“The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season” (Anchor Bay)
Whether or not you agree it is the best new show of the 2010 season, “The Walking Dead” is certainly the critical favorite: glowing reviews, magazine covers, adulation from genre fans and TV elitists alike have propelled the first all-out zombie TV series into the pop culture lexicon. It doesn’t hurt that the show, based on the acclaimed comic book/graphic novel series written by Robert Kirkman, is an intelligent, expansive, character-rich program that combines genre conventions (slow moving, voracious ambulatory corpses trailing gore and entrails swarming after humans running for their lives) with the human drama of people trying not simply to survive but find community and meaning after the end of the world as we know it. Which is not to say such concerns were absent from the film incarnations, merely rare and limited. As Kirkman says in the home video supplements, “Zombies movies all have an ending. I wanted to know what happens next.”
“The Walking Dead” takes the premise seriously—all-American good guy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a small-town sheriff who is shot in the opening minutes of the show, wakes up from a coma to find the hospital deserted, his town decimated and zombies infesting the ruins like undead vermin—and just follows the story from there, as he searches for his wife and son, meets other survivors, fights off the walking dead and negotiates existence in a world trying to kill him. Made for commercial cable, where shows are still expected to remain within certain limits when it comes to portraying violence and sexual behavior, it manages to push those boundaries without slipping into exploitation, and still create a gruesomeness beyond what you find in episodes of “Bones” or “CSI.” But the focus is on the mortality of the humans. When you spend this much time with the characters, watching them work through personal relationships and existential crises in addition to physical survival, there’s a different kind of investment in their lives. It’s not about the spectacle of death but the value of life.