By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Oct 8, 2020 — The pandemic has curtailed a lot of TV filming, and Netflix has begun canceling even successful shows over delayed production. But, amazingly, there’s still an awesome amount of TV on the air worth talking about. With spoilers ahoy, let’s do just that.
THE WALKING DEAD
There’s an awful lot to say about the Walking Dead franchise, whose expansion has been making news lately. The long-delayed 16th episode of the mothership’s 10th season aired Oct. 4, followed by the debut of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, billed as a two-year event (comprised of 20 episodes). And the sixth season of Fear the Walking Dead launches Oct. 11.
And that doesn’t count the recent announcement that The Walking Dead will pick up six extra episodes in season 10, plus a final season 11. That will be followed by a Daryl & Carol spinoff, and some sort of anthology series. And then there’s the long-promised Rick Grimes movie trilogy, which is going to happen — at least for one movie, anyway.
That’s a lot of zombie fare. But is it good zombie fare?
Not that you were ever worried about them, but the last survivors of the first season of “The Walking Dead,” Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus, left) and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride as) now have plot armor, because they have to survive to the end of season 11, when they will get their own spinoff show. (Jace Downs/AMC)
Much has been made of the declining ratings of the main show, and there are reasons for it beyond the natural dropoff of a long-running show. A lot of fans bailed out of disgust after the overly graphic, stomach-churning execution of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun), and others lost interest when three popular, long-running characters left the show (Rick, Michonne, Maggie) and one died (Carl). In fact, there are so few veteran characters left — essentially Carol, Daryl and the newly returned Maggie — that the show can’t afford to kill any of them, which dampens the frisson of terror underlying the early seasons. New characters haven’t endeared themselves quite as much, so we don’t much care if they die, and some viewers — including this one — can’t stomach Negan’s redemption arc, even though it happened in the comics, too, and was therefore sort of inevitable.
Oh, and spoiler: I did find it appropriate that Beta, leader of The Whisperers, died not with a bang, but with a whisper. Appropriate, yes. But not very interesting TV. Agent Piper – sorry, “Beatrice,” played by the same actress who played Agent Piper on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — died a better death. At least Daryl got in a good lick — two, really — before Beta went down. Which I will not spoil.
So now we move into the last story arc of the comic book, involving The Commonwealth, whose black helicopter whisked Rick away. In the comics, that’s a huge community located in Ohio that never lost power, clean water, industrial production and a working (if elitist) government during the zombie collapse. I assume it will be the same on TV.
That’s a new world for Rick & Co., but it’s also one that heralds the end of the crisis, with humanity over the survival hump. That removes yet another element of anxiety to the premise. It’s a good thing the show is ending, so we don’t have to watch all the main characters settle down, move to the suburbs and spend the episodes mowing their lawns.
That brings us to World Beyond, which introduces a trio of communities called, rather unimaginatively, the Alliance of the Three. It may have to change its name, though, since one of them — the Campus Community at the University of Nebraska — doesn’t make it past the first episode. Fortunately, our lead characters make it out before the fall, which is enacted by another member of the Alliance, the Civic Republic Military, which is so secretive nobody knows where it is. It is also, for some reason, interested in our lead characters, four teenagers and two adults, who are heading to New York. On foot. From Nebraska. In the zombie apocalypse. Because yeah.
Lt. Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond) leads the CRM in Omaha, and doesn’t say why she’s so interested in these characters. To tell you the truth, she’s a lot more interested in them than I am. Which is not the fault of the actors, but of the script, which too often had characters telling us who they are instead of showing us. The first episode had too many exposition dumps, too many teen cliches and too much contrived drama.
Perhaps that’s forgivable in a debut episode. But World Beyond is going to have to give me a reason to care about these kids going forward, and to be honest, be a little less YA and little more all ages. Teen angst should be a seasoning, not the main dish, in a zombie apocalypse.
But while I’m currently tepid about both TWD shows, I am unabashedly a fan of three shows coming to the end of their respective seasons this month: Star Trek: Lower Decks, Lovecraft Country and The Boys.
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS
Some Trek fans (including one in my household) feared that Lower Decks, being an animated comedy, would make fun of Star Trek. There may be a little of that — I mean, as much as I love the franchise, some Trek cliches are pretty big targets — but it’s obvious that the show is a love letter to Star Trek in all its incarnations.
The show focuses on lower-ranking officers who work in, duh, the lower decks, keeping the ship running while the bridge crew does all the heroics. Ensign Beckett Mariner is super-competent enough to have her own command by now, but is so rebellious that she would probably wash out of the fleet if her mother wasn’t secretly the captain. Her opposite number is Ensign Brad Boimler, who is enough of a kiss-up to be irritating, but earnest enough to be endearing.
We see just enough of the bridge crew to pick up on their obvious personality flaws. There’s the egotistical, Kirk-like first officer; the extremely aggressive security chief; and the cat-like chief medical officer who, being cat-like, doesn’t like anybody.
Funny, yes, but not snarky. Hardly an episode goes by without one of the main characters rattling off a bunch of Trek trivia with unbridled enthusiasm. The writers are obviously fans of Star Trek themselves, and the love shows through. The final episode of season 1 airs Oct. 8, and a second season has already been announced.
Lovecraft Country is not at all what I expected it to be, and I’m not really sure how to pigeon-hole it. But I love the heck out of whatever it is.
Lovecraft Country was initially described as Black veteran Atticus Freeman traveling through New England (H.P. Lovecraft lived in Massachusetts, and set most of his stories there) in the 1950s with his girlfriend and uncle in search of his missing father, battling both Jim Crow and elder gods. Turns out the central mystery was solved early on, there are few elder gods and many minor magicians, and it’s not a road show at all. In the last few episodes Lovecraft has essentially been an anthology, with each episode sort-of set in different genres, like the one that was straight sci-fi time travel, and/or sort-of featuring different secondary characters, like the one starring Ji-Ah, who is a Korean succubus (called a kimiho). But even so, Lovecraft has an overarching story — which, to my delight, is an absolute voyage of discovery.
But the racism is still there, and with Black characters as our firm POV, it’s the one constant threat. This is really brave storytelling, and a refreshing change from period shows that pretend racism never existed, and cast Black actors in roles they couldn’t possibly inhabit at the time. (Looking at you, Cursed).
The finale of Lovecraft Country season 1 airs Oct. 18. There’s no word on a second season yet.
Finally, The Boys. What can I say about a show that drives a speedboat through a whale, which makes you laugh and groan at the same time? That satirizes superhero tropes, but never forgets the terrifying fascist subtext of the genre? That does, in fact, deal with superheroes, but keeps its eyes glued to the little people who are deluded followers, victims, collateral damage and, when it comes to the titular characters, almost as bad as the bad guys?
Wait, I know what to say: Watch The Boys immediately. It’s a superhero satire that has a lot to say about human nature and our current culture, as well as being a darn good story. The finale to Season 2 airs Oct. 9, and a third season is already in the works.
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Lovecraft Country sounds like another reason I'll wind up getting HBO MAX at some point (as in, when it is loadable on my Roku to watch on my actual 46 inch TV).
Do they actually show lynching mentality in the North? This was a big secret to most people until recently.
No lynching in the first season, but there was a scene where three black people were about to be executed in the woods by law enforcement, when they were interrupted by Shoggoths. It's that kind of show.
I know that in the New York City draft riots after the Battle of Gettysburg, some black men in the city were hung by men who blamed them for the war.
Prior to the war, the federal government agreed to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law even in the states where slavery was outlawed, which at the time was the biggest expansion of federal power in the history of the country. A lot of police departments grew out of gangs searching for runaway slaves for the bounty.
That was in the North. Police departments in the Southern states largely grew out of Slave Patrols, established as early as 1704 in the Carolina colonies.
As Lawrence O'Donnell says, "Black people being killed by police has been an American way of death for a long time."