Zombie television series premieres

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by Colin Walsh

It was only a matter of time before the zombie-apocalypse craze spilled over into primetime television. And first impressions indicate that “The Walking Dead” might be able to do for the scenario what “Lost” did for being stranded on an island.

“The Walking Dead,” a comic book adaptation, takes a cue from one of those terrible “Resident Evil” films (I forget which one but who cares?).  Our hero wakes several weeks post-doomsday in a hospital bed. He is clueless to the world that awaits him. How and why he has remained untouched, or alive for that matter, is not divulged. Bodies line the grounds surrounding the hospital, and Officer Rick Grimes was hospitalized with a gunshot wound from a high speed pursuit.

Grimes’ wife and child are nowhere to be found. He is on his own in a desolate landscape, scattered with enough abandoned military equipment to assure us that the resistance is long-gone.

The writers don’t spend time giving us a back-story explaining what happened. Not yet at least. They do, however, introduce us to several characters. Grimes, wandering around in a hospital gown, is rescued by a man and his son, both of whom are wary at first, assuming the gunshot wound is a bite (yes, you have to be bitten.) The man doesn’t hash out all the details for Grimes, but he makes sure to tell him all the clichés we already know — aim for the head, don’t get bitten, etc.

Yes, these are your typical “Dawn of the Dead” zombies. They mope around aimlessly, sometimes drawn by loud noises, with one thing on their agenda — human flesh. If you’re looking for an “I am Legend” level of sophistication when it comes to what causes the mutation, you can forget it. All we get is that it starts with a fatally-high fever and that it “has something to do with the brain.”

How and why we are in this situation doesn’t appear to be the point of this human centered drama, so paying attention to this shortcoming is pointless.

“Walking Dead” immediately reveals its lofty ambitions, particularly a desire to develop deep characters. Its emotional-rollercoaster of a premiere sets a dark tone foreshadowing a long and involved series and not just mindless zombie-slaying. It’s exciting, but that’s where things also seem to get slippery.

Post-apocalyptic entertainment generally falls into two categories. It can be a stark and depressing meditation on humanity when the veil of civilization is pulled back (see “The Road”) or, especially when you add zombies, it can be fun (see “Zombieland”).  “Walking Dead” appears as if it might try to accomplish both of these to a certain extent. And how could the makers avoid the temptation to have with the blood sport-pastime of re-killing the un-dead? Despite their clichés, these zombies would make George A. Romero proud; the makeup and effects are extraordinarily well-done for primetime television.

If “Walking Dead” is going to please the plethora of horror fans that will tune in for decapitations, and continue down the path it has set for itself with the premiere, AMC definitely has a steep slope to climb. But if they can pull it off, “Walking Dead” will be a very rewarding experience.

I give it three out of four stars.