2 out of 5
Created by: Scott M. Gimple and Matthew Negrete
covers season 1
Setting aside The Walking Dead’s phenomenal, gritty first season, the show slowly and surely devolved in to the (by my opinion) clunkier, more obvious dramatics of both the regular comic, or of any average TV show. Just with zombies. While I appreciate the angle by which Robert Kirkman approached his series – not hanging his “walker” apocalypse on a cure, and just focusing on the survivors surviving, it too easily fell in to every single soap opera trope of withheld secrets and petty squabbles, none too elevated by (again, my opinion) average dialogue. The TV series maintained this, sustained by some fun concepts or gore which were nice to see visualized – Walking Dead the show was responsible, for better or worse, for mainstreaming graphic violence on a weekly show, which seemed to open the doors for more imaginative entries in horror and sci-fi – but after the budget leveled out and we got used to the limited ways walkers could be represented on screen (not to denigrate the efforts of makeup and SFX teams), there was nothing left to watch except rather uninteresting characters constantly in turmoil for stupid, cliffhanger-y reasons.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond does a few things with its focus to fix this slackening focus: it starts up ten years after the zombie apocalypse, with mini-societies established and moderately functioning; it reintroduces some intrigue with the mysterious Civic Republic Military; and perhaps most importantly, it shifts the lead characters to teenagers. That last bit may cause some eye-rolls, but it turns out that the clunky dialogue and tropes the Walking Dead likes to abuse actually make sense when sourced from teens, and the show carefully chooses and casts varying personalities which play off of one another well, keeping the teen drama fairly in check. It’s never the most intelligent thing, but it’s definitely watchable, and by shifting us automatically past the imminent threat of walkers (here called “empties”), the show doesn’t have to rely on them for fake tension.
Until it does, of course, as the series devolves over its ten episodes and loses its footing. This is its main sin: not sticking to its guns. Our teens – played by Aliyah Royale, Alexa Mansour, Hal Cumpston, and Nicolas Cantu – are perfectly capable of carrying scenes, settling in to a pleasant camaraderie of The Leader, The Wildcard, The Intellect, and The Muscle, respectively, poking and prodding at coming-of-age growing pains via flashbacks that inform their actions when together, and it’s exciting to see them figure out how to survive without parental guidance when they set out from their home “Campus Colony” in Omaha to a Civic Republic Military base in order to find sisters’ Iris’ and Hope’s (Royale, Mansour) father. But apparently we have to give them chaperones, played by Nico Tortorella and Annet Mahendru, which would all be well and good if their drama didn’t start to overtake that of the teens, and soon enough, we’re back in to regular Walking Dead nonsense. (Mahendru, fantastic to see after The Americans, is also, perhaps, miscast or mis-directed to effect some type of Southern twang and swagger, which… doesn’t work and adds an unfortunate camp value to her scenes.)
The show waffles in its latter half, trying to build up some conspiracy workings with the CRM, which are interesting – it’s nice to have a bad guy – but sloppily interceded, and the final nails in the coffin come in the first season concluding episodes, which throw out highly illogical explanations which no one seems to question. I’m sure those un-asked questions will have some answers in the second season, but by episode ten, we’re brought to a point far away from “a teen-driven Walking Dead” to just another show with zombies, trying to double down on its “twists” to cover up plotting gaffes.