On the road

Hungry for brainy television comedy?

The Trip and The Walking Dead chronicle two divergent journeys

AMC's The Walking Dead came out of the gates with promise. Coming off of a sterling track record with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, this adaptation of writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore's graphic novel was tapped to finally achieve the serious dramatic representation of a dystopian zombie future hinted at by films like 28 Days Later. Visually recalling that movie and the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the show is a technical marvel, featuring some of the vilest zombies ever.

Protagonist Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) is a deputy sheriff from small town Georgia who awakes from his hospital bed in search of his family, only to be greeted by the unspeakable horror of the dead made flesh. The debut is subtle and well-paced, following our hero going through the motions of discovering what has happened to his world perfectly. Possibly due to Western society's recently resurgent bloodlust for mystical monsters, this zomb-drama's first episode had 5.3 million viewers. Comparatively, the Mad Men season 4 finale only pulled 2.44 million.

Unfortunately, the subtlety of the debut is rarely touched again and the human dialogue barely rises above the intellectual breadth of your average undead rally. There is a racist white southern villain named Merle Dixon (seriously) who beats up a black member of our ragtag squad of refugees and screams, "Your kind and my kind ain't meant to mix!" The victim's name is T-Dog and he wears a shirt that says Brooklyn on it even though they're in Atlanta. At one point, they cover themselves in zombie entrails to pass through a particularly high-traffic area.

Though bad acting, cringeworthy dialogue and implausible leaps in logic are hallmarks of the classic zombie films, this was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be Sense And Sensibility And Zombies except actually serious. The hype leading up to it suggested a gory, mutant counterpoint to the gangster solipsism of the Sopranos.

Instead, we're treated to a serial killfest without even the social commentary on mob mentality of George Romero's best work. The writing is so bad that even though the show has already been picked up for a second season, executive producer Frank Darabont has fired the entire writing staff anyway and will be replacing them with freelancers.

Fortunately for the folks behind BBC's The Trip, their show doesn't rely on writing as much as on pure performance. The show is based around the premise of Steve Coogan reviewing restaurants for the Observer in Northern England with his friend and frequent collaborator Rob Brydon. Instead of enjoying natural beauty and high cuisine with his estranged American girlfriend as he had originally planned, he is subjected to all manner of comedic impression (including brilliant turns as Al Pacino and Woody Allen) from his clownish friend. This framing device allows for intense metacomedy that recalls Ricky Gervais's Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm in tone and extemporaneous nature.

We follow them navigating through the strange, muted beauty of the English countryside, which actually recalls the genius in the simplicity of this show and the English cultural background as a whole. It seems as if traveling and journeying are inherently connected to the British identity, such as with Gervais's recent program An Idiot Abroad. The hilarious scene where our duo discusses being in a costume drama as ancient warriors forced to cross the plains and "rise at … what time is the battle?" stands as a fitting allegory for a show so brilliantly self-reflexive. V

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