A friend mistook “The Little Drummer Girl” for a Christmas series, and I explained that’s not what it is. As for what it really is, there’s the short version and the long version. Simply, it’s an espionage drama set amid the forever war between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the 1970s. AMC’s seven-hour miniseries has all the twisty spy intrigue you could want, but its strongest elements are the character study of English actress Charlie (Florence Pugh) and the amazing set and costume design. A viewer feels every minute of the run time, though, and often might desire to watch something more upbeat, like Norwegian death metal videos or snuff films of kittens being strangled.
Being as I haven’t reviewed or talked about AMC’s “Better Call Saul” or “Breaking Bad” in the past, I feel it is necessary to preface this review a bit. “Breaking Bad” is in my top five TV shows of all time. The series is near perfection in terms of writing and cinematography, and I think it’s a show everyone should see (It’s on Netflix now). With that said, when “Better Call Saul” was announced, I wasn’t super excited because I wasn’t a big fan of the character from “Breaking Bad.” However, I gave it a chance and was not disappointed.
“Fear the Walking Dead” (AMC) is a strange show. I’m not sure the creators have any idea what to do with it at this point. Season 1 started out as a fresh take on the “Walking Dead” universe with new and interesting characters. My understanding was we were going to get a show about the early days of the breakout and how the world handles it. The first season is, in my opinion, really good. The time period allows the writers to show the change people go through from normal life to post-apocalyptic life. However, it moves so fast that they basically go through the breakout in three or four episodes.
In a case of perfect timing, the same night “The Alienist’s” 1890s serial-killer mystery wrapped, another atmospheric historical horror-thriller debuted. “The Terror” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays on AMC), though, closely hews to a real event: In 1845, British naval Captain John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds) led an expedition to find the last leg of the Northwest Passage, a (believed to be) 200-mile stretch linking up what had been mapped so far from the east with what had been mapped from the west.
Inevitability doesn’t make for great TV. That’s what fans of “The Walking Dead” are finding out in this seventh season (which will resume Feb. 12). It began with a masterful (if utterly harrowing) episode: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) viciously kills Glenn and Abraham. It was a carefully executed – no pun intended – episode that has informed every millisecond of Negan’s screen time since then, especially when he has his barb-wire-laced baseball bat in hand: We wonder if he will cut loose again.
In my past posts about “The Walking Dead,” I’ve analyzed how some communities stand as metaphors for forms of government – Woodbury as a fascist state, Terminus as a communist state, the Hospital as an autocratic state, and so forth. I may have jumped the gun, though, because now I think the show serves as an examination of how any modern civilized, organized society (as we know it) forms from the roots up. If modern civilization in 2016 can be boiled down to humanity’s ongoing struggle to find a balance between killing for the sake of security versus not killing because all life has value, “The Walking Dead” is a beautiful, stripped-down metaphor for this struggle.
Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead” featured cinematographically beautiful scenes of Morgan and his mentor, Eastman, practicing the martial art of aikido, along with powerfully acted moments of Morgan begging Eastman to kill him. But the most memorable part of the episode is Eastman’s monologues, which — taken together — tell the story of how he learned to value all life.
A couple seasons ago on “The Walking Dead,” Rick and the gang agree to march toward Washington, D.C., on Eugene’s promise that there was a governmental structure in place working against the zombie plague. While the characters never spoke in-depth about the question of whether the government – which demonstrably failed to stop the zombie plague — should be trusted, I felt strongly that once the gang got to D.C., they would not find a safe government-run utopia.
For five seasons, “The Walking Dead” has revealed the flaws of societal structure through a world struggling to rebuild that structure. But we never saw the actual process of the stripping away of society. In the pilot episode, Rick wakes up from his coma post-apocalypse, and other characters haven’t talked about the initial outbreak much, nor have we seen many flashbacks. “Fear the Walking Dead” (9 p.m. Eastern Sundays on AMC) is here to rectify that.
By their very nature, some shows have end games and some don’t. A show about families and relationships, like “Parenthood,” simply looks for a grace note (and it found a good one in its series finale in January); it’s not as if it can end with everyone’s life in a state of perpetual perfection. At the other end of the spectrum, a murder mystery like last fall’s “Gracepoint” has a strictly defined finish line: “Who killed Danny Solano?”