Posts on: television
Missed opportunity to make a joke about gravel actually being its own kind of surfacing. Though maybe that isn’t actually funny? Then again, do we really need another Rob Ford joke?
Also, I know we are only two weeks in, but Seth needs a new set. I saw these pictures and thought he was on Jeopardy or something.
This is the second time today I have been encouraged to reconsider my current hiatus with The Walking Dead, a show which I had watched since day one, but never fell in love with.
It’s worth saying, I think, that this season of The Walking Dead is the one we’d all be throwing hosannas at if it was season 1. The structure has been deliberate and immensely satisfying: from the peace at the beginning to the chaos halfway through, revealing that while both Rick and the Governor learned major lessons in governance from season 3, when those two lessons come into conflict it doesn’t end well for anyone. And now we’ve had the second half, which so far as been a series of whole- or half-episode-long character studies that have assiduously rounded out some of the flattest but most intriguing characters (Carl, Michonne, Lizzie).
The mini-climax to this, most likely (given that next week’s episode seems more action-packed), came in last night’s episode, which spent its entire time with Daryl and Beth. It was like a case study of the struggle the show faces in balancing entertaining television with quality television: the first half, in which they explored an infested country club, at times played almost literally like a video game. They scavenged for supplies among tipped-over shelves with clearly-labeled cans, and read in-game clues to reveal the narrative of what had happened. (I’m replaying Fallout right now, so when Daryl inexplicably tucked “pre-war money” into his inventory, I laughed out loud; when they climbed under the tipped-over display case, I half-expected to see “The Last of Us“‘s autosave logo rotating in the bottom-right corner of the screen.) But then the second half was just Daryl and Beth talking, rising to the kind of climax you’d expect to see in an HBO drama: not a narrative cliffhanger but a dramatic, visually striking scene accompanied by a song whose lyrics connected to the episode’s themes. (Daryl burns down a house that reminds him of Merle after having an epiphany about his fucked-up upbringing, while the Mountain Goats’ “Up the Wolves" played.) It was resonant and satisfying, but it’s easy to imagine that if the whole episode had been that sort of character business there would’ve been a chorus of complaints about not enough zombies gettin’ killed.
The knock against the show (which, despite getting some of the highest ratings on TV, hasn’t been nominated for any major non-technical award except for a Best Drama Golden Globe nod after season 1) is that, while it may be entertaining, it’s not really about anything. Obviously the idea that a creative product can only be good if it’s stuffed with meaning doesn’t make a lot of sense to me; that’s certainly one source of pleasure in creative products, but it’s far from the only one, and not even really the primary one. Last night’s episode showed that the show could do knock-you-over-the-head emotional stuff if it wanted to, but that’s not really what the tone of the show (or, really, its fan base) allows for. I think that’s OK. Just because The Walking Dead doesn’t take you by the hand and lead you to its literary referants doesn’t mean there isn’t deeper meaning there. It’s just that the meaning emerges more slowly, and through interactions between the characters and the plot rather than within individual characters. That’s the kind of thing TV is really good at. If we have a problem with our most lauded TV programs being Dude Stuff About Serious Troubled Dudes, finding ways to value these other ways of constructing meaning seems vital. In season 4, The Walking Dead is doing just that.
Feb 28, 2014
@ 12:01 am
…your early 30s are a time for freaking the fuck out about how not everything in your life is exactly how you would like it (he said, not from experience or anything). It’s also a time for seeing what people you knew in your teens or early 20s are doing, then holding your life up in comparison to theirs and finding it wanting.”
— Todd VanDerWerff basically just described my current outlook in his Community: “Bondage And Beta Male Sexuality” recap.