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AMC’s ‘Walking Dead’ a wild, complex success among living

By From page B1 | February 01, 2013

During the past few years, AMC has been the spot for great drama on television.

“Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Hell on Wheels” and “The Walking Dead” have become the network’s signature shows.

“Mad Men” is the Emmy darling, raking in four consecutive Emmy awards for outstanding drama series, still the only basic cable program to capture the honor.

Meanwhile, “The Walking Dead,” which is set after the zombie apocalypse and returns Feb. 10 to complete its third season, is the popular choice. October’s third season premiere drew nearly 11 million viewers, making it the most-watched original program in basic cable history.

That makes the viewership of “The Walking Dead” roughly the same as AMC’s three other brand-making franchises combined.

While I have some guesses as to its runaway success, it’s not exactly clear.

Maybe in a manner similar to elections being fixed by deceased pets voting for candidates, AMC has managed a way to boost its ratings by having the dead watch the show.

All kidding aside, what makes “Walking Dead’s” success confusing is its flaws don’t make it unwatchable.

It is not Emmy chum for its acting or writing. Its character development is weak, meaning their motivations are often unclear.

In one second-season episode, Lori scolds her husband, Rick, for risking his life by going into town after Herschel. Later that day, Lori ignores every logical argument she just made, plants her pregnant patootie behind the wheel of a car and goes on an unadvised solo trip into town after Rick, Herschel and Glen.

This is an example of the plot leading the characters, not vice versa. The strength of the writing of “Walking Dead” is weak, particularly in comparison to other AMC fare.

Perhaps one reason the show is such a draw is because of the huge, ongoing fascination with horrifying, unusual, mythic creatures in shows and movies such as “Zombieland,” “True Blood,” “Twilight,” “Ugly Americans,” “Death Valley” and “American Idol.”

We are culturally awash in supernatural beings during the last few years. Even the Centers for Disease Control made its point about disaster preparedness by issuing a zombie apocalypse guide.

What “Walking Dead” does well is action. Action sells tickets, but drama wins awards.

The zombie-killing scenes offer relentless carnage. Viewers are able to cheer without any moral ambiguity because the victims are no longer human.

This is a popular choice. “Walking Dead’s” second season was often slow and directionless, trying to heighten the tension and find nuggets of drama. Instead, because its characters are so thinly drawn, the season was a grind.

In that sense, conceptually, “The Walking Dead” is simple to grasp: There are zombies. Run.

“Mad Men,” on the other hand, is about Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 1960s, but it’s also simultaneously about their own personal lives and how those parallel with the pursuit of . . . Yawn. See? You’re already bored.

It requires a suspension of reality and the escapism that comes with it, but all shows have that. Everyone is pretty sure that Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” is not actually a secret meth cooker.

I recently saw a meme that encapsulates my confusion. It shows the variety of emotions displayed by Michonne (Danai Gurira) – happy, sad, angry, worried, etc., but every frame is the exact same photo.

It’s funny because it perfectly and accurately describes the level of characterization on “Walking Dead.” Maybe action alone is enough for some people, but I need more meat on the human bones, so to speak.

Still, “Walking Dead’s” massive success is something I can’t fathom.

I may not understand its ratings, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not interested to see what happens next when the show returns Feb. 10.

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.

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