Obviously, plenty of spoilers for both shows follow.
Post-apocalyptic survival has always been a great source of entertainment and storytelling and no two shows have garnered more buzz in the last year than AMC’s The Walking Dead and TNT’s Falling Skies. While the two programs give us very different looks at a very similar overall idea (scrounging for survival), the differences between the shows indicate one is clearly superior to the other.
For starters, the shows treat action in very different ways. The Walking Dead is actually pretty boring when it comes to this point. For its six episode first season there is not a lot going on in terms of excitement. Is there peril? Sure, but there is not nearly enough ass-kicking, head-exploding action one would expect from the genre.
Some will make the argument that AMC has made a “classy” zombie show. They weren’t looking to be all gore and scares, you know, things inherent of the genre. Yeah, they kill a zombie every now and then and yeah there was that terrible (CG wise, not plot wise. Well…plot wise too) explosion in the finale, but I needed more!
With Falling Skies, we get action left and right. Between the aliens (who we actually get to see. Take that, V!) and the mechs and the ships and the outlaw group, there is plenty of stuff to shoot at, hide from and blow up. The show is incredibly action-packed. When you’re fighting for survival it’s nice to see some actual fighting. And they did it in one-third the amount of episodes.
But you’re a cerebral television watcher. You need more than just gunfire and explosions. You need character, the human element. TWD is a show about people, terrible, terrible people, coming together to try and survive. So from that perspective TWD fails as well.
The majority of the crew is unlikable and I just never really connected with any of them. Sure Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is more of a victim of his circumstances, and I can sympathize a bit, but he’s just not a likable protagonist. And damn if Lori and Carl aren’t the worst, most obnoxious characters since Kate Austen.
FS has its share of characters I don’t care about as well (paging Doctor Anna) but at least the lead isn’t a huge shitbag. Tom (Noah Wyle) is a nerdy professor turned gun-toting freedom fighter. He’s trying to do the best that he can for the survivors under his command while still having to take care of his boys (one of whom has been captured and harnessed).
Arguing over which show has a better protagonist brings me to my next point: star power. TWD has some recognizable faces to be sure. You’ve got Noah Emmerich and Sarah Wayne Callies was on Prison Break, but for the most part the cast is filled primarily with “oh yeahs”. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because it gives the characters the chance to be actual characters instead of just a role some star is playing. It also allows for the show to discover someone. FS of course is lead by Noah Wyle, ER star turned TNT golden boy. The interesting thing about that casting is that the show is not billed as “starring Noah Wyle.”
It’s not a vehicle for him, his presence on the show is enough to bring people in without shoving his involvement down our throats. Also rounding out the cast are Will Patton and Moon Bloodgood and her mediocre career that just won’t die (a new children’s book I’m writing). For those of you who like to sit with IMDB open while watching something new (such as my roommate and I) you’ll also recognize some people from Veronica Mars and Entourage. Go crazy.
One thing that FS has to deal with (that in all honesty could help or hurt it) is comparison. Zombies are fairly new to television but aliens are not. FS has to be compared to every single shows about aliens that had come before it. Luckily, most of the recent comparable shows such as V and The Event were so bad that this actually helps FS.
I’d mention that Speilberg’s involvement with FS bodes well also (which it does) but due to the cinematic abominations known as the Transformers movies, I can’t say with 100% certainty that the man’s involvement is foolproof.
And the numbers don’t lie. FS attracted 5.91 million viewers in its premiere. TWD? 5. 3 million. Just sayin’. And don’t you come back in a few weeks and point to all the Emmy nominations TWD is going to undeservedly garner. I don’t care.
Both AMC and TNT are known for their excellent cable programming. AMC has Mad Men and….yep. (I haven’t gotten into Breaking Bad yet) and TNT has…Leverage. Anyway, when it comes down to it, looking at these two shows as beacons of hope and survival for their respective networks, TNT knows a little more about drama than story actually matters to AMC. And in this made up feud between AMC and TNT that I have just now constructed, I think I have to side with TNT.
Tangent. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. Falling Skies is better than The Walking Dead.
Matt blogs at Monster of Television.
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