Why The Talking Dead is a Bad Idea

Last night, I declined to watch the Oscars and chose The Walking Dead instead. If you’re going to watch zombies, why not watch a more interesting group of them? Snark aside, I had not seen most of last year’s crop of nominees, other than the mildly diverting Argo, and more to the point, I’ve burned out on the Motion Picture Academy’s annual orgy of self-congratulation. (Last year’s post on the Oscars described the genesis of this gradual turning away, one which started much, much earlier for the Grammys, and is now firmly in place for most awards of a similar kind.)

So, my choices for the evening settled, I turned to AMC. This represents a novelty of sorts for me. My following of television series has been restricted to watching the commercial-free episodes available on Netflix or bittorrent sites.  But my hankering for the Grim Grimesmeisters Hijinks had grown too acute, so there I was, braving myself to sit through the barrage of commercials that would inevitably accompany the latest installment of Zombie Apocalypse Bulletins. (I had begun this brave adventure last week, with the second episode of season three.)

The commercials were painful, but far more bothersome was AMC’s show The Talking Dead, which followed the new episode, an hour-long discussion of the episode with in-studio guests, a studio audience and a ‘surprise cast character.’ I had stopped watching after fifteen minutes the previous week, and this time around, my patience ran out after five.

The problem with The Talking Dead, and with any other show like it, which aims to dissect, discuss and lay threadbare an ongoing television show and wax ‘analytical’ about it, is that it dispels fantasy all too quickly. The point of watching a show like The Walking Dead (or Breaking Bad, or The Wire, or ) is to enter an alternate reality for a while, to be caught up in its story and characters, to come to believe, if only fleetingly, that the trials and tribulations of those on screen are real. A discussion show blows this imperative out of the water. It reminds us relentlessly, that the characters are just actors, often uninteresting people in their non-character personas, that directors, writers, and producers are pulling the strings and are often insufferably pompous, that locales are studio lots.  It connects the artfully constructed parallel universe to ours far too quickly; it raises the hood and peeks at the innards a little too closely. The Walking Dead in particular is supposed to be a grim show; it has little humor (both in the comic book and the series); the goofiness of The Talking Dead is especially grating.

I realize that I’m taking the on-the-surface silliness of The Talking Dead too seriously, so let me reiterate that the point being made here is a general one: too much inquiry into an ongoing fantasy is a bad idea. The serious fan should stay away; suspend disbelief, watch the show, and when you’re done, keep it that way. Till the next episode.

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