Starring Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies
There have been some fantastic comic book to film adaptations over the last few years. The same can’t be said about comic book to TV adaptations. The only one that can be considered successful these days is Smallville. Whether that one’s actually good is a matter for debate. When AMC originally announced that they were bringing us a TV series adaptation of the indie comic staple The Walking Dead it seemed like a unique but potentially great match.
AMC didn’t go all in on this series, possibly because they weren’t 100% confident in it or perhaps because they were cash poor. They have two successful shows already in Breaking Bad and Mad Men and neither of those shows is particularly cheap to produce. Rather than do 13 cheap looking episodes for season one the network chose to go full on with the production value and only give us 6 episodes to start the series. If the show was a success then the network could afford to do a full 13 for the next season. The show indeed did end up being successful. In fact the premiere was the biggest basic cable premiere of 2010 and the show was still a great success even with the expected drop off after the season finale.
Now it’s time to look back at the season with clear eyes, outside of all the hype and the excitement for having zombies on TV. The long running comic book series is fantastic with only a few notes; it’s heavy handed in the drama department often, and some of the emotional beats feel a little cheap. Those sound like big criticisms but everything that’s well done in the book makes up for those issues. The good drama in the series is great and the world in which these characters are forced to live is well developed and fascinating. While there can be simplicity in the characters sometimes they are all unique to each other and feel like they could be real people. For better or for worse the television series has all the same positives and negatives. The characters aren’t deeply developed outside of them coming together to survive the zombie apocalypse. Everyone has their own path though and the potential to get deeper with longer seasons.
In the series a small town police officer wakes in a hospital to find that the world, at least as far as he can see, has been taken over by zombies. He immediately sets out to find his wife and son, hoping they haven’t been turned into zombies. At the same time his wife and son are traveling with a small group of people including her husband’s partner, running from the zombies. There are several additional story arcs but the overall story involves the police officer reconnecting with his wife and leading this merry band. The best of these six episodes comes lifted directly from the book. The worst comes in the form of some reveals that still haven’t been made in the books. In the comic books it never really mattered what caused the zombie outbreak so it was left as a minor mystery. Within these first six episodes that bit of information is revealed. It’s successfully executed but seems a little early in the series. It almost feels like the creators added a story in the end of the season to save some of the bigger stories from the books until the longer seasons.
Of the six episodes, four of them are outstanding, some of the best drama on television, and the other two are still entertaining and very cinematic. Usually the pilot of a series is the weakest installment because the series is still finding its footing. There are exceptions, LOST comes to mind, but overall successful shows improve from episode to episode post pilot. To be fair the pilot was written and directed by frank Darabont, the director of such great films as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. Considering those two films this pilot is perfect for the director and his influence on the series is nothing but perfect.
The production of the series is one of the most filmic on television. Each episode of The Walking Dead looks and feels like a feature film rather than an installment of a basic cable television series. The zombie makeup from feature film special fx man Greg Nicotero was as good looking as anything you’d see in a feature film. Also of note is that the series features some really gory scenes for television. It doesn’t happen every episode, it’s there for dramatic effect and it’s done with a level of importance that makes it feel story important and not just gore for gore’s sake.
The Walking Dead has a few problems but overall those seem to be the fault of the short season. With more breathing room these issues will work their way out. This series is a post apocalyptic zombie story but more than that it’s just a great drama.
This 1080p HD presentation really does a fantastic job of maintaining the cinematic look established by the series including the film grain and the muted color pallet. Darker scenes get just a little murky but brighter scenes always feature great detail and contrast.
No corners were cut in the production of this series including great sound fx and score. Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and it sounds great. This is TV so it doesn’t get as much deep surround usage as a big movie but for TV this series sounds really great. The mix is clean and clear and the surround usage that is here is immersive.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The 2 disc set is packaged in a slim blu-ray amaray case. The cover art is based on one of the early promo images from the TV marketing campaign and it’s a great one. It shows just how alone these survivors are in this new world. It’s so great that Starz/Anchor Bay didn’t go for the exploitation cover and just stick some gory zombies on the cover. That wouldn’t have fairly represented the show.
There are some really nice bonus features in this set. First up is a making of featurette that’s a little marketing-ish but there’s some great information in it. There are two additional featurettes, one that examines the first six episodes and a sneak preview of the series with Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic book series. It’s nice to see Kirkman hands on with the series. There’s a behind the scenes featurette offering up some tips on zombie makeup, a convention panel featuring cast and crew discussing the series (also featuring footage of the zombie school and some behind the scenes footage from the series), on set footage with some of the actors, and finally a trailer for the show.
While some of these extras are great, and others feel like padding, there’s something really big missing; audio commentaries. Where’s the Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman commentary? Come on Anchor Bay this should have been absolutely required! Still, there are a few good supplements here.
The Walking Dead is a happy surprise. It ends up being one of the best basic cable dramas out there and on par with some of HBO’s best.
Overall (Not an Average)8/10
The Season 8.5/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 6.5/10
Overall (Not an Average)8/10