TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.10 “My New Best Friends” (dir by Jeffrey F. January)


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Oh my God!

Is it possible that we’ve actually had two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row!?

Indeed it is.  In fact, I would say that tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the high point of the season so far.  I don’t know if the show’s production team has been listening to the complaints that many fans had during the first half of the season but, with both this episode and last week’s, it’s hard not to feel that the show is trying to correct some earlier mistakes.

For instance, there was no Negan in this episode.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Negan can be an intimidating bad guy.  But, like many great villains, Negan is at his most effective when he’s off screen.  The big mistake that the Walking Dead made during the first half of season 7 was going for an all-Negan, all-the-time format.  With each appearance, Negan became just a little bit more cartoonish and, as a result, he became less and less intimidating.

However, though this episode largely dealt with people trying to figure out what to do about the Saviors, Negan was still kept in the shadows.  As a result, Negan’s becoming a threat again.

Tonight’s episode followed two storylines, which is a definite improvement over the plodding pace of the first half of the season.  Both storylines were equally interesting, though I think everyone’s heart was invested in Daryl and Carol.

So, let’s get Rick out of the way.  Last week, I assumed that Rick had come across the Oceanside community but it turns out that I was wrong.  (And that’s not a bad thing because the Oceanside community kinda sucked.)  Instead, this is a community of people who live in a junkyard.  In many ways, they’re just as ritualized and borderline ludicrous as Ezekiel’s Kingdom.  The only question is whether or not the Junkyarders, like Ezekiel, realize how silly their little community is.  Are all of their rituals designed as an escape from grim reality or are they all just crazy?

The Junkyard is run by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), who seems to have a permanent smirk and who speaks like an evil Queen in an Italian Hercules film.  But, and this is largely due to McIntosh’s performance and her chemistry with Andrew Lincoln, Jadis is still likable.  When she and Rick finally formed their alliance, I was happy because Jadis looks like she’s going to be a valuable ally in the inevitable battle with the Saviors.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Jadis kick Negan’s ass?

Of course, before Rick could talk to Jadis, he had to defeat an armor-covered walker that the Junkyard crew appeared to be using as a gladiator.  That was exciting and it’s nice to see that The Walking Dead is trying to think up new things to do with their undead.

But, ultimately, this show was all about Carol and Daryl.  Daryl has been hiding out at the Kingdom.  When Richard told Daryl that he had an idea for how they could convince Ezekiel to go to war with the Saviors, Daryl was all ears until he discovered that Richard’s plan involved leading the Saviors to Carol.  “She’s going to die anyway!”  Richard exclaimed.

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

After giving Richard the beat down that he deserved for underestimating Carol, Daryl went to Carol’s cabin and seriously, their time together was everything.  For once, we got a moment of joy in this relentlessly grim series.

I always love the scenes between Carol and Daryl.  I love the way that both Daryl and Carol drop their guard when they’re together.  At its best, The Walking Dead has always centered around the question of how people can keep their humanity, even in the worst of circumstances.  Tonight, Carol and Daryl provided that humanity.

This was a good episode, one that reminded me why I watch this show in the first place.  Let’s hope that the rest of season 7 is just as good!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.9 “Rock in the Road” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens.  You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7.  I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7.  I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision.  I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so.  I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger.  But, after that, I started to get bored.  Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people.  Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action.  And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour.  As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world.  There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.

And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7.  It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought.  Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick?  I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out.  And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.

But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover.  Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past.  It’s never been a perfect show.  I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons,  I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm.  But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done.  In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.

And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did.  Rock in the Road was a good episode.  In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well.  There were still flaws, of course.  As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven.  The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable.  It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative.  But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.

Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind.  Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors.  As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy.  But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!

There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season.  Here’s a few:

  1. Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick.  As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose.  To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader.  When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned.  But, in the end, it didn’t matter.  Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
  2. This episode actually had a few moments of humor.  The first half of season 7 was way too grim.  Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
  3. Ezekiel!  The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.  Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well.  I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
  4. No Negan!  Well, that’s not quite true.  We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues.  Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
  5. That final scene!  I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick.  Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode.  When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.

I was really happy with Rock in the Road.  In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well.  Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.

A Few Thoughts on The Walking Dead 7.4 “Service” (dir by David Boyd)


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I’m going to try to keep this short.

I like The Walking Dead.  Almost all of my friends like The Walking Dead, though there’s also a large number who have recently decided to abandon the show.  In general, we’re fans of The Walking Dead here at the Shattered Lens.

But tonight’s episode was a real chore to sit through.  After all the hype and all the promises that something big was going to happen during tonight’s special 90-minute program, Service turned out to be a big bunch of nothing.  Negan showed up at Alexandria.  Negan acted like an asshole.  Negan left.

THAT WAS THE ENTIRE FUCKING SHOW!

The thing is — we already know that Negan is an asshole.  We know that he’s a bully.  We know that he’s a sick and irredeemable bastard.  And I’m not sure that the show really needed to devote 90 minutes to reminding us about what we already know.  To be honest, the entire Negan terrorizes Alexandria thing could have been handled in 30 minutes.  That would have left the 2nd half of the episode for … well, something!  Something more than the same crap that we’ve been seeing since season 7 began!  I don’t have a problem with the show being disturbing, violent, or even depressing.  I do have a problem with the show being tedious and that’s the best way to describe tonight’s episode.

Quite frankly, I’ve had enough of neutered Rick.  During tonight’s episode, Rick had plenty of opportunities to do something to stop Negan.  When they were visiting the graveyard, he could have set up an ambush.  When Negan was standing right out in the open, he could have had a sniper open fire.  At one point, Negan even let Rick hold Lucille!

And Rick did nothing.

Where is the Rick who shot zombie Sophia without a hint of emotion?  That’s the Rick we need!  No more of this boring, teary-eyed, shellshocked Rick.  We need our old Rick back and we need him now!  If Rick can’t can’t lead his group, he needs to step aside for someone who can.

And Rick, for God’s sake, remember that there’s no crying in the zombie apocalypse!

There are only four episodes left before season 7 goes on hiatus.  I am sincerely hoping that those 4 episode will amount to something than just four hours of Negan taunting Rick.

At the very least, we need at least one more episode with King Ezekiel and Shiva…

 

 

A Few Thoughts On The Walking Dead 7.3 “The Cell” (dir by Alrick Riley)


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I’ve been on twitter, reading everyone’s reactions to the latest episode of The Walking Dead, and I’ve noticed a definite pattern.

People who read the comic along with watching the TV show seemed to be pretty excited by tonight’s episode.  They were happy that Dwight (played by Austin Amelio) and his wife, Sherry (Christine Evangelista), were prominently featured.  I mean, make no mistake.  This episode may have technically been a Daryl episode but, for the most part, it was pretty much set up to highlight Dwight and Sherry.

Of course, it was also set up to give us some insight into the way that Negan runs things.  We got to see the Sanctuary, the home base of the Saviors, and it’s not really that surprising that it turned out to be the testosterone-fueled Hellhole of everyone’s nightmares.  On the plus side, the Sanctuary has power.  It has music.  It has a TV, though there doesn’t appear to be any good programming.  Is a world where the only available entertainment features Tony Danza a world worth saving?

And Negan — well, Negan’s still an asshole.  He’s still strutting around with Lucille, bullying everyone that he comes in contact with.  Obviously, we were meant to compare Negan’s leadership style to King Ezekiel’s.  Ezekiel rules through fantasy.  Negan rules through fear.  No wonder Gordon tried to leave.

(Gordon’s execution would have been far more powerful if we had more of an idea of who Gordon was meant to be.  Then again, that scene was more about Dwight than Gordon.)

Negan is also trying to brainwash Daryl and it’s obvious that Dwight is more than a little jealous.  I liked the fact that Dwight didn’t seem to know if he wanted to kill Daryl or beg Daryl to be his best friend.  Watching Negan and Daryl, I couldn’t help but think about Merle and the Governor.  Of course, that didn’t end well as far as the Dixon family is concerned…

As I said, those who read the comic appeared to enjoy tonight’s episode.  On the other hand, viewers who weren’t familiar with the comic seemed to be a bit disappointed.  On twitter, they complained that tonight’s episode was too slow and anti-climatic.  Interestingly enough, a lot of them said the same thing about last week’s episode with King Ezekiel.

Myself, I have to say that The Cell didn’t do much for me.  Last week’s episode may have been slow but, after all the shit that went down in the premiere, I was kind of thankful for a slow episode that featured at least a little humor.  But with The Cell, The Walking Dead essentially followed one slow episode with another slow episode, the difference being that this one didn’t really accomplish much.

As I watched day-to-day life in the Sanctuary, I couldn’t help but think about Lost.  You remember when Jack, Sawyer, and Kate ended up spending a handful of episodes living with The Others?  The society of the Others was genuinely interesting.  You could actually imagine watching an alternate version of Lost where the Others would have been the main characters and the Oceanic passengers would have been the rarely seen villains.

You really can’t say the same of The Saviors and life at Sanctuary.  The Saviors may be scary and menacing and dangerous but they’re also more than a little boring.  I’ve praised Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performance in the past but, with tonight’s episode, I started to wonder if there was anything more to Morgan’s Negan than what we’ve already seen.  Yes, Negan’s a bully.  Yes, he’s an asshole.  Yes, I’d love to see him devoured by a walker.  But I could say the same about a lot of the characters on The Walking Dead.  What is it about the television version of Negan that sets him apart from every other wannabe dictator on this show?

To a certain extent, it reminded me of when Colin Hanks showed up as a serial killer on Dexter.  I watched him and I thought, “Yeah, he’s pretty fucked up but who isn’t on this show?”  At this point, just being fucked up isn’t enough.

What the show needs is one episode — just one — where Negan isn’t bellowing and threatening everyone that he sees.  We need one episode where we can see who Negan was before the zombie apocalypse and who he is now when he’s not hiding behind Lucille.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a seriously talented actor and he’s capable of a lot more than just playing a one-dimensional villain.

I hope that The Walking Dead eventually gives him a chance to show everyone how true that is.

I do want to end this review on a positive note so I will say two things:

  1. This episode was directed by Alrick Riley, who previously directed several episodes of an intriguing British spy show called MI5 (a.k.a. Spooks).
  2. That scene with the walker falling out of the sky totally freaked me out!

 

 

A Few Thoughts On The Walking Dead 7.1 “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, we can all breathe again.

Tonight saw the premiere of the seventh season of The Walking Dead.  All this summer, we’ve been wondering who Negan would end up killing with Lucille, his barbed wire-covered bat.  Glenn seemed to be the obvious candidate, particularly since he had already miraculously (and, some would say, implausibly) escaped certain death on the show and he was also Negan’s victim in the comic.

However, none of us wanted it to be Glenn.  Ever since the show began, Glenn has been one of the most popular characters.  In many ways, he served as a stand-in for the audience.  Sure, everyone loves Darryl and Michonne but Glenn …. well, there was just something special about Glenn.  Whereas both Darryl and Michonne were born warriors and Rick Grimes was a former police officer who had been trained to think quickly in a crisis, Glenn was just a pizza delivery boy.  He was the guy who, by all logic, should not have survived the first week of the zombie apocalypse.  And yet, he did survive.  For sic seasons, we watched as Glenn grew and developed as a character.  When he “married” Maggie, it was more than just a plot twist.  It was proof that, even in the worst of circumstances, love could survive.

So, a lot of us told ourselves that there was no way that Glenn would die.  We told ourselves that Glenn was too popular of a character.  We mentioned all the other times that the show had led us to believe it was going to follow the plot of the comics just to suddenly go in a totally opposite direction.

Myself, I believe that Negan would kill Abraham.  Abraham seemed like the obvious choice, popular enough that his death would mean something but, at the same time, not so popular that the show would risk losing any viewers by killing him.

I was so confident in my prediction that I ever decided to make it official:

And I was right.

But I was also very wrong.

It took about 25 minutes for tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead to get around to showing us who Negan killed.  The episode really pulled out the suspense and I have to admit that I was worried they were going to go the entire hour without letting us know for sure.  (I remember Lost used to do that and it would drive me crazy.)  And when we saw Negan beat Abraham to death, I think a lot of people said, “Poor Abraham but at least it wasn’t Glenn…”

And then, a few minutes later, Darryl charged Negan and, after Darryl was subdued, Negan responded by beating Glenn to death.

(As Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was so chillingly good as Negan, pointed out on The Talking Dead, Glenn would not have died if not for Darryl’s actions.)

It was hard to watch.  You can say that it’s just a TV show and that there are bigger things to worry about than the fate of a fictional character but, at that moment, it felt as if I was watching an old friend die.  For seven years, Glenn has been one of the show’s constants.  He’s been one of the few stable elements of The Walking Dead.  He’s always been there.

And now, he’s not.

While we were all still trying to recover from the deaths of both Glenn and Abraham, Negan was busy breaking Rick.  Rick has always been the leader.  He’s always been the guy who you can count on to ultimately do whatever needed to be done to protect the group.  Rick was the one who stepped up to shoot Sophia when she came out of that barn.  Rick was the one who, no matter how bad things got, everyone felt they could depend on.  In a world where it was often hard to find meaning or morality, Rick has always stood for something more than just ruthless survival.  And yet, last night, we saw a totally defeated Rick.  Not only did Rick watch helplessly as two of his people were brutally murdered but he was also nearly forced to chop off Carl’s hand.

(I know that a lot of viewers — myself included — were expecting Negan to chop off Rick’s hand in the RV.)

As I watched that scene with Rick and Carl, I couldn’t help but think about the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, a story that I have always hated.  God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and he waited until Abraham raised the knife to say, “Stop, it was just a test of your faith.”  (Abraham is so overjoyed that he never stops to ask, “What type of God would ask me to do something so terrible in the first place?”)  When Negan ordered Rick to chop off Carl’s hand and then stopped him only after he raised the hatchet, it was Negan’s way of saying that, for all intents and purposes, he is God.

Again, it wasn’t easy to watch.  But at least Maggie doesn’t appear to be ready to surrender.  Rick may have been broken.  Darryl may now be a hostage.  But Maggie is going to keep fighting.

Finally, I have to say that, after watching all of this, I am so incredibly thankful for Chris Hardwick and Talking Dead.  When Chris opened the show by promising that we were going to talk through what we had just witnessed, he wasn’t kidding.  Tonight’s episode of Talking Dead felt like a televised group therapy session.  It helped to see Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz on that stage with the rest of the cast.  After we just watched, we needed to see them all together.  We needed to see them laughing and joking and crying and hugging.  We needed that catharsis.

Talking Dead served as a reminder that it was just a TV show and nobody had really died.

So, why do so many of us still feel like we just said goodbye to a member of our family?

One final thought:

RIP, Abraham and Glenn

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Film Review: Vacation (dir by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley)


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Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

I have definitely seen worse movies than Vacation but it’s hard to think of one that left me as annoyed.  As I watched this movie, I found myself wondering how anyone could have made as many wrong decisions while directing one comedy.  Then I remembered that this film had two directors and I was left even more annoyed.  Seriously, couldn’t one of these two credited directors look at the footage and say, “Wow, we’re making a really crappy, unfunny, and mean-spirited comedy.  Maybe we should reconsider the tone of some of these scenes.  Maybe we should just abandon this all together…”

This film is a reboot of the old Vacation movies that Chevy Chase used to make in the 80s and 90s.  (Christmas Vacation is the one that everyone loves but there were others as well.)  In the original Vacation movies, Chase played Clark Griswold.  Clark would always try to take his family on the perfect vacation and would slowly lose his mind as his best laid plans always crashed into a wall of chaotic reality.  The original Vacation films were all uneven but likable, largely because Clark seemed to be so sincere in his madness.

In Vacation, Ed Helms plays Clark’s son, Rusty Griswold.  Rusty is all grown up and living in the suburbs.  He has a job as a pilot for a cheap airline.  He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate), who was known as Debbie Do Anything in college.  He has two sons and they’re both annoying.  James (Skyler Gisondo) is overly sensitive and plays guitar.  Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is a psychopath who is constantly bullying his older brother and dropping F-bombs every chance he gets.  (A little kid saying “Fuck,” is only funny the first few times you hear it.  After the 20th time, it just gets boring.)  James sings self-pitying songs.  Kevin continually tries to murder his brother by putting a plastic bag over his head.

Rusty wants to take his family to Walley World, the same destination that Clark wanted to visit in the original Vacation.  This involves driving across the country in an Albanian car that’s always on the verge of exploding.  Along the way, they stop off at various locations and have adventures.

And not all of the adventures are bad.  Occasionally, the film is saved by a funny cameo.  Charlie Day shows up as a suicidal river guide and he’s genuinely funny.  You find yourself wishing that he had a bigger role.  And then there’s a scene where Rusty and Debbie attempt to have sex at the Four Corners and are caught by cops from four different states, all of whom promptly start to argue about who has jurisdiction.

But those scenes are the exception.  For the most part, Vacation is just a parade of uninspired scatological humor and missed opportunities.  When Rusty and the family drop in on his sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) and her well-endowed husband, Stone (Chris Hemsworth), Rusty spends a lot of time talking about how Audrey and Stone are politically conservative.  Once they arrive at Audrey’s home, we are shown a picture of Stone hanging out with Charlton Heston but, otherwise, Stone and Rusty’s political differences are never mentioned again.  And don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to sit through a political argument between Ed Helms and Chris Hemsworth.  But still, why set up a joke if you’re too lazy to include the punch line?

Of course, the main problem is that you just don’t care about these Griswolds.  As characters, they’re all pretty unlikable and therefore, you really don’t care if their vacation is a success or not.  Poor Christina Applegate!  After holding her own against Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner in both Anchorman films, she’s given nothing to do here, beyond being the punchline in a few misogynistic jokes about being wild before marrying Rusty.

As weak as all the characters are, Rusty is the main problem.  He can’t handle the fact that his wife has had more sexual partners than he has.  He can’t discipline his youngest demon child.  He has absolutely no good advice to give to his oldest son.  When Rusty drags them across the country to Walley World, it’s not because he wants them to have a good vacation but because he wants to recreate a memory from his childhood.  If Chevy Chase’s Clark was always unhinged but sincere, Rusty Griswold is just an asshole and it’s impossible to care about him.  It doesn’t help that Ed Helms, as talented as he may be, has a neediness to him that can be amazingly off-putting whenever he’s cast in a lead role.  He always seems to be trying way too hard to convince the audience to love him.

Incidentally, Rusty and the family do make time to visit Grandpa Clark.  Chevy Chase looks even worse than he did on Community and it’s all pretty boring.

My advice would be to take a vacation from seeing Vacation.

The Walking Dead Season 6 Trailer


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“Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” — Rick Grimes

AMC has unveiled it’s official trailer for the 6th season of TV’s most popular show (so popular that it even beats Sunday Night Football on occasion) during it’s San Diego Comic-Con panel at Hall H.

Last we left the Grimes crew saw Rick Grimes get the go-ahead from Alexandria Safe-Zone leader Deanna Monroe to shoot wife-batterer and neck-slashing Pete in his face. It would’ve been quite a satisfying event if not for Rick’s first BFF, Morgan Jones, suddenly appearing out of the shadows to see him do the deed. This is the same Morgan who went from crazy clear to zen clear who thought all life that wasn’t undead was precious.

So, now season 6 is almost upon us fellow fans of the show and it looks like Rick is turning out to be Alexandria’s shogun with Deanna as the figurehead leader.

Will Rick’s Shane-like attitude to leading this expanded group of survivors be a blessing or be the downfall of another safe-haven for the Grimes Gang? There’s still the Wolves out there who now knows where they are. There’s also the looming shadow of the comic book’s Negan and his Saviors possibly making their appearance which could mean just one thing: WAR.

So, grab those ribs and thick-cut steaks and take a big bite and enjoy the trailer.