So, last night I was among the estimated 5.3 million viewers who tuned into the premiere of AMC's newest original series "The Walking Dead." If you've been even a casual reader of this blog, you know Uncle P is major zombie fan and there was no way in hell that I was going to miss the premiere of Frank Darabont's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's graphic novel about the people who are trying to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.
Cable channel AMC started out as American Movie Classics, mainly airing films from Hollywood's past. Four years ago, they aired their first original program, "Mad Men," as series about an early 1960's advertising agency which made a star out of John Hamm and which has consistently won the Emmy for Best Drama since. After "Mad Men," they introduced "Breaking Bad," about a high school science teacher (Bryan Cranston) who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, turns to making methamphetamine so his family will have money to live on after he dies. Cranston has since won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama three years running. It comes as no surprise that their latest series is just as good.
IN the 90 minute premiere episode "Days Gone Bye," we are introduced to rural Georgia Sheriff's Deputy Rick Grimes (British actor Andrew Lincoln), who is apparently in the midst of marital problems. His partner Shane ("Eastwick" hottie Jon Bernthal) is a bit of a neanderthal when it comes to women, though it seems they can confide in one another, if no one else. Rick is critically injured during a shoot-out with a trio of desperadoes and awakes after a month-long coma to find the world as he knew it no longer exists.In a world filled with flesh-eating zombies, Rick is determined to reunite with his wife and son, who may or may not have survived the zombie uprising.
The imagery in Darabont's version of Kirkman's story is nothing short of amazing. The scene where Rick is staggering down the hospital hallway only to find a chained door marked "Do Not Open Dead Inside" is simply and beautifully chilling. As he makes his way home, Rick stumbles upon a half-torsoed zombie who is both horrific and pathetic, wisely setting the tone for this story of survival and despair. Rick soon (though not happily) finds himself in the care of Morgan his son Duane, who lost their wife/mother to the zombie virus. The scene where Rick watches Morgan's wife try to gain entry to the house in which they've holed holed up through a peep-hole was among the creepiest I've eve seen.
Darabont and company seem to have managed the perfect the balance between Horror and Humanity as I can remember and while there were plenty of graphic gross-outs, "The Walking Dead" also offered up plenty of scenes of human drama, making character the focus, rather than gore and effects (though there were plenty of both). And I haven't even gotten around to talking about Rick's wife ("Prison Break" doctor Sarah Wayne Callies) and the affair she may or may not have been having with Shane before the outbreak. The performances here are excellent across the board, and the attention to detail, especially when depicting apocalyptic devastation, are exceptional.
Having read only a few issues of the graphic novel on which the series is based, I am very interested in seeing where the story will lead. Kirkman has said that he anticipates about 225 issues, which leaves plenty of material for AMC and Darabont to cover. If the rest of the series is as good as the premiere, I'll be watching for a very long time. **** (Four Out of Four Stars).