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Why The Walking Dead is the best show on television

My wife and I don’t agree on everything. Jodi Picoult, mushrooms and Strictly Come Dancing are just several of the things that have been known to come between us. Fortunately we have a shared taste when it comes to American TV series, which perhaps helps account for the fact we are about to celebrate ten years of marriage.

There are a few minor niggles. My wife doesn’t rate The Shield quite as highly as I do (not quite as good as The Wire, in her book; far superior, in mine: The Wire, like The Godfather trilogy, diluted its brilliance with its final Act, whereas The Shield just got better and better). She also has an affection for Prison Break that I find baffling. It was OK, I thought, though I could happily have stopped watching at any point without noticing any particular hole in my weekday evenings.

On the whole, however, we are in agreement. The West Wing was genius, as was Oz, Dexter and True Detective. Neither of us liked Breaking Bad enough to get beyond the fly episode in series three, and we were both frankly mystified by the acclaim the re-make of House of Cards received. Ditto Mad Men, which started strongly and then got just, well, dull.

So you would think that, when it came to the best US television show ever made, we would be cosily sitting down to watch together. Far from it. When I watch The Walking Dead, I watch alone.

I try to explain. Forget about the zombies, I say. They’re just a metaphor. I mean, a pretty cool metaphor, with gore and guts and some really unsettling dentistry, but a metaphor nonetheless. The Walking Dead is about people. Living, breathing people (until they get chewed to death by a herd of marauding walkers, that is) and their struggle, in a decaying world, to cling on to their humanity. It’s good versus evil, on the most personal scale imaginable. It’s about moral choices, and love and loss, and family. All that stuff Jodi Picoult writes about, in fact.

But my wife just sort of grimaces. Yeah, she says, maybe. But I’m really not interested in zombies.

THEY’RE A METAPHOR! I scream, throwing my hands into the air. And the whole debate begins anew.

To no avail. I am now resigned to the fact that, until my kids get older, I’m the only one in my family who appreciates The Walking Dead’s brilliance. (My five-year-old would love it, incidentally, but apparently I’m not allowed to let him watch it. That would be bad parenting, apparently.)

And what brilliance. The acting, the action, the story arcs, the humour. The tragedy, in a heightened, Shakespearean sense. All the elements are there that collectively take The Walking Dead to the top of my otherwise ever-shifting list of all-time favourite US television box sets. As a recent feature in the Guardian put it, it’s ‘telly that has you glued to your seat while simultaneously making you squirm in your shorts’.

Take the current series, for example, which airs on Fox in the UK on Monday nights. Did you see the opening episode?? For my money that was the most exciting 43 minutes of television since Thomas Magnum went gunning for Quang Ki. The great Stephen King was less impressed with episode two (less talk, more zombie-killin’, he implored on Twitter) but I reckon we were all entitled to a breather after what we went through the previous week.

So for goodness sake don’t let the zombies put you off. I’ll keep trying with my wife, but chances are she’ll continue to miss out. Just as I’m missing out, probably, when it comes to Jodi Picoult, because the truth is I’ve never read one of her novels. I have watched Strictly Come Dancing, however, and I’ve also eaten mushrooms, and I will defend my judgement of both until the death. As I will my opinion of The Walking Dead. It is, quite simply, the finest show on television.

Got a comment? Contact me here. Or, send me a tweet @Simon_Lelic.

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2014 at 9:01 am

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