Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A new season of The Walking Dead, a new season Talking Dead, aka, how television ruins everything.

If you are unaware of the existence of a little zombie show on television here in the states known as The Walking Dead, then this post might still be of interest to you.

However, if you are aware of the show and don't want spoilers, I'm sorry, this isn't the post for you. Because I want to say some stuff that will directly reference plot points in the series. So, only read this if you're caught up, or just don't give a shit about spoilers or the show.

Are we cool here? Awesome.

Season Three of The Walking Dead just premiered this past weekend. If you follow me on twitter, you know that I have a love/hate relationship with the show. Basically, I love the concept, and I love the zombies, but I hate every single character and plot point the series comes up with. With the exception of the first season. Do you want to know who I blame?

This nerdlinger, right here.

Okay, not Chris Hardwick, personally. But definitely the show he hosts, Talking Dead.

Here's the way I saw things going down: an awesome new zombie tv show starts up. Because it's based on a comic book, it has an already established fan base, and damn good writing. Everyone who watches it gets hooked on it, and eagerly anticipates season two. Then season two rolls around, and suddenly... it's just not as good as it was. The characters are all making foolish decisions. The production team, high off good ratings and better coke, decide, "Fuck all this source material bull shit. We're going to True Blood this motherfucker into the ground," presumably because the producer and his accountant know they can make more money on a flop than a hit. Or maybe they just think they know better than the source material, because they start making odd choices. Where the group once abandoned a fellow survivor handcuffed to a roof and another on the side of the road to die from zombie-itis, our ragtag group of misfits suddenly can't stand to shed the blood of a barn full of zombies, or abandon a half-hearted search for a missing child that everyone knows is dead. Fans were noticing a lot of inconsistencies in the plot and the canon of the show, like, "How come these fuckers keep running into town like they just need to pop into Walgreens, instead of emptying all these stores and hoarding the supplies for themselves?" and "Why, if the walkers are attracted by sound, are they driving a Harley and a Ford Festiva with the squealingest brakes in Georgia? Are there no brake pads in the apocalypse?" 

Luckily, there was another show on right after the episodes aired, in which your host, Chris Hardwick, formerly of MTV's Singled Out (respect), would interview celebrity fans of the show, actors who worked on the show, and the episode's writers themselves, asking all the same questions you just shouted at your screen.

I could never quite put my finger on why I hated Talking Dead so much, until Sunday night's premiere. I was lamenting to an online acquaintance that the sudden jump in time from the end of season two to the beginning of season three was frustrating to me. At the end of season two, the camera pans up from the survivors huddled around a camp fire, to the ominous shape of a prison facility in the near distance. The cliffhanger proved effective in two ways: it wet the viewers' appetite for the next season in showing us what new challenge the survivors would face, and yet it left them achingly close to safety, but utterly unprotected. They were mere miles from the prison... and yet six months went by without them noticing it? There were no signs? Nothing that said, "Prison Area - Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers" or "Next 3 Miles Cleaned By Prisoners" or anything like that? What about Herschel and his daughters Maggie and... other, who lived in the area their whole lives? They didn't know the prison was there?

Then my internet acquaintance said, "Oh, they explained that on Talking Dead. They were just constantly cut off from the prison by all the zombies running around." And I became furiously angry, not because that's a lame excuse that no one is buying (it was like, a few miles, tops. Six months, are you fucking serious?), but because the show should stand on its own.

I should not have to watch another show so that the writers and creators can explain away the problems with the first show. But that's what Talking Dead is for. On the surface, it looks like a half hour of sharing funny behind the scenes stories and for fans to discuss how awesome the last episode was. But it seems like the bulk of it is just Chris Hardwick asking stuff like, "How come it took so long to find the prison?" and "What were those flashes of zombies representing when Shane was dead on the ground?" All that stuff should be obvious from the episode! If it's not, then it's not working.

The first season of the show was amazing. It was tight and suspenseful and I almost never wanted Lori to get eaten by walkers. The second season took a nosedive, and suddenly Carl was never in the house and Andrea was taking risky shots when other survivors were downrange. It was like the writers no longer cared about making the show make sense, because they had a safety net. I can just imagine the writers' room during those second season creative meetings. "This doesn't make any sense!" "It's okay, they're going to have that thing on after it, that gives us aaaaaall of filming and post production and until the air date to think up an explanation."

I'm really frustrated because it was such a good show, and the premiere on Sunday night seemed like it heralded a new and wonderful change in story. And then all too soon, the plot holes showed up, and were immediately explained away in the show's looming footnote.

Look, when I'm reading a book, if there's a plot hole, the author doesn't get to call me up and explain what they intended (and I think we all know why I am, personally, very glad about this). If I'm watching a movie and there's some ineffective exposition, the director and screen writer don't stop by and explain the nuances to you. The work has to stand on its own. Can you imagine how much more furious you would have been if, after the series finale of The Sopranos, another show came on to explain how the director purposely left the last scene vague because he felt it was an homage to Fellini, so fuck you for wanting closure? Or if, after Sex and The City, they made a movie to tell you what happened to the characters after the end of the series?

Or worse, two? And one of them was substantially worse than the other? What kind of nightmare world would that be?

A lot of people have been asking me for writing advice, since NaNoWriMo is coming up. That's a separate post altogether, but allow me to drop some writing truth right here: you are never going to be able to explain to everyone, out loud, exactly how your fictional universe works, or what you intended in a scene. You don't get a Talking Dead to patiently explain to exasperated viewers why you're really a genius in spite of what they just experienced. So, let your work stand on its own two feet. If it can't, you're not finished. Revise. Add. Clarify. Fix your shit before you put it in front of an audience, because the second a reader is soured on you, they're usually gone forever. Have an honest critique partner tell you what's wrong with your storyline ("I'm noticing that Carl is getting lost a lot... maybe you should search the document for 'has anybody seen Carl?' and eliminate some of those."). What I'm saying is, basically, don't be The Walking Dead, and your NaNo should turn out fine.

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