And so we come at last to the end of what I expect will be the most controversial week in my blog's history. On Monday I explained why I dislike beloved super-popular property The Walking Dead. Then on Wednesday I followed up by defending contender for most-hated show on television, Z-Nation. Now, as Jerry Springer would say, a few words to sum up my thoughts.
The David and Goliath-style story is one of our favorites. It appeals to something innate in human nature. We always consider ourselves the underdog. Just look at politics. Everyone considers themselves the underdog, even billionaires. I know I'm not an underdog in any strict sense. I'm well off, I live in a nice area, have plenty of access to everything I need. And yet whenever that David and Goliath story comes on, I'm just like, "Yeah, that's me, overcoming my trials!"
But there's also an element of Goliath being a dick. In fact, that's usually why David wins. Goliath is a big, boisterous asshole who doesn't even take David seriously. The rabbit lays down two feet from the finish line so the tortoise beats him.
I feel like that's what I'm looking at here. When TWD was the scrappy young newcomer ("A zombie television series? Preposterous!") they were actually trying. Rick had guts and gusto. Hell, he had a purpose. That guy was gonna find his family, apocalypse be damned. And then when he finally did find his family there were consequences, and the consequences had consequences, and Merle got left handcuffed on the roof, and on and on. Not unlike Battlestar Galactica, in fact.
Now, though? Now TWD has gotten bloated and fat. It's the most popular show on cable TV. So it's become complacent. Hell, it's practically become sedentary. It's the rabbit literally lying down at the finish line.
"Why mess with a good thing?" the producers seem to be saying.
Have everyone stand around and talk and yell and pretend to emote a lot. Kill a character no one cares about every couple episodes, then kill a character people do care about once or twice a season. Introduce new characters every so often and give them a little back story the episode you plan to kill them. Throw in a zombie once in a blue moon so that horror watchers get what they want. Throw in a character from the comic books every once in a while to keep the chatter going.
You don't need a writer to write this stuff. A kid could write this stuff. As I (and Kirkman and Romero) said, it's not horror. It's a soap opera. It's like a fucking shell game is what it is. It promises one thing and delivers another. And it had success so it just sits there, like Goliath, wallowing in its own popularity.
And then, by contrast, you have Z-Nation. This is something that is so demonstrably, so obviously crappy that literally the only way for them to succeed is to innovate. There's a certain number of people (myself included) who will watch literally anything with zombies in it. But ZN has nothing to lose! Why not do a Run, Lola, Run episode? Why not have a cosmonaut crash at Northern Light? Why not have a Three Olives product placement so the characters can drive a vodka-powered airplane?
TWD is all about the "Why fix what ain't broke?" Meanwhile, ZN is all about the, "Why the fuck not?"
Z-Nation has the giddy glow of kids playing in the sandbox. They're not trying to reinvent the zombie genre, but they are throwing all the spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. If the zombie bear turns out to be a hit, why not have more zombie bears in the future? If Murphy controlling the dead turns out to be interesting, maybe there'll be more of that in the future. Who knows? The sky's the limit!
Meanwhile TWD is calcified. "This is what we do, boys," the showrunners seem to have decided, "It doesn't matter whether we do it competently or not. We're going to stick to the bread and butter. Besides, the viewers will all tune in for Daryl. The viewers are morons." That's really part of what galls me about TWD. They don't want to try anything intelligent or truly innovative because they think we're all too dumb to enjoy that. The easily replaceable characters all just wander around Atlanta, being easily replaced, to provide the charade that things are changing, but really nothing ever changes. Anything really innovative is discarded after an episode or two because it would change the status quo.
And Z-Nation has no status quo! Every episode is somewhere different! Every episode has a different premise! When characters die, you notice they're gone. Because they have true franchise. They can choose to do dumb, even petty stuff. Or they can do great noble things and pay the price.
In TWD a couple of characters have invisible shields. Nothing will ever happen to Rick, Carl, Daryl, Maggie, or Glen. The others are faceless zombie bait, promoted to near-main character status just before death. In Z-Nation, two of the main "Rick Grimes" characters have already bought it, one in the first episode.
I could keep beating a dead horse, but I think you get the point. ZN the underdoggy Rocky Balboa has managed to give a beating to TWD's Apollo Creed who's been resting on his laurels. Feel free to sound off in the comments. I'm totally open to hearing dissenting opinions. This is all, of course, one man's opinion, and since it's on the internet, it's most likely wrong.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
Enter your e-mail address in the box below and click "Subscribe" to join Stephen Kozeniewski's Mailing List for Fun and Sexy People. (Why the hell would anyone ever want to join a mailing list?)