New Walking Dead Season Screaming at Full Throttle

SPOILER ALERT!

Burning rubber from the starting line, the new season of AMC’s The Walking Dead is keeping the pedal to the metal.

Season Six opened Oct. 11 with Rick and his group at a quarry cleverly altered to trap walkers. And trap them, it did. That explained why the residents of Alexandria had not seen walkers in large numbers thus far, but the situation was about to change.

The quarry had amassed thousands of walkers to the point that the tractor-trailer rigs blocking egress from the quarry were giving way, and the exit would pave the way to Alexandria. Rick and company were at the quarry for a dry run of a plan to lead the walkers, pied piper-style, away from the complex. When one of the blocking rigs tumbles into the pit, the dress rehearsal quickly goes live.

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Gateway to Alexandria.

The episode alternates between the present and the events that have occurred since the end of season five, with the latter presented in black and white. Confusing, at first (I had to check another channel to make sure I wasn’t having a problem), the presentation method worked.

Daryl, demonstrating supreme confidence in his motorcycle maintenance skills, is leading the horde at a pace which barely keeps his bike upright. One of the endearing qualities of the zombies in this show has always been their lack of speed.

The plan is working. The zombies are turned away from Alexandria by a makeshift wall built at a critical intersection, and they are heading out into the open countryside, presumable to unlive happily ever after.

Success! Nothing could go wrong. Right? Why, oh why, would anyone think that?

Oops! Suddenly, a diesel horn begins a non-stop blare from the direction of Alexandria. The zombies may have lost a lot of their faculties and body parts during their long stay in the quarry, but there is nothing wrong with the ears of those who still have them. The infinite column of walkers loses its coherence and begins filtering through the forest, heading directly for Alexandria.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier and Lance Tafelski as Horseshoe Mustache Wolf - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Carol to the rescue. Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The second episode of the new season backtracks only slightly in time, and presents the Alexandria side of events. The Wolves, a nebulous threat since Rick and his group were first brought to this gated (literally) community of false normality, have finally attacked. The horn is coming from a semi that somehow failed to breach the Alexandria walls in its kamikaze run.

Fans who scoff at the “sensitive viewer” warning at the start of each episode and have grown accustomed to seeing zombie heads hacked each week may have been slightly taken aback by the savagery they were about to witness. I know I was.

Apparently the Wolves have failed to take advantage the many firearms that have become available throughout the land through the zombification of their legally registered owners. They are armed with things that cut — knife, ax, sickle — and they are very industrious about using them.

The first attack victim shown is a poor Alexandrian guiltily having a smoke on her front lawn. A Wolf suddenly swoops in and fells the woman with a machete chop to the head. Not content with merely killing her, he continues chopping.

This pattern is repeated throughout the attack. The apparent Wolf Creed is: “Dead is not enough. Dismemberment must follow.” They probably should have thought that procedure out a bit more. Turning their backs on residents packing guns is a bad idea.

Another Wolf membership requirement appears to be smearing a “W” on the forehead with the victim’s blood. That part might also be reconsidered. Disguised with only a hoodie, a scarf and a bloody W, Carol was able wreak havoc among the Wolves without challenge.

This episode served as a graphic reminder that, in a zombie apocalypse world, the greater horror comes from the survivors. They say that domestic swine which escape into the wild become full-blown feral razorbacks in a single generation. Humans revert more quickly.

The Wolves echoed the mindless savagery exhibited by the Reavers of Firefly fame. Is the beast in all of us really that close to the surface?

Inside the Alexandria walls, homemaker, cosmetician and Rick’s love interest, Jessie, answered “yes” to that question when she shriekingly inflicted a few thousand stab wounds to a Wolf woman who had the audacity to attack in her own, well-appointed kitchen. The killing was witnessed by her son, Ron, who earlier in the episode had refused to sit down and have a heart-to-heart. The expression on his face indicated that the next time Mom wanted to talk, he would listen.

Science Fiction Television Experiencing Renaissance?

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Is the sun rising on a new era in television science fiction programming? Yes. Yes it is.

Renaissance might be too strong, but it does seems like science fiction offerings on the small screen are increasing in quantity, if not always quality.

Long, long ago, in the primitive years before cable (B.C.), television science fiction was doled out in small doses by the Big Three broadcast networks. Its artistic merits were not an issue. Good or bad, like it or not, if you were a science fiction fan, you watched what was available — and you were grateful.

Fast forward to 2015 A.D. (after digital). Science fiction offerings are so plentiful that you can actually pick and choose what you will watch. Quality and personal taste have come into play.

Take the barrage of programs you got this summer. Some, including Killjoys (Syfy) and Humans (AMC/Channel 4)have been gems. Others, like Dark Matter (Syfy) and Extant (CBS), have been just so-so. Still others, including Zoo (CBS) and The Whispers (ABC), have been abysmal.

I usually give each new series several episodes to win my heart before I decide if they stay on my DVR recording schedule. Getting a feel for the settings and characters often takes a bit.

I have given some shows extended opportunities to convince me that they are watchable. I so badly wanted to like Defiance (Syfy) that I stuck with it for the first half-season. I could not bring myself to like any of the characters, and the show suffered from alien overload.

I watched and enjoyed Continuum (Syfy) for its first full season. I had to bail midway though season 2 when the time travel paradoxes became too mind-boggling.

I didn’t quite make it to the opening season halfway mark of 12 Monkeys (Syfy version of the Bruce Willis movie) for the same reason. Time travel is an entertaining concept, but it really needs some basic rules. I suppose that if I were able to turn off my brain’s logic function, I might enjoy it more. I can’t, so I don’t.

On occasion, a show has gotten the ax before my first episode viewing has ended. The show which most recently got that reaction was Syfy’s Z Nation, which is such an obvious cheap rip-off of The Walking Dead (AMC) that it is a global insult to zombie fans — and zombies.

Some shows have such a dumb-ass premise that I don’t give them a shot. These have included Under the Dome (CBS), an up-sized version of Big Brother (CBS – coincidentally?). Let’s trap a bunch of people in an mysterious forcefield and see what happens. Frustration? Personality conflicts? Drama, drama, drama? Oh, my!

Another that went into this category was Revolution (NBC). The world suddenly loses its electricity, and nobody knows why? The trailers for this offering did their best to jump on the Hunger Games blockbuster film bandwagon, but I was not tempted.

Regretfully, I made an exception for Zoo (CBS). Animals organizing to rid the world of planet-destroying humans, as appealing as that premise may have been to animal rights groups, was a dumb human trick the show could not perform.

I’ll try anything featuring zombies, my favorite showbiz monster; but I have little interest in shows featuring vampires or werewolves. I tried True Blood (HBO) after it was recommended by a friend, but I just couldn’t get into a supernatural soap opera romanticizing blood-sucking killers.

One exception was the wittily comical Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB/UPN), but even that show eventually fell prey to a soap opera element. Sorry, Sarah Michelle Gellar, your schoolgirl crush on David Boreanaz was the low point of an otherwise stellar show, although that star-crossed love had tough competition from Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green as cutest witch and werewolf couple  — ever.

So much for grousing over the past. Several promising new series are on, or just over, the horizon.

The Syfy will continue to churn out bona fide science fiction offerings in the next few months. These include Childhood’s End (http://tinyurl.com/ChildhoodsEndTrailer), a mini series slated to launch in December. With a great book author source in Arthur C. Clarke and a cast which includes Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), fans could be in for a super-sweet sci-fi treat.

The Expanse (http://tinyurl.com/TheExpanseTrailer), another series with potential, is also scheduled by Syfy in December. Based on the works of a pair of best-selling sci-fi authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franc, jointly writing as James S.A. Corey, this series might fulfill the promise of Ascension, had that Syfy mini-series ever gotten off the ground.

AMC will add Into the Badlands (http://tinyurl.com/BadlandsTrailer) to its high-quality program schedule in November. Think Mad Max meets Bruce Lee. Well-choreographed martial arts scenes are always entertaining, and AMC has an admirable habit of doing everything well.

HBO plans to present Westworld (http://tinyurl.com/WestworldTrailer), a remake of the 1973 film thriller, “coming in 2016.” Alas, this will be more than 30 years too late for the late great Yul Brynner to make a cameo appearance. Maybe through the miracle of CGI?

Broadcast networks are also bellying-up to the sci-fi happy hour bar via the film rehash route.

Fox will begin airing its series reincarnation of 2002’s Minority Report (http://tinyurl.com/MReportTrailer), set for launch, Monday, Sept. 21. Can the network that killed Firefly and Almost Human, after running episodes of both shows out of order, redeem itself? I won’t be holding my breath.

CBS will take another shot at sci-fi with 2011’s Limitless (http://tinyurl.com/LmtlssTrailer), scheduled to debut on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Something tells me that Bradley Cooper’s screen time in this series will be somewhat less than limitless.

Other new shows in the fall channel lineup include Heroes Reborn (NBC. Sept. 24) and Supergirl (CBS October). No doubt I have missed some, but a quick Google search should unearth any additions for die-hard couch potatoes who thinks they need more shows to fill their time.

Think of this season as a sci-fi potluck dinner. Everybody is going to bring something to put on the table, but not all of these dishes are going to bring you back for second helpings.

Walking Dead Spin-Off Makes Shambling Start


A good zombie is a slow zombie. I don’t think the traditional zombie’s inability to break into a gallop should be mirrored in a zombie show, but that seemed to be the case when Fear the Walking Dead premiered Aug. 23 on AMC.

ftwdfamilyThe plodding focus for most of the pilot is a badly blending family with all of the accompanying issues, including the additional complication of drug addiction. I understand the need for fleshing out the main characters, but I think a little too much time was spent here on that process. More family background details could have been distributed in the next few episodes to move the plot along a little more quickly in the pilot.

Zombies get very little screen time. The Zombie Screen Actors Union should be filing a grievance.

I knew the plot was going back to the beginning of the apocalypse in Los Angeles, and I expected a slow build. Instantly caring about new characters has never happened for me, although this bunch might pose a long-term challenge.

To illustrate how normal society gradually comes to realize what’s happening and begin to cope with it, they might have chosen a better focus than a family with all sorts of extraneous built-in drama. I wasn’t expecting Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver. Neither was I expecting the Osbournes.

As  the premiere is scripted, the LA residents know something is going on; but they don’t know what. The authorities are keeping a lid on the situation – mostly because they are pretty clueless themselves.

Police officers are emptying their sidearms into the bodies of these no-goodniks, but the cops are totally at a loss as to why the perps don’t stay down until they’re shot in the head. Must be drugs, they conclude.

Therein lies my primary complaint about Fear the Walking Dead, a complaint that also applies to the show’s parent series, The Walking Dead. People never recognize a zombie when they see one.

Here’s how I think a first police encounter with a zombie should go. The cop shoots the advancing zombie. This is justified because the zombie’s face is decorated by the blood of its last snack, plus the moans and snapping jaws indicate something might not be quite right with this guy. The zombie ignores the additional ventilation to his body and continues heading toward the officer.

The officer thinks “what the hell?” pauses for a split-second, then has an instant epiphany. “Holy shit! Zombie!” He then shoots the zombie in the head. Immediate problem resolved.

In a city like LA, where life imitates art daily, how can anyone possibly not recognize a zombie the instant it stumbles into view? Has nobody seen George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or any of the subsequent zombie flicks that hit the screens prior to the premier of The Walking Dead on Halloween only 5 years ago? The people of both series should not be facing a steep zombie learning curve.

The culprit here is the “alternate reality,” an oxymoron for “anything goes,” created by Robert Kirkman, the comic book guy behind both shows. The sum and substance of The Walking Dead is the gritty reality in which the characters adapt to and survive in a deadly environment (no pun intended). By choosing a world in which no previous references to zombies exist, Kirkman does a disservice to Romero and all the others upon whose shoulders he has built his stories.

Zombies are arguably among the most nonsensical monsters ever conceived, but I find them immeasurably more entertaining than romanticized vampires and werewolves. Kirkman should have allowed prior knowledge of zombies into his worlds. Even as one who has enjoyed living dead hi-jinks for decades, I would have a hard time overcoming my disbelief should I see one approaching me in real life. Gradual acceptance could have worked for Kirkman’s characters.

The characters’ lack of zombie education in both The Walking Dead and the spin-off is just a pet peeve of mine. Despite this glaring omission, I would never miss an episode of the original series, and I will quite probably love its offspring — eventually.

HelI, I expect I’ll even love the next Kirkman spin-off, Beware of the Invisible Flying Dead.

Like I said. Anything goes.

iZombie Breathes New Life into Standard Stumbling Dead

Warning: Spoilers and/or “spoilerish” words below. Series newcomers are advised to cease reading after the second paragraph. Seriously. It’s a great show. Don’t risk ruining the experience by learning too much.

Everybody knows what to expect from George Romero-style zombies – aimlessly doing the living dead shuffle, moaning their mindless zombie songs, failing to open a simple door, having the single purpose of feasting on live creatures. The only way to stop them permanently is to destroy their brains, which does call into question their need to feed, as starvation will not put them down.

Enter Liv Moore (note the name), played by Rose McIver. The lead character of the CW freshman show iZombie is new kind of zombie – not quite living, not quite dead – a paler, ash blonde version of her former self. She walks, she talks, she eats. The big difference is that unless her diet includes fresh human brain tissue on a regular basis, she will go “full zombie.” Instead of seeing her as “living dead,” I see her as “dead living.”

Liv made the transformation to zombie by attending the wrong party. Things got rough, and she was scratched by a zombie guest. She awoke in a body bag, much to the discomfort of the EMT gathering bodies in the party aftermath.

Liv is understandably unhappy about her new half-dead status, but she begins to make adjustments for her half-living side. She breaks her engagement with the love of her life, Major Lilywhite (yeah, really), played by Robert Buckley, for his protection.

She capitalizes on her medical background to land an examiner’s slot in the Seattle morgue, which provides convenient access to fresh brains. Her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli), apparently keeping close tabs on the morgue brain inventory, soon discovers her secret and becomes a confidant. He believes that he could possibly find a cure for her “condition.”

I was drawn to this series by a promotional trailer, and I thought it looked promising enough to try. I expected something akin to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in its heyday – a “dramedy” loaded with lots of snappy, humorous dialogue. After watching the first episode, my finger was hovering over the delete button as I reviewed my DVR “to-do” list. Then came the second episode, and I was hooked.

The element that kept me watching was learning the rules, right along with Liv, which govern the “lives” of these neo-zombies.

  1. Munching grey matter has a side-effect: the eater acquires some of the victim’s memories and personality traits — both good and bad. (This comes in handy when Liv’s first meal provider is a murder victim, and she “sees” clues surrounding the victim’s death. She presents herself as a psychic to investigating detective Clive Babineaux [Malcolm Goodwin], who is initially skeptical. Liv’s “visions” solve the case, which doesn’t exactly hurt Clive’s career; and a partnership is born.)

  2. The side-effects wear off, but can be renewed as needed with an additional helping of brains from the victim under investigation. (Or, if the recipient happens to like a trait and wants to keep it for a bit longer.)

  3. Whenever a zombie is wounded or gets overly angry, she or he goes temporarily “full-zombie” – signaled by red, apparently glow-in-the-dark eyes. In this mode, a zombie acquires superhuman strength (Don’t make Liv angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.)

  4. Zombiehood can be experimentally induced in a rat (Behold, Zombie Rat!)

  5. Zombie brains are of no use to hungry zombies (Zombie Rat shows no interest in snacking on Liv.)

  6. Zombiehood cannot be transferred from species to species (Zombie Rat bites through Ravi’s chain-mail protective glove, yet Ravi remains Ravi.)

  7. Rats can be restored to non-zombiehood (Behold, Zombie Rat – albino no more! Does this raise hopes for Liv? Well, certainly not until the series finale, which I am projecting for the year 2050. I mean, no zombies, no show, right?)

  8. Neo-zombies can be killed by the traditional brain-destroying methods (Watch The Walking Dead for graphic details)

  9. Zombiehood can be be contracted by consuming zombie blood (just a fingertip smudge will do the trick)

I’ve probably missed some of the rules, and others are likely to surface as the series completes the final three episodes of its first season. The gradual presentation of these rules in iZombie reminds me of another series I loved – Pushing Daisies. Unfortunately, that series was put in a premature grave. Not even the magic touch of Ned, the Pie Man, could bring it back.

Beyond the more cerebral exercise of discovering the rules, iZombie has successfully delivered on my early expectations. It’s not a Buffy clone, but it has a Buffy feel. Funny and punny dialogue abounds.

Here some examples from an episode featuring a murder victim who had spent a few extra days “ripening” in front of his computer array before his body was discovered. Naturally, his brain was a little on the, shall we say, “runny” side. Liv found it necessary to ingest her sample through a straw.

Ravi to Clive: “Liv will suck it up and help in any way she can.”

Liv to herself: “Must have doughnuts. Great! I ate Homer Simpson’s brain.”

Liv to Ravi, as she booted the victim’s computer, somewhat apprehensive about what might appear on the opening screen: “Seriously, what are the chances that an agoraphobic in his twenties was not a chronic chicken-choker?”

Liv to Ravi, upon learning that the victim she is impersonating was an online Trollock: “I’m a Polish troll?”

In a later episode, Liv is discussing an apparent change in attitude from her new zombie romantic interest with Ravi: “Things were so great with us last week – like buying new underwear great.”

The concept of adding memories and traits to Liv’s mind with each brain she samples opens an infinite panorama of possibilities. The partial personalities she has consumed and assumed have included those of a passionate artist, a cold-blooded hit man, an alcoholic reporter and a hallucinating mental patient.

Both episode titles and the captioned comic panels that open each segment coming out of commercial breaks (and the CW has a LOT of them) incorporate puns and other word plays. In the episode “Maternity Liv,” the victim is a pregnant teenager. In another episode, “Flight of the Living Dead,” the victim, Holly, ends a skydiving adventure dead in a tree – the first panel after the commercials – “Boughs of Holly.”

Yeah, they’re groaners; but what pun isn’t?

OK, more than enough said. I think I’ve conveyed the fact that I love the show – already greenlighted for a second season. Yay!