If you’re anything like me – human, breathing, glued to your laptop for entertainment sustenance, having forgotten the simpler pleasures of a sun-kissed afternoon – then you’re eagerly awaiting AMC’s mega-hit melozomba, The Walking Dead, to return this Sunday night for its fifth season. Not because the show is good. No no. It’s definitely not good. It’s just an extra 43 minutes a week we can spend actually watching TV and not just surfing Netflix looking for something to watch. It’s a temporary anchor in a sea of mediocre streaming content.
The other reason we watch is that it always has the potential to be good. It’s a fucking show about zombies, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, and there’re guns and no fewer than 17,000 characters. But for some reason, the writers decided they’d take the ingredients for a delicious cake and never bake it. Across four seasons of this show – close to two full Earth days of programming – barely anything interesting has happened. Instead, we’ve been bogged down by meandering discussions about patriarchal responsibilities and an obsessive need for all the characters to be redeemable even though, you know, it’s a hyper-vicious Hobbesian jungle out there. These are both not-so-subtle attempts by the producers to grab a share of Christian viewers without going heavy on the Jesus talk.
I digress. The point of this post is to discuss ways The Walking Dead could be better. While there are innumerable ways the show could be improved, here are my top five.
1) Fire three writers, hire two editors
One of the gobs of praise the show gets is for how it’s shot like a movie. I’ll admit, the show looks great. However, it could stand to be a bit more like a Wachowski Brothers flick and a bit less like an Ang Lee joint. If they got rid of some of the writers and hired a couple of big-name action movie editors, I guarantee those editors would be able to craft more interesting narratives for each episode. No editor worth his weight in celluloid would ever be caught asking, “How long should we stay on this shot of an older man fatherly kneeling over a woman, child or weaker man?” They would know to cut it completely, or at least intercut it with an approaching zombie horde. For some reason, the writers think we’re OK with zombie hordes waiting until the ends of monologues to show up in force.
2) Cast Abraham Out
Without question (because I didn’t ask you), one of the worst additions to the show has been Sgt. Abraham Ford and his crew of army types. They all need to die. Or get lost. Or change their everything. When they’re onscreen, it feels like I’m watching a racy version of G.I. Joe with a guest appearance by Bill Hicks as Dr. Eugene Porter. If it weren’t so clumbsy, these characters would be a great send-up of 1980s tough dudes. They could have been named Muscles, Tits and Trenchcoat. Instead, these caricatures have been swallowed up and carried along by the show’s tidal wave of self-seriousness, and now we’re expected to, like, care for them.
3) Coleman Goes Cutty
Any fan of The Wire was psyched when Chad Coleman, who played Cutty, the earnest ex-con-turned-youth-boxing-coach, joined the aimlessly-running-from-zombies fray. But the weight of the show’s terribleness was too much for the mighty Coleman, and his underuse in the show as Tyreese is a national disgrace. The producers could save face if they just let Coleman reprise his role as Cutty in Season 5 because Cutty is an outsized badass. Seeing how we’ve suspended our disbelief regarding the existence of the undead (and the seemingly endless supply of food and fresh water in post-apocalyptic Georgia), it wouldn’t be too hard for us to extend that suspension to include a mid-show character shift. And besides, how fucking awesome would it be if one of the side-plots consisted of Cutty helping zombies stay off the streets by teaching them how to box?
4) A very special episode about dysentery
Speaking of that endless supply of food and fresh water in post-apocalyptic Georgia, the show would prefer we politely not ask about the true mechanics of survival after the complete breakdown of civil society. From the abundance of perfectly-fitting shoes that the characters manage to regularly replenish themselves with, to the healthy fat on their faces indicative of proper long-term nourishment, the producers would clearly rather we focus on the Judeo-Christian morality and interpersonal relationships at play while ignoring the gnawing hunger and discomfort these characters would really be enduring because, you know, intense hunger and pain would never interfere with people’s ethical decisions! Rather than go on a rant about how this is part of television’s general aversion to letting real human suffering inform character and plot (see what I did there?), I’ll offer up my solution instead:
A Very Special Dysentery Episode of The Walking Dead
That’s right. If regular television can do Christmas specials or two-hour episodes covering larger plot points, I’d be willing to forgive TWD’s neglect of survival issues if they ran a two-hour episode consisting entirely of all our favorite characters emptying their intestines of all the water-borne pathogens they’ve inevitably ingested. I want to see everyone from Rick to Diane writhing on makeshift cholera beds with the hole where the butt goes for two full episodes, punctuated with a perfectly healthy Daryl, having a low-intensity moral dilemma over whether and how to help while eating snake soup out of a dirty car tire.
If the show would commit to that, I’d be willing suppress my skepticism about why none of their feet hurt for another three seasons.
5) A whole new line of product placement
This one is simple. We had four seasons of associating the light blue Hyundai Tuscon with the ruggedness required to navigate an uncertain, chaotic world. Since the characters have abandoned it, they’ve been carless and our brains have gone unbranded. If given a choice, I always prefer a fake product to be used in film and television (like “beer” in Repo Man) to a sponsored product. However, wouldn’t it be fun if the Walking Dead turned into an advertising circus? Like, if every scene prominently featured a product and dialogue about how that product was integral to the characters’ continued survival?
I’m totally right on this.