Sunday 23 October 2016

Television: Death, destruction - and boredom from The Walking Dead

* The Walking Dead, FOX
* Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters, Sky Atlantic

Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30

Drama: 'The Walking Dead' Season 6 returned this week
Drama: 'The Walking Dead' Season 6 returned this week

We're now into the second half of season of season 6 of The Walking Dead and it's becoming increasingly difficult to know how to feel about a programme that, like few others in recent times, has managed to provoke strong feelings.

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Returning from the now customary mid-season break (a relatively new-ish phenomenon on American TV, but one which allows the show more time than a standard season, and also heightens fan anticipation), with the much hyped episode 'No Way Out', The Walking Dead faces its biggest foe yet - audience ennui.

To even suggest such a thing, particularly in the darker corners of fan-boy internet, is of course akin to heresy. After all, this is a show which has managed to take one of the oldest horror tropes of them all - an undead apocalypse and the struggle to retain your humanity as you do what you can to survive - and turn it into some of the finest, most emotionally gripping and, frankly, terrifying TV any of us have ever seen.

And yet, and yet.

The brilliant and occasionally ground-breaking writing has elevated what could have been a bog-standard zombie-chomper into a work of art, but when you create a universe with nowhere to go - the zombies are never going to be beaten; there is no cure; all is lost; you keep going because it's better than the alternative - you need to make sure that the road to nowhere is as gripping as possible. Since Rick and the gang found refuge in the sedate and weak confines of Alexandria, there has been a sense of stasis.

The idea of a bunch of battle-hardened survivors of a zombie apocalypse suddenly bunking down in a safe zone which had managed to avoid all direct contact with the end of the world was an interesting one - for a while.

Those episodes, which saw the paranoid, traumatised gang struggling to cope with the relative normality of Alexandria (and in The Walking Dead, 'relative normality' is extremely relative) opened up some interesting themes and could have been taken as a metaphor for America itself - the hard-assed and brutal realists of Republican Rick versus the idealistic and soft Democrats of Alexandria.

But if it was trying to make as much of a statement on contemporary America as its fans claimed, it failed; it certainly failed when compared to Battlestar Galactica, which had the balls to portray suicide bombers as heroes at a time when American soldiers were being killed by IEDs in Iraq.

But there were still moments of terror that could raise the hairs on the back of the neck, most notably the infamous 'trough scene' from Season 5, when humans were lined up to have their throats slit by cannibals (a little ISIS with your zombies, sir?).

Many viewers still haven't forgiven the show for convincing us that Glenn was dead, and then providing him with a most unlikely escape.

Incredibly, the same thing happened in 'No Way Out' - Glenn once more looked as if he was cornered and, once more, with a single bound, our hero escaped.

The Walking Dead fans aren't dumb and they don't like being fooled - certainly not twice. Even the best scene - the massacre of the innocents as they tried to walk through a zombie horde - regurgitated the idea of lathering yourself in zombie gizzards and walking through them.

Having said that, we did at least get to see some good deaths and the insufferable Carl, the world's most annoying teenager, was shot in the eye. That wasn't quite as rewarding as seeing him shot dead, but it's a start.

But gooey flashbacks? Dream sequences?

The almost narcotic genius of The Walking Dead was that there were no showy, gimmicky, tricks, but there are plenty of moments here that looked more suited to an emerging director's showreel, rather than crucial plot developments.

We still await the arrival of Negen, the source material's Big Bad.

Frankly, he can't come quickly enough, because otherwise the show will just meander around in ever decreasing circles. Oh, and we want more super badass Carol - she's the best character by a mile, and has been for a long time.

No matter how bad things gets in The Walking Dead, and that's pretty freakin' bad, it's still a nicer place than being inside Alan Partridge's head, which is a roiling cesspit of neuroses, slights real and perceived and the kind of madness that will some day end with a mass shooting.

Mid Morning Matters returned this week and for that we should all raise a cheer.

Having managed to survive a foray onto the big screen (a sure killer of many beloved Brit-com characters), Alan is back at the level his talent belongs - North Norfolk Digital Radio.

But while his audience may have shrunk, his weird delirium continues unabated and it really is a thing of monstrous, hilarious, strangely endearing beauty.

Whether referring to Jimmy Saville as "a disgraced knight of the Realm" or discussing the fighting abilities of the Queen's corgis (they're not very good), this is vintage Alan, full of hubristic stupidity and an almost clinical lack of self-awareness that makes you love him all the more.

Irish Independent

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