I must admit the only reason I got into "The Walking Dead" in the first place was the creative team of filmmaker Frank Darabont and KNB effects maestro Greg Nicotero.  (Sorry AMC – you’re not that great on your own!)  Being a movie guy all the way who doesn’t watch much TV, I was interested to see if the dynamic duo could convert a cinema lover like me to the boob tube week after week.  The pilot episode was some of the best TV I’ve ever seen, not to mention pure Darabont, with zombie fun but also a distinctively dramatic and emotional through line you can only get with a director of that caliber.  Nicotero of course never disappoints, but also seemed to inject added zombie zeal under the passionate vision of Darabont – it was a match made in undead heaven.

So while the rest of the episodes in Season 1 under various other directors ranged from good (Michael Rooker’s awesomeness in second episode 'Guts' is without dispute!) to not-so-great (the whole fighting with a gang stuff in 'Vatos' was a tad gamey!), the vibe of Darabont and Nicotero was still somewhat felt within each outing.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about what looks to be a mundane, dull and lifeless (major pun intended!) feeling Season 2, beginning with the uninspired first episode 'What Lies Ahead.'  I hate to say it, but Darabont’s absence is clearly evident (from tone to music selections) and what is now left is a tediously boring soap opera with an occasion flesh eater.  (The still stellar work by Nicotero is reduced to only a few effects here and there in this new episode!)  A show that seemed to pride itself on having a film feel, large scope and deep dramatic vibe has been gutted and unlike the living dead themselves there’s no coming back.  And I’m not afraid to put blame where it belongs – in this case AMC, their out-of-control egos and in particular AMC Head of Programming Joel Stillerman and President Charlie Collier screwed this one up royally. (Thanks for nothing guys!) Need more details - check out the skinny and dissection on the first episode 'What Lies Ahead' below.   



The Story:

What I liked about the first season amidst directors good and bad, was that the show never looked back.  The story always moved forward and never got bogged down with elements already discussed.  In 'What Lies Ahead' every dramatic scene is a rehash of conversations and situations already decently done.  Do we really need more aimless fighting behind Rick Grimes back between wife Lori and best friend Shane?  Or how about chat between Dale and Andrea about the whole CDC incident?  Or what about yet another chat between Rick and the unanswered radio that has now officially lost its dramatic effect?  Every human character confrontation in this episode feels familiar and having it resurface is the backbone of daytime serials and Troma Films low on ideas and money – hardly worthy of "The Walking Dead."  (And simply slapping a 'shock' ending on is like putting perfume on a pig - it doesn’t make me want to tune in next week Mr. Kirkman!)  The only bearable moment in the whole badly directed episode (and with both Ernest "Demon Knight" Dickerson and Gwyneth Horder-Payton at the helm they should have at least had a few good scenes by accident!) is the whole tense Zombie herd highway sequence, but it’s hardly enough to sustain an entire episode.  (And the extra long length was an illusion – there were commercials every friggin’ few minutes in the last half hour courtesy of the money-hungry, live TV killing whores at AMC!) 



The Characters:

The character that I’m most disappointed with in this episode is Norman Reedus’s character of Daryl Dixon.  Not for any lack of talent on the part of the ample Reedus, but wildcard Daryl has been given the shaft story wise and his complex character is now a bitter and tedious one-note wonder.  All the other characters also seem to be just going through the motions and it’s not interesting to watch.  Shane’s still brooding, Lori still worried, Andrea and Dale still fighting, Glenn virtually non-existent (was he even in this episode?!) and most of all Andrew Lincoln 's Rick Grimes - the moral character glue that held the whole first season together for me - is utterly wasted here.  Where are the saucy spitfires like Rooker’s Merle (is he EVER gonna show up?) and nostalgic ones like Morgan and his son Duane?  If I wanted to watch crappy characters spinning their wheels, I’d record General Hospital every day.  



The Zombies:

There are NO memorable walking dead within all of  'What Lies Ahead.'  Do you remember the dramatic prowess of the 'bike girl,' the eerie 'bus zombie' or even Morgan’s undead wife from the pilot – what the hell happened man?  So we’re just abandoning the importance of the dead as characters to give more time to living ones who keep rambling about the same mundane crap – good plan!  And sadly the only time we get to see the prowess of Nicotero in this episode is when Frank and Daryl go flesh hunting in the belly of a walker – pure Nicotero gold is now hard to come by.  (Advice - run Greg and follow Frank, you deserve better!)



Final Analysis:

This will be my first, only and last look at any more episodes of "The Walking Dead." (I'm heading down the empty city street with Rick in the first episode!)  With the emotional core, complexity of characters and effecting zombie element now gone, so am I.  I’m a movie guy, not a TV junkie and the seemingly downhill quality of this series, which initially started five-star, is exactly why I refrain from watching series television in the first place. (If a movie sucks, at least it only lasts two-hours!)  What really lies ahead is no more watered-down episodes of “The Walking Dead” for this guy.  The folks at AMC can add one more moniker to their clever slogans – “We know...how to drive fans away.”

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