Let’s face facts: it can get a bit dry when you’re saving life as we know it week in and week out. So I think that it’s only natural for screenwriters and showrunners to occasionally come together around the idea of doing something a bit different than what they’ve done before. Fox TV’s The X-Files rather famously toyed with switching around its narrative focus; and – on some rare occasions – they even delivered an hour-long installment involving government conspiracies with more than a few belly laughs. Granted, there may’ve been a nugget of joy that fans expected tied up somewhere in these diverting episodes: there is a brand to protect, after all, so it wouldn’t do to fully deconstruct the wider world as audiences had come to know it. That would be considered a bridge too far, and so it should.
So … I welcome Tales Of The Walking Dead kinda/sorta deciding to muck around just a bit with its formula. Show us a different corner of the Zombie Apocalypse. Introduce us to a roster of unestablished players with untried sources and methods of surviving their collective doom. Give us another layer to consider when it comes to trafficking in the Undead. And what better way to do that with an anthology format, one that has no hard ties to anything that’s come before … but only so long as it fits within this universe as defined.
But the second episode – the one titled “Blair/Gina” – was just plain awful for one very specific reason. I’m happy to explain.
Here’s the plot summary as provided by our friends at IMDB.com:
“In a fast-paced, reality-twisting buddy-action heist, a disgruntled receptionist and her overbearing boss are trapped together as the city of Atlanta collapses under the Walker Apocalypse, forcing them to work together in order to escape the city.”
I ask you to momentarily imagine the movie Groundhog Day (1993). For those of you who haven’t seen it, actor and comedian Bill Murray plays a television weatherman who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again in a contest to resolve his narcissistic ways as well as put the universe right again in order to escape. It’s a gem of film that works largely because (A) the comedy is relatable, meaning it can be grasped by all right up front; (B) Murray is – naturally – funny as hell; and (C) there’s a method to the madness that makes perfect sense given the world as defined by co-screenwriters Danny Rubin and the late Harold Ramis.
It’s damn near unwatchable.
Seriously, this is what director Michael E. Satrazemis achieves with the script credited to Kari Drake: the cast and crew have delivered an installment of – ahem – the Walking Dead universe that’s neither funny nor logical for a franchise that’s built on the fictional exploration of ‘End Times’ Horror. This story – pure Fantasy by any reasonable estimation – fits nowhere within this universe as viewers have come to know it. In fact, it’s a one-hour-plus slog that wastes two reasonably good comic performances (the reliable Parker Posey and an impressive Jillian Bell) in a flight-of-fancy that’s tonally out-of-sync with anything that AMC has been proud to put TWD’s name on.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with pure Fantasy for Fantasy’s sake.
As one who’s definitely taken in more than one lifetime’s share of movies that traffic on the fringes, I’m all in favor of something that comes along trying to push the boundaries out a bit. You know what I mean? Stretch the parameters out in such a way that storytellers can fit damn near any type of yarn into an established universe. Science Fiction shows, especially, have done this (typically later in their episodic run); and it can have an effect of ‘clearing the air’ or ‘cleansing the palate’ for viewers who have faithfully stayed on while others have left the farm for greener pastures. But – ahem – fairy tale nonsense has never had a place in the world of the undead, and this attempt at cosmic humor really felt like another franchise altogether.
Therein lies the problem: “Blair/Gina” is a fairy tale. In a franchise that’s predicated on depicting the grim and harsh and unfettered reality of death, these showrunners have now thrown a huge mythical monkey wrench, one that defies anything and everything that’s come before. This isn’t ‘different for different’s sake.’ This shouldn’t be here. This can’t happen. This couldn’t happen. This is a set of circumstances that cannot and should not exist anywhere in this universe … but yet now it does.
Granted, the upside to all of this is simple: because this takes place in TWD’s anthology, maybe it’ll never quite be considered as part and parcel of the wider existence. As I said above, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with trying something different … but I do – as a viewer – draw the line at the nonsensical, of which this plot happens to be. I’m glad that the cast and crew have found a place wherein they feel comfortable enough with – ahem – narrative gibberish like this because – at the end of the day – it’s all fun and games, after all, right?
Well … what’s next?
Zombies who sing and dance?
Seriously, that can’t be far behind.