I’m a bit late this with embargo, but still about a week and a half early, given that Tales of the Walking Dead does not debut until August 14. We now have three confirmed post-TWD spin-offs, the Rick and Michonne show, the Negan and Maggie show and the Daryl and not-Carol show, but this one was announced before any of them, with Tales of the Walking Dead being an anthology series that brings back old characters and explores new ones.
Tales of the Walking Dead has been described as a “test kitchen” where new concepts within the Walking Dead universe can be cooked up. And if I could use a single word to describe the first three episodes I’ve seen, it would certainly be “experimental.”
I am not all that enamored with what I’ve seen so far. I was hoping this would be something akin to World War Z (the book) with really interesting tales about the zombie plague all over the world, but so far, this mostly feels like it’s meant to be a showcase for big name actors who have joined the “universe” for what feel like small-scale stage plays. I’m not sure it works, though again, this is only three episodes, and none of them have given us stories connected to the main show yet (an Alpha episode is coming later).
Here’s what I made of the first three episodes:
Episode 1 – Evie/Joe (Olivia Munn/Terry Crews)
Right away, this is where you can feel a “tone shift” taking place, as this episode, and the one that follows, are practically slapstick comedies set within the Walking Dead universe. Here, Terry Crews plays a bunker prepper who leaves to find a kindred spirit, and his path crosses with Olivia Munn’s Evie, and the two have a sort of odd couple dynamic for the duration.
One thing that’s a bit weird about some of these episodes is seeing such recognizable actors join the universe, which comes across as a little jarring. While I’m sure AMC likes all the big names being attached to Tales, it’s kind of odd to see Crews and Munn here. Eventually, I moved past that, but again, the tone switch itself is pretty jarring, given what we’ve come to expect from TWD and Fear. I was not expecting so much comedy, or attempts at comedy, and I’m not sure it lands.
Episode 2 – Blair/Gina (Parker Posey/Jillian Bell)
Okay, now things get really weird. Again, we are going for a full comedy here, where Bell plays a mistreated receptionist to Posey’s lunatic boss. But here, the experiment traps the two in a…time loop? Yes, like a full Groundhog Day time loop, where the two keep acting out of a scenario where they try to escape a city succumbing to the zombie plague, but their paths keep leading to them being blown up by an oil tanker. They die, but reset at the start of the day with their memories intact, and do it again and again.
It is exactly as bizarre as it sounds, and this is what I mean by Tales being truly “experimental.” But again, when I heard about different zombie stories, I figured it would be things like “here’s how they’re dealing with the zombie plague in Alaska” or something, not like “what would happen if you were stuck in a supernatural/psychotically-induced death loop with your boss that you hate?” It’s extremely strange.
Episode 3 – Amy/Dr. Everett (Poppy Liu/Anthony Edwards)
Okay, so this is more like what I was expecting from the show, and it’s my favorite episode of the three without question. Here, the comedy is gone, and we also don’t have any ultra-well-known actors here to be distracting. I do know Poppy Liu from her supporting role in HBO’s Hacks, but I mean she’s not Terry Crews. Here, we do have an interesting situation set up, which tells the story of a “dead zone” nature preserve that was made by carving huge trenches in the earth, and one man lives there studying zombie behavior and migration patterns like he used to study animals. Eventually he encounters a lost traveler, Amy, and the conflict becomes whether science and natural selection should prevail over a return to human connection and rebuilding.
It gets a little unintentionally goofy in spots, but I did like how it was wrapped up, and this felt like the first example of the anthology concept that did something interesting without attempting to be too wacky.
I’m not seeing anything across any of these shows that would warrant a full show based on the characters showcased, but I’m curious to see the others. I remain skeptical about this idea, as I’m not sure the show is needed with four other more traditional Walking Dead shows about to co-exist at the same time, but it seems they really just want to play around in this sandbox in some wild ways. We’ll see what everyone makes of it at release.
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