I think it’s safe to say we’re currently living in the greatest era in TV history. Not only are there more programs to choose from these days, but even if you preferred how shows were back in the day, we currently have platforms to re-watch pretty much any episode (or any part of any episode) of any show ever. If you like TV, that’s a very good thing.
Unfortunately, though, the inevitable ratio of good TV to total TV guarantees that for every Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Americans, and Veep, we’ve all had to navigate a swimming pool full of alphabet soup (NCIS, CSI, SVU) and floating, burning garbage (The Mysteries of Laura, Manhattan Love Story, Utopia). (Potentially alarming side note: Law & Order: SVU is old enough to drive. That’s right, the show itself can legally operate a motorized vehicle. Think about that. Let that percolate.) There’s a lot of good stuff out there, but what there’s more of than anything else is simply stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.
While that’s nice in terms of presenting us with options, we all have limited free time. We all have annoying life-related things that interfere with our TV consumption. None of us can possibly watch everything that’s out there. None of us has the luxury of slipping on a pair of adult diapers and a Snuggie and just settling in for the day, all day and every day. We all have to pick and choose.
So, what happens when you hitch your cart to the wagon of a show that’s not time-worthy? To a show that either drops off or to a show that was never particularly good to begin with? When is it time to play the “It’s not me, it’s you” card and walk away from a show?
And, yes, this article was prompted by the first two episodes of Season 7 of The Walking Dead. And, no, it had nothing to do with any characters who may or may not have perished in the premiere.
[PSEUDO-SPOILER ALERT: This article doesn’t discuss any deaths from the current season, but previous seasons are fair game.]
The sad fact is that, despite its ratings, TWD hasn’t been a particularly good show for a while. At its best, TWD has been a legitimately good show with cohesive character development, interesting story-lines, and insightful social commentary (see, for example, the second half of Season 4, right after the Governor suddenly found himself with an operational tank and a prison that needed more natural lighting).
At its worst, TWD has been a live-action video game: A show that’s strictly about running, screaming, and coming up with new, visually-cool ways to splatter zombies (see, for example, a lot of last season). And that’s not to say there isn’t room for running, screaming, and visually-cool ways to splatter zombies in a legitimately good show, there most certainly is. At its peak, TWD wove the two together beautifully.
The problem, though, is that the writing has notably fallen off, as evidenced by the writers having to use multiple shortcuts and crutches the past season+ to create any interest or tension. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of telltale signs that the writers are running on fumes:
Legitimate devices that TWD overuses:
- Cliffhangers – Shows with compelling characters and good story-lines either don’t need cliffhangers to generate interest or they use them sparingly. TWD has basically become a string of cliffhangers that reached its apex in the Season 6 finale, which was essentially an attempt to make a cliffhanger even more cliffhangery. Think a show needs a cliffhanger to have a powerful and gripping finale? I disagree and refer you to Coda, the Season 5 mid-season finale where Rick and the gang go to get Beth and Carol from the hospital.
- Killing main characters [again, don’t worry, I’m not going to say anything about the current season] – As with cliffhangers, killing main characters can sometimes be good and powerful (again I refer you to Coda). More and more often, however, TWD clearly does it to gin up emotions during episodes that are otherwise completely flat (rest in peace, Tyreese). The most egregious example of trying to use a main character’s death to keep/increase interest in the show during a period of bad writing, of course, was last season when the writers decided to fake Glenn’s death. Because, let’s face it, when you get a chance to openly declare that you’ve run out of ideas while simultaneously ruining your credibility with viewers…you just have to take it.
Just plain bad writing:
- Rehashed story-lines – Pop quiz: Two main TWD characters find themselves in a community trying to ignore the zombies/badness outside their walls, where the community leaders are hiding things from the community members. One of the main TWD characters develops ties there, while the other doesn’t trust the place. What’s the name of that community? If you said Woodbury from Season 3 (with Andrea and Michone, respectively), you’d be right. If you said The Kingdom from Season 7 (Morgan and Carol), you’d also be right. Strange that in this day and age the writers would feel it necessary to recycle old ideas, particularly when there are so many completely fresh shows premiering this year like MacGyver and Lethal Weapon.
- Tension that’s due entirely to one or more characters doing something patently stupid – Of all the writing crutches listed here, this might be the one TWD abuses most often. And it’s maddening. I mean, we’re years into in the zombie apocalypse, so can we all agree that 99.99% of the reckless and/or situationally-unaware population has been devoured? That those people who weren’t going to adapt to the reality of zombies and roving armed militias are gone? Good. So let’s stop with people leaving the gate open, people picking goofy fights with each other inside buildings actively under siege by zombies, and people kneeling directly on top of zombies encased in a thin layer of glass. Unfortunately, no, I didn’t make up any of those.
- Characters who completely change their position on something for little to no apparent reason – No character on TWD has been safe from this. Most of the swings come from mid-level characters (like Father Gabriel), but even Carol, whose character development over the first five seasons was one of the best things on the show, hasn’t been immune to acting out of character lately. Sure, quickly shifting positions are dramatic, but they’re also cheap and they undermine the reality TWD has created. So, unless whatever virus is reanimating the dead causes the living to mentally regress to being 6-year olds, changes in character shouldn’t cause viewer whiplash.
Now, bearing in mind I’ve been watching TWD since Day 1, when do I cut the cord? When do I decide my TV viewing time would be better invested in Atlanta, Better Call Saul, or Fargo (for the record, all three of those shows are excellent)? When do I remove myself from all TWD discussions going forward? Can I even remove myself or am I pot-committed? Have I invested so much time in the show and characters that I have to see it out? Please don’t let that be the case. Unlike the current creative staff of TWD, I actually value good writing.
Author: Jeffery Simpson Day
Has no grade point average. All courses, incomplete. Whereabouts unknown.