 10.30pm, which is only 3 YEARS after it was shown in the US, 7 months after it came out on DVD in the UK and, just for good measure, a month after season 4 came out on DVD in the UK too. So, bang up-to-date, then.

Sigh. I’m sure there’s an excellent reason why the Beeb can find prime-time slots and cash for wretched fare like “Spooks on the Hustle”, sorry, By Any Means or The(umpteenth remake of the) Musketeers but has relegated Parks to a late-night slot on a niche channel years after the event, as if it’s something to be ashamed of instead of the best show it actually has on its books. Excellent reason or not, though, I didn’t want to wait, so I’ve already watched the whole of season 3 on DVD, perfectly legally. And it’s a joy. The writing is as sweet and sharp as season 2, the characters (especially Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope and Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson) are all both completely mad and completely brilliant, and the addition of Adam Scott’s adorable Ben and Rob Lowe’s super-keen Chris is inspired. I don’t think we’ll be reviewing it regularly here but I loved it so much the first time that I might just watch it on tv all over again.

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Public Service Announcement 39 of 2011: Alphas, The Walking Dead

Tonight (Tuesday) sees the UK debut of Alphas, which features David Strathairn as the leader of a group of crime-fighters with superhuman powers. So it’s Heroes crossed with The Mentalist by way of Psych, Monk, and Misfits (returning itself in a couple of weeks, incidentally). Obvious nonsense, but advance word seems to suggest it might be watchable nonsense; having said that, my tolerance for this sort of thing was pretty much eroded by Heroes, and if we end up watching people with powers vs other people with other powers I’ll probably be switching off (5*, 10pm).

And later in the week we get the return of zombie drama The Walking Dead for its second season. I didn’t watch the first season, and I won’t be watching this one – I don’t do zombies, really – but what I can tell you is that this episode, when shown in America earlier in the week, pulled in a huge, record-breaking audience for a cable show. So there’s a substantial zombie constituency out there (Friday 21 October, FX, 10pm).

The Walking Dead ep 6

Well, that was cheery. 

Still beautifully made, but still the most depressing thing on tv, The Walking Dead’s first season finale was much like the previous five episodes – eerie, unnerving and desperately grim. 

Death, violence and horror upon horror have marked the past few weeks as Rick and co struggled to survive in a post-Apocalyptic world where “there is nothing left”.   Nothing but the walkers and the possibility of a “short and brutal life” and “an agonising death”, that is.  Gulp.

This week, in a less gory but even more claustrophobic and creepy episode, the group made their way to their last hope, the CDC and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t end on a happy note.

This hasn’t been my favourite show but it is high-quality, well-acted and lovingly created fantasy stuff.  In fairness, it has moved on a little from what I called the “casual misogyny” of episode 1, with a couple of  slightly stronger female characters, but there is still much to be done.  Thus far, the male characters are much more fully developed, however unlikeable some of them might be, and the women could do with a lot more fleshing out. 

And the tone could do with a lot more variation as well; would some humour hurt?  Episode 4 had its funny moments, but for most of the season, the despair has been relentless, culminating in the thick black cloud of smoke filling the screen for the final scene.  A little more light-heartedness is definitely on my season 2 wishlist.  But, despite its faults, and while I’m still much more of a vampire girl, this first season has been more than good enough for me to stick around for the next, even if nobody’s quite sure yet exactly when it’s going to be or who’s going to write it.

The Walking Dead ep 1

I’m really not interested in zombies. 

Vampires I love, werewolves I’m down with, witches are fine but the living dead with their lurching about and their entrails tend to simultaneously bore and nauseate me .  However, the impressive pedigree behind The Walking Dead – based on the seminal comic book series, brought to our screens by the director of The Shawshank Redemption and the channel responsible for Mad Men and Breaking Bad – meant I felt obliged to give it a go, so give it a go I did, and, as expected, it’s very well done.   

Predictably, Andrew “Egg” Lincoln’s American accent’s a bit iffy, but otherwise he’s fine as small-town sheriff Rick Grimes, who wakes up from a coma to find civilisation has ended and the zombies have overrun his world.  His gradual discovery of the scale and horror of what has happened is beautifully portrayed in a series of eerily atmospheric and often scary scenes.   The bodies, the blood, the long stretches of silence – it’s all creepy, unsettling stuff even if the zombies who shuffle into shot every now and again are more gross and sad than frightening most of the time.  Most of the time; the zombie woman trying to get back into her house, freaking out her non-zombie son and the climactic scenes with the zombie mob are highly unnerving.

The show does have an air of the old-fashioned about it, however.  Rick is a fundamentally decent, old-time cowboy-type of hero, even fitting a ride on a horse into his journey in case we haven’t worked out the metaphor for ourselves.  Now I do like a good-hearted cowboy, but, unfortunately, the old-fashioned undertones don’t stop there.   The fact that we don’t actually meet any non-zombie women until a good 50 minutes into the 70 minute pilot (our hero and the resourceful survivors he meets are all men) would, in itself, be fine but the problem is that the show’s attitude to women is evident from the very first conversation we hear between the male characters – it’s about how women are either stupid or cruel. 

When we eventually do meet her, the main female character is being emotional and impetuous, having to be protected, calmed down and coaxed out of stomping off on a well-meaning but dangerous mission to help other survivors.  She’s a woman, see.  She needs to be steered back to the path of sensible behaviour by the man she’s currently snogging.  While her comatose husband has been left behind to the mercies of the flesh-eating living dead, apparently.  So stupid, cruel and/or disloyal then.  Gee, thanks show. 

Maybe I’m being unfair, though.  Maybe she’ll turn out to be resourceful and clever in later episodes, and show that guy up for the jerk he is.  After all, other than the casual misogyny, episode 1 was very good, if very grim zombie fare and because it’s such a big noise in cult circles, I probably will keep watching for now.  Whether I write about the show again, however, is another story; impressive pedigree and big noise or not, I’m still not interested in zombies.

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2010: The Walking Dead, Misfits

Comic-book-adaptation-zombie-drama The Walking Dead comes to UK screens this week, no more than a few days after its US debut, which generated cable channel AMC’s largest audience ever and the highest viewing figure for any cable drama debut this year. On top of that it’s had great reviews, and on top of that it has Egg off of This Life as Rick Grimes, a police officer who falls into a coma after being shot, and comes to a few weeks later in a world with a significant increase in the number of zombies. Generally speaking I’m not at home to Brer Zombie, so may not be watching. Our vampire correspondent CJ might extend her interest in the undead and give it a go. Anyway, it starts on Friday 5th November at 10pm on FX, and there are only six episodes in this first season with no official word yet on renewal.

And next week sees the return of E4’s breakout success Misfits. While it has weaknesses (Nathan) and annoying characters (Nathan) it has freshness, vitality, and rough-edged charm in its favour. Unpopcult was late to the party for season 1, but we’ll be right on top of season 2, which starts next Thursday (11 November) at 10pm.