Halloween is right around the corner, so it's the perfect time to reflect upon the considerable contribution the "undead" have made to TV and movie content lately. Most people would agree that it's great not to be dead. Unless you're the cast and crew of AMC's #1 television series, The Walking Dead, in which case the deader the better. Zombies are the premier bad guys in 2013, and no where is this more true than on The Walking Dead as it enters its 4th season. A few years back vampires were the horror hotties, and it's easy to see why. Pin-up boy vamps on HBO's True Blood (Alexander Skarsgard, anyone?) and the Twilight franchise in the theater (Taylor Lautner, omg) have turned more than a few heads. But the monster-du-jour that everyone is clamoring for today is less likely to be buff and more likely to be squishy. In spite of their decaying flesh, missing eyeballs and questionable sense of fashion, Zombies are now the darlings of pop culture.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes The Walking Dead so attractive and popular for its TV fans. This season's premier was seen by 16.1 million viewers, which makes it the highest rated entertainment show on cable television ever. I actually got hooked on it over the summer, and binge viewed my way through two seasons on Netflix in one week and then, to my great astonishment, found myself buying season three on iTunes, something I have never done for any show before. Why did I become a zombie for the Zombies? I don't even really like Zombies, to be frank. Never have before. They aren't very bright. You couldn't have an ironic conversation with one at a dinner party. They are...messy. And most likely odiferous.
So what's the big deal, why is everyone turning cartwheels for The Walking Dead? The characters are certainly part of the draw. Very compelling, powerful and attractive (unlike their zombie foes). Danai Gurira as the African American sword wielding loner is wonderful and Norman Reedus is outstanding as a scruffy red neck with a heart of gold (and a mean cross-bow). Andrew Lincoln is the emotional center and capable leader of the surviving humans who are still hiding in a prison from the ravenous "walkers" in this season's end-of-the-world tale. And I hope to hell they get out of their cell block set soon. Seriously, a rocky mountain or tropical island change of venue is long overdue.
Plenty of other shows have terrific characters, so that only partially explains why TWD has gone straight to the top of the ratings pile. I think there is a more cultural, perhaps sinister explanation for its popularity. We are living in uncertain times. Terrorism, school shootings, unemployment, government shutdowns...it's a jungle out there. I think people enjoy watching The Walking Dead because its post apocalyptic picture of America is the only thing WORSE than turning on the news and hearing that the U.S. middle class has gone belly up. In real life your 401K has shrunk to the size of a pine nut and you don't have to worry about retirement anymore because you'll be working until you're 90 just to survive. But at least you don't have to fight off smelly walkers everyday and you can still buy pumpkin ice cream at Trader Joe's for a comfort food fix. The folks on The Walking Dead eat cold beans out of a can on a good day.
The Walking Dead is on AMC on Sundays at 9pm. You can catch up on past episodes with cable Demand or Netflix. And if you really want to impress your Walking Dead loving friends this Halloween, download one of the half dozen zombie apps for Apple or Android which will instantly convert a photo of YOU into a lurching, drooling, lovable zombie of your own.