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'The Walking Dead': TV's most entertaining, frustrating drama

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

Walking

AMC

Promotional poster for season 2

Record-setting zombies

If total viewership is a tell-tale sign of a show's success, then AMC's The Walking Dead has it made. 

The zombie survivor horror returned two weeks ago with its much anticipated mid-season premiere, capturing 8.1 million viewers while setting basic cable records for the 18-49 and 25-54 demographic (5.4 and 4.4 million respectively according to Hollywood Reporter).

And yet, there may not be a more flawed, often times frustrating hour of mishandled characters to watch on television. Often times, I just roll with it and think to myself: "Hey, we're dealing with zombies here. Let's not get too serious. Sure, the survivors have been stuck on the same farm, essentially doing the same exact thing all season, but I'm sure it'll turn around."

In some ways, Walking Dead really has turned the corner, especially when you can consider all the behind the scenes shakeups to the writing staff. But I can no longer ignore its flaws; it's almost to the point where I don't feel engaged by what's happening. I can't honestly say that I care about whether half of the core group of survivors actually lives, or that I wouldn't mind watching half of them get eaten alive like any of the other stragglers (poor, poor Otis) who fall by the wayside.

Simply put: where The Walking Dead succeeds in concept and escapist appeal, it continually fails in the writer's room. The characters don't really matter. You're just there for the zombie ride.

For instance, take the two leads, Rick and Lori. There may not be a better candidate for least compelling couple in all of television, at least when it comes to shows of this profile.

The leads don't cut it

Think about it. What does Rick ever do besides have heart to heart conversations about the "different times" he lives in? He talks more about what he should be doing as a leader than ever actually doing it. To make matters even worse, he's consistently outdone by Shane, a supposed supporting character who is more interesting than the whole bunch put together. And if Rick does happen to have his moment to shine, well you better believe he'll be right back to questioning everything he believes in by the next episode. He's all for making speeches.

As for Lori, well she frequently asks that the folks around her leave and head into town so they can risk their lives for some ill-conceived mission. Any excuse to get off the farm and actually vary the show's lone setting has to be a good one, right? Except for the time Lori takes off on her own, pregnant and all, to find Rick and the gang. This ends with Lori flipping an SUV and nearly killing herself with not a soul around to save her.

Oh, and when Lori is not being spontaneously reckless, she likes to give Rick speeches about how dangerous Shane is and how he has to do something about it. Rick gives her that "it's hard being a leader" face and then Lori gets right back to more "Shane is dangerous and the baby is yours no matter what" ranting.

It's not all disappointing

All the script and character development criticism aside, The Walking Dead is still a highly serviceable hour of television (hence the record ratings). It's Sunday night escapism capitalizing on the thrills of the zombie/horror/survival genre.

You may not think these are the greatest characters, or that the material really engages you beyond a level of "that was really cool." Just because it's on cable doesn't mean the show has to change the way you look at life like other high-powered, high-budget AMC, HBO and Showtime dramas.

Sometimes it doesn't matter if the plot makes sense all the time, if the characters feature real progression or if the show even has any real clear direction as to where it's going. 

Sometimes you just want to sit down for an hour and take part in The Walking Dead experience. It is what is: zombies, record ratings and all.      

Jared Baxter is a senior telecommunication media studies major and an enthusiast on sports and pop culture.

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