The 2011-2012 television season has been interesting in that it’s revealing a new interest in horror on the small screen. Perhaps that’s due in part to the success of The Walking Dead‘s debut back in October 2010, and now the networks want to get a piece of that audience. You’ve already heard me talk about the first season of American Horror Story, and today I’d like to talk about the second half of the second season of The Walking Dead and the first (and likely only) season of ABC’s The River.
Please note, and I can’t stress this enough: there will be spoilers! Particularly for The Walking Dead, which even surprised me as a comic-book reader, so please, do not click behind the cuts if you haven’t watched the episodes and want to enjoy the shocks, scares, and all the horror. Especially for The Walking Dead. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Walking Dead
Status: Renewed for season three
The first half of season two was, as I mentioned back in December, an exercise in patience. The first seven episodes dragged to the final cliff-hanger, and the more distance I get from them, the more I rather resent that slow-mo pace that really did little more than spin its wheels and develop its characters a wee bit. But since the reappearance and shooting of Sophia, and with the departure of producer Frank Darabont and the taking over of Glen Mazzara as show-runner, the show kicked into high gear and left me rather breathless by the end of the season.
Of course, one could say Mazzara was just paying off everything that Darabont so meticulously set up, and that wouldn’t be totally wrong. And let’s face it, there were still some sluggish moments in the second half of season two. In the episode “18 Miles Out,” the show balanced a high-tension story with a rather frustrating one about a would-be suicide, leaving a horrible taste in my mouth for Andrea, who’s one of my favorite characters in the comic book series. And until the penultimate episode of the season, I felt the whole Randall conflict was utterly and horribly handled: they should’ve either left him for dead or healed him and offered him a place in the group, until he proved untrustworthy. That said, the way Shane used Randall to lure Rick into the woods for the showdown that even non-comic readers knew was coming was fantastic. I absolutely loved Shane’s plan, too: what seemed like such a bone-headed situation would’ve worked perfectly, if Shane had killed Rick, and if Daryl and Glen hadn’t discovered zombie!Randall in the meantime.
Oh, what a scene: the way it was shot, the lighting: the final confrontation between Rick and Shane was fantastic, and I loved how I could still be surprised despite reading the comics. There were differences that pushed Rick into becoming the leader Shane demanded of him, and Carl got his first kill. It was all masterfully done.
And speaking of being surprised as a comics reader, OMG! THEY KILLED DALE! On one hand, I’m crushed we won’t get the Andrea/Dale romance, though the idea of seeing two people actually act it out kind of squicked me out a bit, so it’s just as well we didn’t get to see that play out on screen. Andrea and Dale had too much conflict between them, and the television version of Dale grated on my nerves because he was all talk and very little action. Still, his death was shocking and emotional, and that’s more important than sticking slavishly true to the comics.
I’ve also got to give credit where credit is due: the final episode had me yelling “OH MY GOD” at the top of my lungs when Michonne saved Andrea. Partially because it was just so damn cool, partially because that’s NOT quite how Michonne makes her entrance in the comics, and partially because my husband had JUST SAID what a great place it would be to introduce Michonne, and OMG IT HAPPENED!!! I’m so thrilled and both excited and scared to see what they do to Michonne in season three. And if you’ve read the comics, you know why I’m scared. But the entrance was perfect, and I’m bouncing and giddy with anticipation.
The shot of the prison at the end of the episode was an awesome high-five to readers of the comics, and if you’re not a reader, yes, it’s a prison. I’m not sure if I should recommend that you read the comics yet either, because what’s going to be in store in season three is so shocking that I’m not sure you should be braced for it.
But season two, even the Mazzara half of it, wasn’t without its problems. Lori continues to be a problematic character, a woman who wants her cake, eat it, and then blame everyone else when it’s gone. Or something. And I feel for Rick by the end, because between his admission that he killed Shane (without saying outright that the guy was trying to shoot him) and the revelation that everyone’s already infected with whatever makes walkers, well, walkers, he’s going to have a hard road ahead, and that’s notwithstanding what’s ahead for comic Rick.
Oh, season three will be a nail-biter.
A prediction for comic readers, but totally non-spoilery for non-comic readers: I suspect they are going to turn T-Dog into Tyrese. Just you wait.
Season One (eight episodes)
Status: Not yet renewed and not likely due to low ratings
So this is a show I really didn’t hear about until the first of the year, and really had no intention of watching until I recognized the horror elements to the show and thought that it’d be fun to watch something that took place in the wild, much like Lost did. There was also a certain appeal to watching a show whose first season was only eight episodes long. Combine all of that with the whole “found footage” concept, and I couldn’t help but try it out.
The River was interesting. Not great, but good enough, sometimes REALLY good. The basic premise is that Emmett Cole, adventurer and TV personality along the lines of Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, has disappeared in the Amazon and was presumed dead until his beacon was activated, motivating his family to search for him, and motivating his producers to pay for the search, provided everything was filmed along the way. The characters grew on me, some faster than others. Lincoln Cole and Lena Landry were my favorites and fun to ship, with Jahel, the daughter of the ship’s mechanic and the source for all things freaky and mystical, was a close second.
The actual horror varied. The freakiest episode was the second, hands down. Besides the fact that dolls are, simply put, FREAKING SCARY in certain contexts (or for some people, any context) helped a lot, but oddly, that was the one episode where it felt like anything could happen, that the characters were all in danger and no one was safe. As the show progressed, I started feeling like the characters were more or less safe, minus the extraneous cast. Each episode featured a different kind of horror as well, which was why some episodes were more spooktacular than others. That said, the final three episodes were really solid, and the finale had more than its fair share of freakiness, especially with that final shot of the river itself.
The found footage concept itself was a little trying at times. At first, I was amused by the cleverness behind having the Magus (the ship primarily used in Emmett’s show) was completely rigged with cameras, which meant that we could see things that wouldn’t necessarily be revealed by a camera man. But that grew a bit tiring, because it almost gave the viewer more views than necessary, especially when the better scares came from having to rely on a cameraman to actually catch something. Still, for a television show, this was quite a fantastic and intriguing set-up, and it was well worth the ride.
As I mentioned, ratings were rather dismal for this. I wonder if it’s because nobody had heard of this show until January, so no one was really looking forward to it when it premiered? I’m not wholly sure, but I do think that this show would’ve been better served on a summer schedule, when competition for advertisers isn’t as competitive and ratings aren’t quite the be-all and end-all of a show’s fate. The eight episode season would’ve lent itself perfectly to the summer schedule, too.
Be that as it may, if, by come miracle, the show IS renewed, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and happy to tune in. The main thrust of the show, the search for Emmett Cole, has been resolved, and now the cast has to deal with the real focus of the show: the River itself. And that doesn’t sound very spooky or scary unless you watched the final episode, and then you start to realize these people most likely won’t make it out alive. Which is rather cool, when you consider all the horrors the jungle has to offer, both natural and not, as well as the horrors the boat has to offer, with broken trusts and strained friendships. Yes, I’ll be happy to get another season, but I’m not counting on it.
That said, if you enjoy horror stories, give this a shot, regardless of its renewal chances. Each episode focuses on a different convention of the horror genre (much like American Horror Story focused on different kinds of horror and fears in its run), but the stories utilized the setting for a more local twist. It’s a good, enjoyable way to pass the time, and you’re bound to get a few thrills out of it.
And for those of you who, like me, already watched it, remember: “There’s magic out there.”
What’s next on the television palette? Well, we’re headed into spring, which means finales galore. The freshman drama Alcatraz wraps up this Monday, but my husband and I are behind on that show and need to catch up. Likely, that’ll be the next television review you get. But look forward to Fringe later in the spring, as well as Awake.
Speaking of Awake: of all the speculative fiction shows that debuted this season, Awake is the smartest and most fascinating of them all, with fantastic acting (you can’t go wrong with Jason Isaacs). It’s another ratings-challenged show, but you guys, IT’S SO GOOD. Do yourself a favor and start watching if you aren’t already. The premise is simple to follow: A cop is in a car accident with his wife and son. In one reality (or dream), it’s his son who died. It the other reality (or dream), it’s his wife who died. The detective can’t do to sleep without waking up in the other world, and the pressure is on to figure out which is real and which isn’t. You can catch on the show at NBC.com.
Seriously. It’s that good. Of the freshman dramas, this is the one that will hurt if it gets canned.