Saturday, March 30, 2013

7 comments Bill Simmons Does Something Different in Discussing The Walking Dead, Yet It's Still Very Much the Same

I hate spoilers. So if you don't watch "The Walking Dead" or don't want to know what happened on The "Walking Dead" Season 3, then don't read this post. It has a lot of spoilers from Season 3 in it. I was alerted via Twitter that Bill Simmons had written something about "The Walking Dead" for Grantland and decided to check it out. I was told (via Twitter) the article had no substance (very true), it's bad (very true) and it isn't even worth a Bottom of the Barrel post. Well, challenge accepted! It doesn't matter this is a sports-based blog. Bill doesn't ever really write about sports anyway and I really enjoy critiquing television as well as sports, so this is sort of right down my alley. Bill Simmons has written in about one of my favorite shows in a poor fashion, so I am going to write about him writing about it.

"The Walking Dead" is a cross between a four and five star show for me. You may say, "What the hell does that mean and why do you rank your shows like a moron?" I will concede the point that I am a moron, but I rank my shows because I am a loser and have to have a system in order to prioritize my television viewing. My star rankings break down like this with some examples:

5-star: A must-watch show at the very first opportunity. If I don't watch it, I feel like I missed something (Homeland, Justified).

4-star: A must-watch show, but I can go a day or two without watching it and not be concerned (Boardwalk Empire, The Middle...such an underrated show).

3-star: A show I enjoy watching, but it usually gets thrown in with the rest of the shows on my DVR and watched in no particular order (Girls...yeah, shut up, Modern Family).

2-star: A show on it's way out and a show I watch last. Once a show gets to the 2-star level for me, I am going to stop watching the very next season if it doesn't get more interesting (The Office, Dexter).

1-star: Usually once a show hits 1-star I will watch a couple more episodes and then give up on it completely and never even care to watch it again. Few shows ever keep this ranking for long because otherwise I give up on them (zero shows right now).

Obviously in these completely arbitrary ratings a show can go from one ranking to another fairly quickly. "Dexter" has jumped all over these rankings, while "Homeland" has been a firm 5-star since it began, though I have concerns about the upcoming season. "The Walking Dead" Season 1 was a 3-star show. The back half of Season 2 moved it up to the 4-star ranking and it very well could be in the 5-star ranking at this point. Yes, I even watch "The Talking Dead," which is suspiciously and bizarrely entertaining for some reason. So my point is I have no point with these rankings. Bill Simmons wrote about "The Walking Dead," because he really doesn't like writing about sports anyway and he seems to see himself as a television critic now.

My son and I play a game called "Zombie." Basically, I chase him around while pretending to be a zombie and making those hungry/throaty zombie noises, then I finally catch him and pretend to gnaw on his arm or leg. He giggles the whole time. Little kids love zombies.

Little kids also tend to love being chased around and to have their father play with them. But no, this game is all about kids loving zombies, and not about kids liking to be chased.

With another Dead season wrapping next week, it's important to remember the five ground rules we established in Season 3.

It's a Bill Simmons column. Of course there is a list! Also, Bill lists five ground rules (but states one twice) and then names another ground rule. So there are 5.5 ground rules it seems.

Ground Rule No. 2: Nobody Is Safe

If a character isn't working, don't worry — they aren't sticking around for an extra few years like Dr. Melfi, Andrea Zuckerman or even Billy Packer.

The whole idea that "nobody" is safe isn't exactly accurate. At this point in Season 3, we know Rick isn't dying, we know Michonne probably isn't dying, we know Andrea isn't dying, Daryl probably still has a season or two left, and I am betting they won't kill Carl either. Glenn and Maggie just got married, so if it weren't for that I would say they are in good shape. I haven't read the comics and I realize nearly every original character has died, but television is different from the comics. "Nobody is safe" is a good mantra, but I'm not sure it is entirely accurate on a nightly basis for "The Walking Dead."

"The Walking Dead" even killed off Rick's wife, but she is still in the main credits and appears to Rick from time-to-time. So she has become a better version of herself for many people. She's still around, but she doesn't talk. Characters still stick around on "The Walking Dead" if that character isn't working. The character of Andrea quit working nearly two seasons ago and she is still alive.

Ground Rule No. 4: We Will Listen to You, the Internet

After Osama bin Laden was killed, the most hated person on the Internet became Rick's wife on The Walking Dead. And this was well earned. Terrible mother, terrible wife, floozy, hypocrite, manipulator … and none of these things were intentional.

This is why I am not sure Bill Simmons should be doing television commentary. It was completely intentional for the writers to make "Rick's wife," or "Lori" as those people who seemingly don't hate women might call her, a floozy, manipulator and terrible mother. The writers didn't accidentally make her cheat on Rick with Shane, in Season Two they made it very clear she was manipulating Rick to kill Shane, and she was constantly losing track of Carl. The writers didn't accidentally do any of these things. This is how they wrote the character and this is how Lori came off to the audience.

In Lori's defense, she thought Rick was dead and had moved on with Shane who was Rick's partner and best friend in the real world. She cheated with and was possibly impregnated by Shane. The audience is built to hate it when the main character is wronged in any way, so the character of Lori was already behind the 8-ball when we originally met her due to her sleeping with Rick's best friend. Lori was a confused, complex person until the time the group arrived at the prison. There the writers softened her up a bit and allowed her to become more of the silent and better wife that Bill Simmons so desperately craved. The writers didn't accidentally write Lori to be a manipulator or a floozy. Her manipulations were very much intentional. Maybe they went further than they had wanted to in making her annoying, but it was intentional.

When they finally killed her off during childbirth and had her son shoot her before she became a zombie, I actually said the words, "I don't think they went far enough — I wanted to see one of those zombies eat her face off." I rarely agree with showrunners overreacting to the whims of Internet fans, but in this case, Rick's wife had to go.

Bill "actually" said those words. He literally spoke like that.

I just wanted to make sure you didn't forget Ground Rule No. 1. By serving a never-ending slew of zombie deaths and blowing its budget on extras and special effects — not famous actors, or even good actors — AMC has stumbled into Moneyball for television (Zombieball?).

"The Walking Dead" didn't really up the zombie kills that much until Season 3. There were obviously zombie kills before that season, but it really seems like Season 3 is when zombies were getting offed at a much higher rate. I don't really think the acting is that bad on the show either. Clearly, Bill Simmons or any of Bill's friends could do a better job of acting than anyone on the show currently does. It's hard to be an actor on a television show about a zombie apocalypse and start winning awards for your acting on that show. It's just a hard genre in which to rack up awards.

"The Walking Dead" has gotten actors and actress with fairly good resumes to play parts on the show. Will any of these actors be winning Emmy awards? Probably not, but quite a few members of the cast have been in various other television shows or stage productions and received individual awards for these productions. So it isn't like AMC is paying peanuts for their cast and blowing the budget on zombies. The actors have gotten more comfortable in the roles they play and I wouldn't classify any of it as bad acting.

I don't care if anyone survives on this show except Daryl (the guy with the bow and arrow), Maggie and Hershel. But if you told me I'd go five weeks without seeing a zombie get decapitated? I'd flip over my coffee table.

First off, there is no one on the show with a bow and arrow. It's a crossbow that Daryl carries. I know small little facts like this are no big deal to Bill because his larger point is that his writing is so damn clever, but when a person is reviewing a show I am hoping that person would care enough to get the small little facts right. It lends some credibility to that person's point of view. 

Television commentary isn't something Bill should continue pursuing if he doesn't care about character development and only wants to see zombies get their heads crushed. This point of view probably speaks for quite a few "Walking Dead" viewers, but it also doesn't give a sort of five year old's perspective most people don't look for in a critic's television commentary. It's like if Alan Sepinwall reviewed a "Game of Thrones" episode by saying he doesn't care about the plot, he just wants to see more boobs. I know Bill isn't Alan Sepinwall, but that's the point, that he isn't Alan Sepinwall, he should probably stick to what he does best...which appears to be running Grantland and furthering his brand through writing a column every other week.

The people running Dead understand this now.

The people running "The Walking Dead" understand that Bill's point of view is the correct point of view. Why wouldn't Bill be right? The viewers don't care what happens to Andrea, they want to see a random walker get his head smashed in for 42 minutes every Sunday night. In reality, the creators of "The Walking Dead" have realized they need to kill more walkers, but they have also at the same time managed to make the viewers care about the people on the show and their fates...except for Bill Simmons I guess. He only cares about seeing zombies die.

So those were the new stakes heading into last night's second-to-last episode.

How were their stakes at all if you don't care about anyone but Daryl, Maggie and Herschel? None of those three characters were in immediate danger during the episode. Whoops, a bit of a contradiction from Bill. If viewers like Bill don't care about all of the characters and none of the three characters Bill (and everyone else) cared about were in immediate trouble there were nearly no stakes during the episode. Therein lies the problem with Bill's "people only care about seeing zombies get smashed" point of view. There are viewers who don't care about just seeing zombies smashed and that is what creates the new stakes Bill just spoke of. It's fine to show zombies getting smashed, but there has to be plot to go along with it. THAT is what the people running "The Walking Dead" understand now. They understand there has to be a mix of zombie action and character development. Otherwise you have characters no one cares about either getting eaten or not getting eaten by zombies. That gets old quickly.

Two Sundays ago, the Gov's former flame (Andrea, a former Rickette who had about 760 chances to kill the Gov and somehow blew all of them) brokered a sit-down between the Gov and Rick that became gripping for the bad acting more than anything else.

I don't think that was bad acting. I'm interested in what Bill believes to be "bad acting," because I thought the scene between Rick and the Governor wasn't really bad acting. Again, it isn't going to win any Emmy's, but I wouldn't classify it as bad acting. Of course, Bill probably knows many more famous actors and his house smells of rich mahogany, which means he is smarter than I am when it comes to exactly what is bad acting.

Poor Guy Who Plays Rick. He just sucks.

Way to do research. His name is Andrew Lincoln and he has gotten progressively better in the role as the episodes have wore on. Again, this is a show about the zombie apocalypse, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

You know he's bad because he made The Governor look like Daniel Day-Lewis, and I think they hired him straight from a British porn set.

They actually hired David Morrissey from the London stage where he has won quite a few awards, but that's neither here or there. Bill just had to shoehorn a porn reference into the column so he can completely let "the kids" know he is super-hip and speaks to their generation. Plus, Bill seems to have a hatred or distaste for women, as seen in many of columns and his "Book of Basketball," so we should probably just be happy he isn't comparing every character on "The Walking Dead" to a pornstar.

The Governor presented Rick with a moral dilemma: If he delivered Michonne (a mute, dreadlocked, samurai sword–wielding African American badass)

She's not mute, she just doesn't talk a lot.

The Governor wanted Michonne to pay for murdering his zombie daughter (he'd been keeping her alive in case someone came up with a zombie cure), impaling his eye (now covered with an eye patch) and just generally looking like Tracy Chapman (he hated "Fast Car"). If Michonne wasn't delivered, we'd have war.

This isn't completely accurate either. Even if Michonne was delivered the Governor had made it very clear t his inner circle there would be war anyway. He was planning on ambushing Rick and the rest of his group when they dropped off Michonne. So no matter what, there was going to be a war. Rick didn't know this outwardly of course, but I think somewhere down inside he knew it.

No kidding. Hey, Rick, here's an idea — throw everyone in a few cars, hightail it out of there and try to find a safer nesting place.

Worst idea ever. Ever. Worst idea. Ever. These "few cars" that Bill is talking about, how many cars is he talking about exactly? From my best recollection, there are a truck and a car that the survivors at the prison have access to. They could probably hotwire a car or two sure, so that isn't the biggest issue, but they would still need large enough transportation for all their gear and food. The biggest issue is why would Rick choose to hightail it out of the prison, the safest place they have ever been by the way and a place they have fences to protect them from walkers, to go on the road to find a new place to live? How far can the truck and the car go with the limited amount of gas we are to believe they have access to and does Bill not believe that the Governor with his massive amount of resources (relative to the fact there is a zombie apocalypse) could find Rick's group?

The idea of finding "a safer nesting place" is great except for the fact there is no proof a safer resting place (other than Woodbury) actually exists. It's hard to get more safe than a prison surrounded by a metal fence. If Rick and his group did try to find another place to live they would have to clear that place out from having walkers with a group that consists of a newborn baby and a man with one leg. Sure, hightailing it seems like a great idea in theory, but Hershel lost part of his leg and T-Dog died trying to clear out zombies in the prison and that may be a risk Rick and his gang don't want to take again. Sure, this may sound better than having the Governor kill them all, but running away isn't who Rick and his group are either.

Bill's idea assumes (a) there is a safer nesting place and (b) the Governor couldn't find them at this new safer nesting place. I don't believe running is an option, especially given the fact they have a pretty good setup going on at the prison and they have a newborn baby to take care of (which brings to mind maybe Lori isn't such the terrible mother Bill accused of her of being, because she tried to abort the baby rather than bring it into the world full of zombies).

This isn't rocket science.

Exactly, it isn't rocket science. The prison is a pretty safe and cozy place to live right now.

What's so great about a dark prison that stinks of festering zombie guts?

Other than the fact the prison has food, shelter, a fence that keeps the zombies out, places where Maggie and Glenn can have sex, and towers where they can pick off zombies and keep a lookout for enemies that may be on the horizon? Nothing. If I am ever a part of a zombie apocalypse then I would first try to get a town cornered off like the Governor did or then go to a prison. Once you clear that prison out, you have a pretty good safe house.

A little bit later, when Merle confidently predicts to his brother that Rick is gonna buckle, he sounds like Skip Bayless talking about LeBron James during the 2011 Finals. But he's right. Rick WILL buckle at some point. It's the only interesting thing about his character —

It's the only interesting thing other than the fact he is trying to be the leader the group so desperately needs when he may not be up to the task? I see Rick as weak, but I think it is part of his character to see the group needs a leader so he is trying to be that guy, even if he isn't completely up for the job.

Speaking of bad acting, Michonne would have been the 39th most interesting character on Lost.

Now begins Bill's bizarre comparison of "The Walking Dead" with "Lost." I liked "Lost," but it is a bit overrated as a television show. The characters weren't that interesting since you knew even if they died they would pop up again at some point (the stakes weren't always incredibly high in my opinion) and the show ended up not making a hell of a lot of sense in the end. Well, it made sense, but the sense it made was sort of meaningless. "Lost" took an excellent villain in Ben and turned him into a nicer guy because they just couldn't handle writing him out of the show and as the outright villain of a couple seasons there's no way he could have stuck around without being killed. Yeah, I like "Lost," but let's not use it as the epitome of what a ensemble cast show should be about.

I feel bad picking on Poor Guy Who Plays Rick, but think about the acting on Lost compared to Dead. Rooker would've stolen scenes on either show.

Bill is talking about Michael Rooker who played Merle. The acting on "Lost" really wasn't all that great, but if "The Walking Dead" had bad acting wouldn't Rooker steal scenes on the show? Wouldn't it make sense for Michael Rooker to steal scenes on a poorly-acted show as opposed to being more likely to steal scenes on a well-acted show? I think the bar would be lowered some if "The Walking Dead" really had bad acting. If Michael Rooker were on "Lost" he would have been an "Other" and eventually the creators would have figured out the viewers liked his character and he would have been softened up or killed only to be brought back in some bizarre flash forward that shows he was really Sawyer's brother or something.

Poor Guy Who Plays Rick could've barely cut it as one of The Others. Even if Rick's character was being played by someone as solid as Matthew Fox, it's a completely different show.

It's interesting Bill compares Rick on "The Walking Dead" to Jack on "Lost" because they are both not natural leaders and struggled to make the tough decisions. "The Walking Dead" is a different show with Matthew Fox as the lead and I think it is a lesser show. We've already seen Fox as a conflicted leader of outcasts and there is a reason some of Jack's group on "Lost" chose to follow John Locke instead of Jack. Locke was decisive and willing to make hard decisions when the time came to do so. I see similarities in Jack's character on "Lost" with Rick's character on "The Walking Dead." I think Andrew Lincoln would have been fine as one of The Others and I also think Bill is not remembering Matthew Fox's portrayal of Jack on "Lost." It was as conflicted and showed the same strains of leading that Rick's character on "The Walking Dead" shows. Bad comparison.

Yeah, but still! Later, Glenn asks for Hershel's blessing because he wants to marry Hershel's daughter, Maggie. Why marry anyone during a zombie apocalypse? Because she's Walking Dead Hot.

Not to be the romantic, but it has been made clear on repeated occasions that Glenn really loves that may have something to do with him wanting to marry her. I'm always down for an example of Bill having a little misogyny in his heart. In his mind the only reason to marry when the world is falling apart is if that girl is hot. True love would be as dead as the zombies of course.

Being Walking Dead Hot is like being Female Prison Guard Hot or Press Box Hot or Sports Memorabilia Convention Hot … if you're a seven or an eight in any of those male-dominated universes, it feels like a 27. Glenn can't risk losing Maggie to Daryl or something. He's locking her down.

And as we all know women have no concept of love and will just jump on the very next penis they see. So Glenn has to lock down Maggie or else she will be the whore of a woman that all women are and hook up with Daryl.

One other thing happened back at the prison: Near the end of the episode, The Poor Guy Who Plays Rick gave a speech to the group about how he needed to lean on others more (and stop over-leading). How uninspiring was it? Halfway through, AMC broke out some Rudy music to spruce it up.

So was "Rudy" an uninspiring movie? I wonder this because if AMC needed "Rudy" music to spruce up a scene then doesn't that also mean the movie "Rudy" needed the music to pump up their emotional and uplifting scenes?

Didn't work. Rick finished the crappy speech, then walked off without letting anyone else weigh in. Again, I want to start leaning on you guys more. But before you have a chance to respond, I'm out of here. What an ass.

I know,. It is sort of like if a writer had worked at ESPN for a decade and never allowed comments on his columns. He writes what he wants to write and then doesn't give his audience a chance to respond. What kind of asshole would have done that though? 

Over the past three years, Daryl might be the only Dead character with a unanimous approval rating, to the point that Norman Reedus has become the Josh Holloway of this show —

And we all see how Josh Holloway's career has bloomed after being on "Lost." He did have that one scene in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where he died, but he was great in that scene. His dying was incredibly well-acted.

you always watch him thinking, Could this guy be a bigger star, or is this just the perfect role for him? In Holloway's case, Sawyer was probably the perfect role; he hasn't done much since. We'll see about Reedus.

Anyone who was ever been in college over the last decade has probably watched "The Boondock Saints" dozens of times. So for the first season of "The Walking Dead" Reedus was Murphy McManus to a lot of people and considered that movie and the sequel to be the perfect role for him. I think this is something Bill should be aware of. It appears his attempts to be a television critic have taken another hit.

Because there's a sixth Ground Rule for The Walking Dead that I didn't want to spoil too early in this recap.

When any decent character dies, they absolutely and unequivocally HAVE to return as a zombie, then get re-murdered by someone who loves them.

This is the sixth of the five rules. Bill didn't want to spoil this rule of course. His first five rules that revealed anyone can die and that a main character is killed (Bill presumes because the audience didn't like her) weren't spoilers at all I guess. The idea a character dies and will return as a zombie is a huge spoiler to Bill. The death of the female lead is not a spoiler. Not to mention if anyone is reading this column and hasn't seen the show yet they have already been spoiled tremendously up. The idea a person who dies comes back as a zombie is probably not that big of a spoiler after reading an entire column of spoilers.

It's the way of the world in a zombie apocalypse, the bleakest of places, where you're perpetually surviving as you're forgetting how to live.

And now after a column of snarky jokes and criticizing the acting on the show Bill tries to end the column with his typical, "here is a serious point I want you all to consider so it makes me seem like I am having a deep thought."

Most convince themselves to protect others, if only because it gives them some purpose. Rick wants to protect the Rickettes, but really, he just wants to protect his future serial killer son and his newborn probably-not-his-baby that can miraculously fend for itself without help. The Governor wants to protect everyone at Woodbury, as well as the power he garnered there.

Of course this gravity doesn't matter very much, because as Bill stated earlier in this column/review/clusterfuck, he doesn't care if anyone survives on the show as long as there are zombies getting killed.

Looming over everything: that dreadful moment when a loved one ends up dying, and then you have to re-murder them. That's the law of The Walking Dead. What would you do? Would you put a bullet in your zombie child's head if you knew they weren't coming back? Would you kill your zombie dad? Your zombie wife? Your zombie best friend? 

Considering they are already dead and don't look like themselves at all, yes I would. This is much like the show "Lost" that asked tough questions like, "What the hell happened and why do I have to take two hours of my morning trying to figure out what I just watched last night?" Not everyone can be the acting genius that Matthew Fox is. Imagine if "The Walking Dead" had Fox playing Rick Grimes. We would get to see Fox bite his lip while not being able to make a decision, he would be too sympathetic for his own good, and he would be a reluctant hero. Basically nothing would have changed except Matthew Fox would be playing Jack from "Lost" in a world full of zombies. That's how "The Walking Dead" would have been a different show.

That's why Daryl and Michonne have the best gigs on this show. They reinvented themselves as professional zombie assassins, and really, it's become something of an art form for them. Daryl carries his bow and arrow;

It's actually a crossbow that Daryl carries, but I wouldn't expect someone who has claimed to watch the show for three years and is currently analyzing the show to care about this small little fact. 

They will keep killing those zombies for us. That's what they do. That's what we want.

That is what the proverbial "we" want isn't it? I like how Bill tells us we as viewers don't care about the characters and then criticizes the acting on the show, while also trying to tie in an emotional point about how the show reflects on our feelings for loved ones. This review/commentary is sort of all over the place in that way. But that's what "we" want, isn't it? Any writing from Bill, no matter how choppy and disorganized.


Anonymous said...

Nice job. If only Simmons read your posts once- it would either piss him off, motivate him, or just convince him to have somebody film him, Rembert Browne (who has never written anything worthwhile, ever), Jalen Rose (clearly an attempt by Bill to make himself look cool, and House/Jacoby/JackO/Sailboat/Big J (as he would say, "I only make two of these names up.")

I was wondering if you had read his opus about PEDS, when he creates ESPN Me and Sports Fan Me (which is apparently the reason he doesn't write anything interesting) decides Ray Lewis did steroids and Adrian Peterson didn't based on his own opinion (I bet his Patriots homerism didn't play into that at all) and claims he wouldn't use steroids if he was an athlete (which has no basis in anything). Pretty dumb stuff.

I was also wondering if you read the new Henry Abbott article on TrueHoop which is basically his and ESPN's way to vent about the Heat streal ending, which was, according to him, due to "Tackle Basketball" (despite that the Bulls didn't get one flagrant or technical all game) and quotes Stu Jackson a lot (he says the 90s were the worst decade in NBA history- not like that was when the league peaked in popularity or anything). ALso, he asks if NBA fans would rather see LeBron dunk or get clobbered in the head, not realizing that most NBA fans root against the Heat and would like to see him get get hit instead of dunk. Really bad writing.

Marshall McLuhan said...

I totally agree that Simmons seems to hate women. I don't think it's too far fetched to envision him pulling a Mel Gibson style loon out on the poor Sports Gal at some unfortunate point in the near future. Simmons here overreaches when trying to show how clever he is. Get over yourself Bill, you lucked into a great gig but for such a talent you seem to be stuck in recycle mode.

I am totally stunned to learn that Bengoodfellow watches so much television and zombies to boot. I thought you were, dare I say it, cerebral.

Snarf said...


I just read the Henry Abbot piece (After reading your comment above). It was pretty bad. Interestingly, the comments section (generally the low point of sports discussion on the internet) has some really well-written posts taking him to task.

ivn said...

I refuse to believe that a man who compared the 1998 Utah Jazz to an ugly stripper has issues with women. get real.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, thanks. I did read his PED article and I didn't even really think enough of it to mention. He did basically accuse them of taking PEDs, which I can see his reasoning. Peterson/Lewis had great comebacks from injuries, but I would question Peterson more than Lewis. Still, who knows if Peterson used PEDs or not. It was silly article.

I'll have to track down that TrueHoops article. I'm still trying to read Simmons' article from this past Friday.

Marshall, I'm not a feminist or anything, but he does tend to have some pent-up anger towards women and how they ruin things for men.

I am cerebral, but I try to watch crap on television that doesn't make me think quite as much. Though I will admit, I turn the stupid shows I watch into an exercise in being cerebral. I haven't seen the Walking Dead for this week (and won't until Tuesday evening), but I do love me some good television shows.

Ivn, shocking isn't it? I read "The Book of Basketball" and kept thinking that Bill clearly has some issues with women or he is trying really, really hard to market to his perceived target audience.

FJ said...

Read his latest one on the Heat streak. Abysmal.

Bengoodfella said...

FJ, haha. I actually just started reading it. It's so long. I may break it into two parts, but then I feel like I am cheating.