I spend a lot of time in front of my television, so you
could quite rightly say I watch a lot of television.
I don’t watch a lot of TV.
Stay with me here. To me TV are the standard weekly free to air guff. When I am in front of my television I am generally not watching TV shows – unless you count live sport. Which I don’t. – In fact 90% of the time when the television is on I am watching movies, live sport or playing the X-Box, and even that not all that frequently.
That has been the case for years, I just can’t allow myself to get into the routine of a weekly cop show or sit-com. I have NEVER seen a full episode of… well you name it really; The Big Bang Theory, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Sexy Vampires 6, Lost, Breaking Bad. I could go on.
It’s actually quicker for me to list what I HAVE seen in the last 10 years or so, an episode of House, an episode of How I Met Your Mother, an episode of Dexter and fragments of various Kardashians, Oprah, The View, Law & Order and Criminal Minds. House and Mother were both the same night at my sister’s house (the same one who made me watch Twilight), Dexter was on a footy trip where TOG had the only DVD player – and the only DVDs – and the rest were generally with my wife as she watched and I slept next to her on the couch, waking only to express my disgust and spit vitriol at the vacuous bints
Aside from my instantly disposable cartoon quartet (American Dad, The Cleveland Show, Family Guy and The Simpsons) there have only been three ‘proper’ TV shows that I have watched regularly from go to whoa this millennium. They are, in order;
Rome: A gory, sex-filled, realistic look at the final days of the Roman empire from the
perspective of characters from various backgrounds. I watched and enjoyed both
seasons on DVD over a month or so.
Battlestar Galactica: The reboot of the cheesy but memorable 80s TV series, given a slightly bigger budget and a far more serious tone. I caught on late – I think near the end of Season 2, when someone lent me the Movie length pilot DVD. Smart move by the
Battlestar guys, I would never had committed to a full season on DVD and probably never would have gotten around to checking out an episode. The DVD was a couple hours and by the end I was interested enough to rent the full Season 1. After that I was hooked until the
The Walking Dead: As a guy that watches so many zombie movies it was unavoidable that I would watch at least one episode of The Walking Dead, if only to see how they planned to tackle bringing the bloodthirsty undead to the small screen. Would they puss
out and withhold the blood? Or would they cartoonify proceedings into a weekly watered down Shaun of the Dead.
They couldn’t possibly bring a full-bore, full-gore zombie show to mainstream TV could they? (The answer is yes. Hell yes.)
Now given my limited exposure to TV shows in recent years I haven’t got much of a sample size to work from, but in the early days of The Walking Dead I started getting very familiar feelings about proceedings. This only strengthened as time went on, and I eventually realised that the reason I liked the show so much was that it is Battlestar Galactica – only with zombies.
Hang on you say. Zombies. Aliens. Aliens. Zombies. Not only are they totally unlike each other, they are at opposite ends of the alphabet. You’re not selling this well…
But neither ‘Battlestar’ or ‘Dead’ are shows exclusively about aliens *COUGH* Cylons or zombies *COUGH* Walkers exclusively, they are merely background characters for the most part. Sure the Cylons in Battlestar eventually started getting screentime, especially the big blonde chickie in the tight clothes (Number 6), but in the early goings it was a
small band of survivors, peace keepers, politicians and everyday civilians trying to make sense of WTF just happened and hardwiring their brains to deal with the new reality that they were possibly responsible for the continuation of mankind beyond the immediate future.
Sound familiar? They even have their own slang for their foes, the Cylons are ‘toasters’ and zombies ‘walkers’. I would have stuck with zombies, it’s worked just fine this long and they’re obviously zombies, but whatever.
The producers of each show quickly realised that as cool as it was the first time to see a zombie attack or a space battle, expecting someone to sign on as a weekly viewer on that basis was sketchy at best. Ask anyone who has been an onlooker as his mates play Left 4 Dead, after 15 minutes or so things get quite samey. So to make sure that the show didn’t shoot its wad early there had to be more to watch than just lasers and flesh eating. As a
result each show became an ongoing character study with the human drama accounting for a serious proportion of each episode.
The early stages of Battlestar were mapped out in advance by the creators, they had character arcs and plot points ready to develop as the series went on, but then a strange thing happened. As the show rapidly found a following websites and chat rooms buzzed with Battlestar news and feedback, sheer weight of numbers and geek opinion changed the writer’s plans, peripheral characters grew so popular that they became regulars – Helo is but one example – and guest stars also became recurring roles. In fact in the last few seasons the writers largely scrapped any long term frameworks and starting crafting the storyline almost on the fly. Apparently the true identities of the Final 5 Cylons from within the Battlestar crew weren’t known to the actors until the episodes were filmed, the reason being the writers themselves hadn’t chosen.
Similarly with The Walking Dead the early eps introduced us to most of the current cast and more, with extraneous or bland characters nibbled out of the script. The writers have also latched on to what made Battlestar work so well, they take seemingly innocuous plotpoints from early episodes and build around them later. This is why both shows use the same opening technique, they play snippets of previous episodes, possibly comments
or events long since forgotten, as precursors for the episode you are about to watch. “Remember when this happened? Well you should, because it’s going to come up tonight.”
This technique means that something that was for all intents and purposes done and dusted can be brought back if necessary, in the case of Season 2 of Dead this resulted in Daryl’s menacing redneck brother Merle (Michael Rooker) coming back as a ‘guiding angel’ to influence his decisions and future actions. This doesn’t seem to have had much of an influence yet, but you’d be foolish not to think that Merle’s continuing hatred of Rick won’t come up at some point in the second half of the season.
And did I mention that Gaius Baltar in Battlestar had a recurring imaginary/subliminal friend helping mould and influence his thought processes? I’m sure I did.
Another similarity is the gradual changing of heroes to villains and vice versa – to varying degrees. The afore-mentioned Baltar went from coward to bastard to religious figure and back to almost decent again by the end of the season. Do you remember Ross being anything other than a big nosed good natured moron across his 57 Friends seasons? Of course not. The easily amused liked him as a moron, so a moron he stayed.
As Dead is still a long way from ending part of the fun is to see just where each of the characters are headed. We all know Shane is a broken nail away from snapping and killing Dale and Glenn, with Lori most likely next and possibly his long-time best bud Rick on their heels. Hell after his rapid transformation from loyal soldier to total loose cannon since he killed Otis to save himself (a few weeks back on a rescue mission) I wouldn’t be surprised if he stared eating his fellow survivors just for a laugh.
As things currently stand practically every cast regular has concerns, secrets, animosity or fears that can at some point be exploited by the writers. Daryl has his brother’s ghost (or whatever), Lori the ‘will she or won’t she have it’ pregnancy, the kid Carl has superhuman recuperative powers given he was shot in the chest only a few weeks ago – and now he likes guns and wants to be treated like the adults, Carol just saw her (zombified) daughter gunned down by Rick in front of her, Dale has let Shane know he doesn’t trust him one bit – but I guess everyone kinds knows Shane is semi-nuts (at least) after he blew the walkers in the barn away, Andrea was suicidal and is now a gun lover banging skitzo Shane on the regular, Glen is worried that things are falling down around him, and just when he started banging the cute farmer’s daughter, and then there’s Rick. Well given that he is the most logical and politically correct of the group, it’s fair to say that Rick is unsure of how to deal with practically everyone at this point.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention T-Dog? Well that’s probably because so far aside from the fact that he cut his arm in one episode T-Dog hasn’t had much to do aside from ‘and T-Dog in this scene you stand over there to the left of screen and make a similar expression to what the other guys are making. I hope they do something with T-Dog soon, not because I think he is a gifted actor or even an interesting character, but because if they don’t change things soon he will be nothing more than ‘the black guy’ in the show.
T-Dog needs his own arc of defining characteristic fast.
Apparently many regular viewers thought that the first half of Season 2 went nowhere, and that they spent too much time sitting around the farm or looking for a girl who was dead in the barn all along. I disagree, in fact I think the revelation that their search was entirely in vain the while time was a great reveal. The only way I could have been more excited about the return of the show next year would be if after all the barn walkers were dead Shane turned and pumped a round into Dale’s face before turning to Rick and saying “WHAT!” Hell after his recent weeks Shane could have done any number of things to any number of characters and it wouldn’t have been one bit surprising.
And that’s why I am hanging out for what the next episodes will bring. I have no idea myself but I hope they leave the farm and move on. I hope that even if the group splits that they stay in close proximity. I don’t really care if Lori has the baby (she will) or if Hershel hangs around (he won’t, I say he dies badly very soon and the farm is ruined – hence they’re forced to move on), and I know that they can’t go too much further without
developing the Daryl and his imaginary brother angle, nor can they continue too much longer without killing off a regular – not just Hershell. My vote? Andrea. She is currently Shane’s squeeze, and I think removing her might just push him even further over the edge.
I’ll leave the Battlestar and Dead comparison with one last point, the way that the two casts overlap is downright eerie, and while The Walking Dead hasn’t been around long enough to let us know how each character will eventually turn out the early indications are a fair indication.
|Character traits||Battlestar Galactica||The Walking Dead|
|The Leader. Brave honest and true.||Commander Adama||Rick Grimes|
|The Powerful Woman (connected with the Leader)||Laura Roslyn||Lori Grimes|
|Young Buck – Leader in waiting / or threat to rule?||Apollo||Shane|
|The unconventional one who does it ‘their way’||Starbuck||Darryl|
|Woman who alternates between victim and power-grrrrl||Boomer||Carol|
|Ego driven guy who would sell everyone out for their own gain||Gaius Baltar||Season 3? (Or Darryl & his late imaginary brother?)|
|Loyal – but unreliable||Tigh||Andrea|
|Unofficial 2IC, organises the dirty work||Chief||Dale|
|Ummm, we don’t know what to do with you yet.||Helo||T-Dog|
|Meek Mr Fix-It||Felix||Glenn|
|Slimy politician||Tom Zarek||Hershell|
|Enemy who walks among us||Number 6||Not yet, but they’ll try to ‘turn’ a walker at one point. Mark my words…|
Either way, Battlestar proved that quality sci-fi could be made without a big budget and still earn a following.
So far The Walking Dead is doing the same for hardcore zombie fans. I for one loved the end of the first half of Season 2, the second half starts in a week or so, I will stay tuned until they either ‘domesticate’ a zombie or somehow learn to co-exist peacefully.
Leave the faux social messages to the ever-more out of the loop George Romero, give me guts, grime(s) and gore with survival as the only backdrop.