I Want my FYMTV, Pt 2

So I’ve been bashing a lot of shows lately, and I feel like I should switch gears a bit to talk about why I do it. Refocusing on the FYMPlanet mission is probably in order here: the goal is not just to slam mediocre shows or to try to shame people into not watching their favorite guilty pleasure. Far from it. You’ll notice that I personally watch all of the shows that I criticize for their lack of impact. I’m not against the shows I trash here, I simply don’t think they work and I do my best to outline why.

At the end of the day, what I really want is for the mediocre and bad shows that people watch to be a backup option rather than the go-to.  I also want people to be able to recognize the flaws in the shows they watch. That’s not to say this will cause them not to watch it anymore; it won’t. But it will dissipate the shared delusion that popularity and profundity are the same things.

I think that understanding the fundamentals of storytelling and the elements that go into good TV is important.

Not for some arbitrary aesthetic reason, but because the more people recognize mediocrity in all its various forms, the more they will seek out things that are better. In the long run, this may lead to better programming overall as studios realize that the drivel that has been successful in the past is no longer making the cut. We’re not there yet, but TV is definitely producing more worthwhile content than ever before. Is that simply because it’s producing more content period, and that percentage-wise the number of “good” shows is staying the same? I don’t know, but what if all of the mediocre shows could be tweaked so they were BETTER?

Wouldn’t it be great if someone made a show like Dexter with dynamic characters and good acting? What if The Walking Dead featured an engaging storyline and quit treating its characters like cardboard cutouts.

I want to watch THOSE shows. I want to watch shows like AMC’s The Killing which pulls no punches as it draws you in and breaks your heart. Or shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that took a campy comedic premise and turned it into something amazing and unexpected.

Years from now, you’ll remember that Dexter was a show about a serial killer killing serial killers and that The Walking Dead was about zombies, but you’ll remember the details of Tony Sopranos dreams. You’ll remember Stringer Bell’s hubris and Omar Little’s code. You’ll remember every step of Walter White’s descent. You’ll remember the minutiae of those characters because they lived for you in a way that the one dimensional Dexter Morgan or Rick Grimes never will.

It can’t be a bad thing to want all of your TV to be that good, can it?

So yeah, I trash mediocre shows from time to time, but only in the service of the idea that there’s better out there and availing yourself of it will not only please your palate but evolve it. If our tastes continue to develop then our media will follow suit. I admit that it would be a dangerous world were all shows good. I doubt I’d get much done. But good or bad, I don’t want to settle for less.

I don’t know about you, but I want my FYMTV.

Don’t Watch: The Walking Dead

*Can they be called spoilers if the show is already rotten? If so, they’re ahead*

The Walking Dead is a profoundly mediocre show. It’s greatest strength is that it manages to keep otherwise rational people watching it, long after it has proven itself not worth their time. Commenter Nial said it best in his comment on my Public Service Announcement post: “The Walking Dead TV show is like super sizing your combo meal at the drive thru. I know it doesn’t have much substance and it’s not good for me but I can’t help myself. Afterwards I feel unfulfilled and dirty.”

Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and an executive producer on the show, is one of my favorite comic book writers of the decade. The Walking Dead comic along with one of his other monthly serials, Invincible, are two of my favorite comics of all time and consistently the best of my monthly reads.

As the creator of The Walking Dead’s source material, Kirkman is unsurprisingly one of the biggest advocates of the show. It is his brain child after all. Though it saddens me to think it is so, I can’t help but harbor the sincere hope that his constant praise of the show is nothing more than lip service. It wouldn’t do for a show’s creator and executive producer to badmouth the changes made to the story. Changes which have, by the way, effectively neutered one of the best zombie stories ever told. As The Walking Dead comic continues to impress and stick to its awesome guns, I have to believe that deep down Robert Kirkman sheds a tear for each nonsensical detour in the show’s storytelling and bides his time until his next project.

But let’s not nerd out too much and fall into the trap of being blind purists. The show is crappy for many reasons not tied to its deviations from the comic. And don’t get me wrong; The Walking Dead is not even close to being the worst show out there. I could point to almost the entire roster of any other basic cable network and find 95% of the listings to be worse. But that’s not what we do here; leave the lowest hanging fruit to some other site.

The Walking Dead isn’t terrible; it’s just mediocre. And making a show poorly when it has the obvious potential to be amazing is worse than making a flat out crap show to shovel to the cow-public.

Here are some things about The Walking Dead that piss me off:

  • The Walking Dead is mired by stiff performances, uninspired writing, and an utter lack of direction. It’s just not building towards anything like a good show should (see Breaking Bad for reference). While some might say “the journey is the destination,” to that I say “only if the journey keeps me engaged.” It doesn’t. At all.
  • Pacing (noun/verb) – 1: a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo. 2: walking at a steady and consistent speed, esp. back and forth and as an expression of one’s anxiety or annoyance.      The show runners confuse definition 1 with definition 2.

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  • I love good Zombie gore as much as the next man, but just as Michael Bay uses explosions to substitute for plot, The Walking Dead uses zombie gore to distract us from the fact that the story isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t work.
  • The Walking Dead comic book is characterized by dynamic characters who are constantly changing (and more than occasionally dying) as they and the world around them very quickly becomes unrecognizable. The show is characterized by static characters whose greatest change is their miraculously decreasing ability to act. Here are some of the characters and their “developments.”
    • Rick: whether praying or talking into a handheld radio, Rick monologues his way through 2 full seasons. He grows some stubble and a pseudo mullet and creases his eyebrows slightly more as episodes pass.
    • Carl: changes from uninteresting background character to ruthless and uninteresting background character.
    • Lori: dies. I think that counts as character development.
    • Andrea: whines her way to an uninteresting and unnecessary death after several seasons of pouting.
    • T Dog: this character is black and is named T Dog and someone thought that was a good idea. He also mercifully dies.
    • Shane: is thankfully killed off, sparing us a further season of watching him try to act.
    • Michonne: is silent and abrasive by turns, but consistently unremarkable. If the most interesting thing about a character is their weapon, that character is a failure.
    • I don’t remember any of the other characters in the show…
  • The show pulls almost all of its punches. The comic never does.

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AMC, the network which produces The Walking Dead, is one of my favorite television networks. From Breaking Bad to the Killing to Mad Men, AMC has been leading the charge for quality dramatic storytelling for the last few years. All of which makes it that much harder to believe that they would take a slam-dunk show concept like The Walking Dead and drag it facedown through gravel for 4 seasons.

Obviously, The Walking Dead wasn’t a misstep for AMC as a network; the show holds the honor of being the most watched TV drama in basic cable history. As anyone’s Facebook feed or water cooler chit chat experiences can confirm, the series is obviously beloved by many an errant soul. From a business standpoint and by any other quantitative metric I can think of, it’s a huge success. If I were anyone else, I might even start to question myself. Maybe the show IS that good; maybe I’m too hung up on the comic to give it the chance it deserves; maybe I can’t recognize the true genius behind the story.

But no, the show really is sub par. By any critical standards it simply doesn’t measure up.

Do yourselves a favor and read the comic instead. See Rick Grimes the way he was meant to be.

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