Monday, October 6, 2014

Comparing Undead Apples and Oranges

October 12th will see the return of AMC's most popular series, The Walking Dead*, and the eagerly anticipated season 5 will pick up at Terminus.  People are excited to get back to the ongoing soap opera that moves at a glacial pace, much like the undead walkers that the writers sometimes remember to put in the show.  The Walking Dead is phenomenally popular and debates over the relative merits of characters and plot twists have been responsible for more divorces than the last ten years of infidelity and money arguments combined.**  But why?
Can anyone, honestly, tell me what The Walking Dead is about?  Can you describe the overall plot of the series?
"Well it's about these survivors of a zombie apocalypse that sort of schlep about in Georgia getting into emotional arguments about the nature of humanity and backstabbing one another while being melodramatic over every single thing that happens ever.  Oh, and there's a cool redneck with a crossbow and this kickass black chick with a ninja sword!"
Meanwhile I've been getting my zombie apocalypse fix courtesy of SyFy channel and The Asylum with the original series Z Nation, a show that has managed in only three episodes to get to the point that has taken Walking Dead 4 solid SEASONS.  
I'm saying I prefer Z Nation.  I'm saying you should watch Z Nation.  Since at this point the level of effects for zombie makeup and gore is the same in all zombies products, and since we all sort of know the rules of a zombie apocalypse by this time, I won't refer to either of those things in telling you why I prefer the Z Nation to the Shambling At A Bit Of A Slow Pace, No Slower Than That, Dead.


1.  Tightly plotted- For a show based on a comic book, TWD is awfully slow and soap-opera.  It lacks the tight storytelling and punch of a comic book.  Meanwhile ZN is not based on a comic book but manages to tell its story with the efficiency and joy of reading a comic book.

2.  Recognizable plot- ZN has an actual plot.  A group of survivors made up of paramilitary and civilians are tasked with escorting an obnoxious human from New York to California because his blood is the cure for the zombie plague.  Along the way they are aided by DJ Qualls as an eye-in-the-sky lone NSA computer genius who is also going loony tunes.  See, simple?  The plot, a tried and true quest story, allows the narrative, and the characters to move along each week and we get to feel the joy of their progress and the sorrow of their setbacks in a meaningful way.  And meanwhile on Walking Dead...yes Rick has just crossed a street, only took two episodes, and no, wait, he's stopped to mope and pontificate on the meaning of humanity and not losing that essential quality.  What, pause it?  No, I'm just going to pee.  No, don't pause it.  I won't be long.  I can hear the telly.  Did you want anything from the kitchen while I'm up...or maybe from the 7-11 down the street?

3.  Funny-  Any student of theater or literature knows what Shakespeare knew and used, and that is comedy to counterpoint tragedy.  Not only does comedy provide a much needed break from the constant emotional assault of drama, it underscores the truly dramatic moments.  Let's face, too much exposure to anything makes one jaded.  A jaded audience is the doom of an emotional work such as a tragedy or a drama.  You need light moments to make the dark moments stand out.  Besides people use comedy to deal with horror, sorrow and fear.***  In a real stress situation somebody is going to make a joke, even if it is just bravado.  It makes the characters and their situation seem more real.  And speaking of characters...
Spliff smoking, oxy chompin', wise cracking, zombie killing ex-hippie-got a zombie stoned then killed it.  Beat that, Daryl.

4. Doc-  Doc is the shit, for true.  Clearly an old hippie, Doc is the resident candyman of the Z Nation team and a heck of a fun character to boot.  Think Dale from TWD, but not a whiny, feckless self-righteous dickhead.  You know what, don't think of Dale at all.  Doc is way cooler than practically the entire cast of TWD, and yes, that includes Daryl.  (Sorry Norman, I do like your character, buddy)

5. I thought we agreed not to use the zed word- Walkers, because we don't want to say "zombie".  That's too cultural, too movie, too whatever.  Z Nation says zombies.  Says it all the time, but even better the team has a code phrase for zombies: Puppies and Kittens.  I don't know why, but that makes it all work for me.  We don't want to say the name of the monster because that makes it too real, so let's say something completely the opposite of a brain eating undead bastard.

6.  Pick your team- Admit it, every one of you that religiously watches The Walking Dead has a zombie apocalypse survival plan.  Don't lie to me, I'm a wizard, I know when you are lying.  A few years back it became fashionable, I mean like hip to discuss at the office party when you meet your significant other's boss and said S.O. is bucking for a promotion fashionable, to lay out your zombie apocalypse survival plan.  In detail.  The weapons you'll use, the places you'll fortify, the vehicles, and who will be on your hand-picked team.  Now look at the people on TWD and tell me if that is the team you want to be with.  They routinely do the stupid thing.  They routinely make the bad call.  I could accept that if this was still week 3 of the zombie apocalypse, but these people have been at this for awhile now.  How are they still making rookie mistakes?  Sure, some of these boner moves are due to purely emotional reasons, but even so when you sit around having your little Z.A. survival fantasy you are making claims that you will use pure logic and thus survive.  Meanwhile the crew over at Z Nation make smarter moves and survive.  While they will still risk their necks to save a person that strikes their fancy, they also don't pick the dumb move at every turn like a person playing Monopoly that lands on Boardwalk first turn and figures they'll save their money and passes on buying it because "Oriental might come up and I just love the color."

7. Great cast- Z Nation has a cool cast and cool characters, including the aforementioned Doc.  Tom Everett Scott, whose early genre work was the male lead in An American Werewolf In Paris is great as the de facto team leader (although technically he is the de jure 2nd in command as he is a Sgt and Kellita Smith is an LT) and then there is this guy:

10K.  He named himself 10,000 because that is how many zombies he is going to kill.  That's what he told Doc.  And when he completes this personal goal he is going to change his Jeff.  Because he always liked the idea of being named Jeff.
That's awesome, that is.

8.  Best use of a national monument in a zombie kill- And the award goes to...let's see...Z Nation, the Liberty Bell in episode 3 "Philly Feast".  

9. Because my wife demanded it...-Zombie Baby.  Ep 1.  Zombie Baby.  Eating a grown man to death.

So those are my reasons, 9 of them, for why I prefer Z Nation to Walking Dead.  Don't think this means that I won't be watching The Walking Dead when it premieres because I sure as hell am.  I like TWD.  I just like Z Nation better.  This is America.  I can have a hamburger AND a hot dog if I want in the same meal.  Chili dog.  With cheese.  And bacon.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

*Remember how I felt about The Walking Dead as of the first season?

** I don't have statistics to back that up.

*** Also, I don't believe all this is taking place in Georgia on TWD.  I'm from the South.  We make fun of everything.  Gallows humor is, along with alcohol, how Southerners deal with crisis.  Didn't you see Steel Magnolias?  That was drama.  I'm not buying the all drama all the time no levity angle of Walking Dead.  

1 comment:

  1. I don't watch either show, but I totally agree with your observation about the lack of plot.

    I really can't stand all these nightime genre soaps that just use writerly tricks to keep people involved. They never lead anywhere, they never have anything to say, and as a result they serve little purpose except to sell crappy values to the public for ad revenue.