Television has gone through a lot of changes over the years as it has become bigger and bigger, but one thing hasn’t changed–the desire to talk about and dissect what we watch. This desire has led to the prominence of “after show” talk shows creeping into the realm of discussing scripted television, after long being solely focused on reality television. These shows, whether on air or online, allow for immediate interaction with an episode of television for a popular show, and have come to be a great way for fans to get a more instantaneous reaction from cast and creators about what is happening on a show at a given moment. This week, the TV Roulette has dictated that I take a look at one of these shows in AMC’s The Talking Dead, which helped jumpstart this current trend in television. So what does such a show look like now, and what does it say about the future of television? We’ll find out, but first let’s do the rundown.
Umm, this one isn’t that big, but Spoilers Ahead for the most recent episode of The Talking Dead, and more importantly, for the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead.
TV Roulette Week 18
Talking Dead; ‘Fear the Walking Dead 206,’ Season 5, Episode 22
May 15th 2016
Have I Seen This Show Before?
I don’t really watch The Walking Dead anymore (other than that one time), and haven’t gotten around to watching Fear the Walking Dead, so I haven’t had a reason to watch the after show.
The after show follows more or less the same path each episode. There is a host and a mixture of guests that discuss the episode. Fan interaction is involved, either through live or emailed questions, social media is heavily involved, and often so is fan art. If a cast or crew member is a guest, they will get asked questions about the show going forward, and then finally a preview for the next week’s episode will be shown. Each show may have their own little take on all of this, but effectively that is what happens.
This type of show has proven especially beneficial to high concept genre programs, which often have a lot to unpack in a given episode. Teen Wolf had its own version with Wolf Watch, Falling Skies had one with 2nd Watch, and Game of Thrones finally joined the fray with the recently premiered After the Thrones. Hell, even anime got into the fray last season with Crunchyroll’s Erased: Group Watch (uhh they could have at least tried to give it a real name liked seriously it could have be Recovered or like Erase Watch literally anything, but that). In a way, these shows have come to symbolize the shifting trends in television criticism. The episode-by-episode written review has really started to go out of favor. Sure, it still exists, but it always feels like an inefficient method of written analysis. (Hell, that’s the entire reason I do this column–instead of focusing all my time on one show’s minutiae, I can survey a bunch of different shows and track trends in the industry as a whole.) Television and podcasts, however, have proven much different, as both have increasingly become strong venues for such discussions. Why?
First, to some extent podcasts, but especially the television shows have proven to be a new way to cultivate your connection with a show and experience water cooler talk in a TV world that mostly lacks the kind of universally watched shows that in the past would dominate everyday conversation, such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, The Sopranos, or maybe the last couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. Part of that is simply the aforementioned fracturing and niche-ifying of television; but another factor is that people’s methods of watching TV are changing, too. Binge watching is now a huge part of the television experience, and that can mean that people are not watching a show until far after it is over, or in the case of Netflix, the exact opposite, watching a season over a weekend, and then never really talking about it again after a week or so. Part of the reason Mr. Robot was such a big deal last year is that it really looks like it has a chance to join the ranks of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and if you stretch the definition a bit, The Big Bang Theory and maybe Shondaland as a show that can really move the cultural needle for more than one day or week. So networks turn to other methods of making shows seem as much an event as possible while they are still on the air. One such method are these after shows like The Talking Dead, which add another layer of importance and connection for fans of a show. Which is why it seems increasingly likely that any show that could possibly invoke an event-like atmosphere could at some point have an after show that helps cultivate that image. Not to mention the bonus of retaining some of a hit show’s viewership for another half hour (or in The Talking Dead‘s case, an honestly way too long hour), crucial in this era of overall decline in TV ratings.
Second, these shows have proven effective because they air immediately after the recent episode premieres (with the exception of After the Thrones, which is why it is unclear how well the show has been able to do so far). This allows for instant interaction and analysis for fans, who can immediately ponder questions from an episode with fellow fans on-screen. The host’s or hosts’ job is to make the audience feel like they are your friend; just like you enjoy talking to your friends about a show, you’ll also watch your friends talk about it on TV. (This is even more important in the era of niche, where you might not have any real life friends who watch the same shows you do.) Chris Hardwick of The Talking Dead has proven a master at this. Hardwick has an authenticity that makes this idea work especially well on this show, and it’s part of why Hardwick has been able to form his own pop culture empire in recent years (too bad it was only made necessary by the destruction of G4) He is able to get his Talking Dead guests to talk to him easily, and in this episode he does a great job of talking to Jim Gaffigan, Tamera Mowry-Housley, and cast member from Fear the Walking Dead Mercedes Masohn (she plays Ofelia). The atmosphere this week was calm and inviting, and the show is able to feel less like television and more like people just hanging out and talking. This lack of formality is hard to explain in writing, but is the perfect kind of way to discuss television on an episode-by-episode basis in the modern age.
Well, at least it should be. The problem is that most of these shows never get that deep in their analysis, nor do they ever really criticize what is happening. Part of this is a practical concern, because I doubt cast and crew really want to go on a show just to be told how it fucked something up. After the Thrones is the exception, because it doesn’t have cast and crew on and can pretty much do whatever they want and analyze the show as critically as they want to. (Of course, if the scheduling for Game of Thrones actually allowed for cast and/or crew to actually be on After the Thrones, that format would likely change pretty quickly.) That doesn’t mean these shows simply ask fluff questions. This episode of Talking Dead discussed key plot points involving Celia and Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), and the guests offered some fun insights into what they thought was happening with all the characters, but this is not a show that would comment upon, say, the repetitiveness of the storytelling (see below). Instead, it will praise the show for returning to common themes. So a lot of times these shows can be a bit too light and fluffy, which is the trade-off for getting unique insights from the cast and crew (this felt especially true for Talking Dead, which is once again, way too long). Still, these shows are supposed to be fun and inviting for all involved, so in that sense, the show does its job perfectly.
Ultimately, shows like Talking Dead take the idea of subjective interest to the highest level. The shows themselves don’t necessarily do anything that interesting, so unless you actually care about what is being discussed, your response to this type of show will be the same as if you are with a bunch of friends talking about a show that you don’t watch and thus have nothing to contribute to the conversation. But that’s okay. After shows exist to give fans another option for increasing their involvement with a show. Some dive all in, and want to hear or see anything they can related to a show they love while others prefer to simply take a casual interest. The fact that the world of TV is finally willing to acknowledge that not everything on the air has to be for everyone is a good thing, and this type of show is a lot of fun for people who simply want to be as much a part of the cultural conversation about a show as possible, especially once television finally figures out the exact relationship it wishes to have with online streaming.
Of course, to watch this episode of Talking Dead, I needed to watch the Fear the Walking Dead episode proceeding it. So I will offer some brief thoughts on Season 2, Episode 6, ‘Sicut Cervus’. These thoughts are… umm, it’s fine. Look, the world of The Walking Dead is a hit-or-miss proposition. Its nihilistic viewpoint means it can really only tell a finite number of stories. Sure, the two shows can tell different versions of those stories, and those different versions can be interesting, but at its core, both programs are still just repeating themselves over and over again. A group of survivors struggle to survive until they think they have found a safe haven, and then something goes wrong, so they move on and struggle to survive somewhere else, rinse, repeat. This can lead to good storytelling, but man, it can grow repetitive. It doesn’t help that this episode basically recreates the exact same situation that occurred in the second season of The Walking Dead. In both shows, the groups find an idyllic farm that seems like a safe haven. On The Walking Dead, the promise of safety was dashed when they realized the person in charge of the farm made a very poor decision in terms of dealing with the zombies. The exact same thing seems poised to occur in Fear the Walking Dead–in both shows, zombies being kept alive together because the head of the household doesn’t want to kill them. The reasoning is somewhat different, but it is basically the same damn story.
At least it is an evolution of the story and unlike the flagship show this one seems to be moving much faster as these story beats will likely be hit in 2-3 episodes as opposed to an entire season. In The Walking Dead, Hershel (Scott Wilson) simply didn’t have it in him to put down people he knew and loved, while on the spin-off, Celia (Marlene Forte) actually believes there is nothing wrong with the zombies. In her mind, people have always been dying, and this is just a different form of death that allows them to stay on this world. More troubling is the fact that she seems to be taking a page from Reed Richards from Marvel Zombies, believing that the zombies are simply what’s next for humanity. Now, she is thinking from a more spiritual than evolutionary perspective, but it’s still a crazy viewpoint, and one that should lead to some fascinating stories going forward. It’ll be interesting to see FTWD try to add some religious discussion into a universe that has long since moved past such ideas. This week’s episode was enjoyable enough, even if it did feel repetitive. The cast for this show has a lot of diversity, which is very nice to see, and the dynamics feel like ones that would be potentially worth watching, compared to The Walking Dead, which is kind of out of ground to cover for its characters at this point. Overall, the show is fine, but there really isn’t much more worth talking about for this episode, as it failed the penultimate episode test (yep, I will never escape these) by focusing too much on being a table-setter for next week’s midseason finale. With one exception: mad props for the main bit of zombie killing in the episode. The group had to ward off a large group of recently zombified church parishioners, and did so with ease. It was really impressive, and shot very well. So mad props once again.
Notes and Observations
- It’s always fun to see actors from the shows being on the after show, because you can see how different or not not different they are from their characters. Case in point, Masohn was a delight to watch, as her silly and upbeat attitude is so different from Ofelia’s personality. It kind of made me sad that an actress with such energy is stuck in such a dour role (and don’t even get me started on my similar thinking for Alycia Debnam-Carey).
- I always find the actual sets and physical arrangements for these after shows fascinating. Most put their hosts in a chair and then the guests in couches, to further create a loose vibe for the guests while helping the host stand out. The psychology going on in these shows is kind of brilliant, honestly. Every part is a bit of pseudo-manipulation.
Episode Grade: Umm, I don’t really think there is a way to grade a show like this. It was fine for what it is. I guess I can give a grade to the Fear the Walking Dead episode that was discussed. So ‘Sicut Cervus’ was good enough, even if it did demonstrate that The Walking Dead franchise is going in weird circles by recreating basically the same storyline from season 2 of The Walking Dead in the spinoff, albeit with some intriguing twists. So I guess the episode gets a B-.
Will I watch more?
Hmm, this kind of depends on if I watch more Fear the Walking Dead (The Walking Dead is basically, uhh, dead to me…), which is possible. I am slightly intrigued about what is going to happen, and I find this version of the show far more interesting than the original. Still, even then it kind of seems doubtful, as like I previously wrote, shows like Talking Dead are really only worth watching if you really love the show such a show is covering, and well, that is not The Walking Dead franchise for me.
That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. With the major networks mostly done with their current seasons after this week (outside of a couple of CW outliers like The Flash and Arrow), TV Roulette is going to go on a bit of a break as I rebuild the list with shows from the summer season of television, plus add in some twists to help bolster the numbers for the wheel to choose from. While this feature is away, I’ll have some other things that will fill the television gap, so check back next week to see what I mean. Until then, remember, don’t eat the Communion wafer. It won’t end well.