“Talking Dead” exists for one simple reason. “The Walking Dead” attracts such a huge, avid audience that AMC can throw on a talk show about it and still get decent ratings, for a fraction of the cost. Nobody should expect or harbor any illusions about it being “Meet the Press.”
Still, the show continues to treat its viewers as if they’re as mindless as the zombies who populate the mother ship. Or worse, treat a fan base that’s obviously pretty sophisticated and diverse as if they were all teenage groupies.
Chris Hardwick’s role as host is obviously intended to be one of unbridled enthusiasm. But after the weeks of speculation prompted by the “Is Glenn dead?” story line, there were all sorts of questions he could have asked – without being negative or accusatory – instead of just acting as a cheerleader and apologist.
“The story we were telling was one of uncertainty,” explained showrunner Scott M. Gimple, regarding the extended doubt the show cultivated about the fate of Glenn (Steven Yeun). Still, the resolution of that plot (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) left a number of unanswered questions, most involving the extent to which the producers went out of their way to at the very least misdirect the audience, and potentially mislead it.
So instead of just reading breathless tweets from people who were overjoyed that Yeun’s character had miraculously survived, how about any of the following questions: Why did you feel it necessary to expunge Yeun’s name from the credits? What did you hope to accomplish by issuing that rather cryptic statement about again seeing “some version of Glenn, or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story,” as opposed to just staying mum?
Because armed with hindsight, silence really would have been golden. And while a bit of artistic license is understandable, one needn’t be a nitpicker to feel that even a show about zombies shouldn’t become the TV version of the boy who cried wolf.
But no, there was nothing even remotely like that. As close as Hardwick came was putting on a mock voice of someone who might have complained “Why were you trying to trick me?,” only to dismiss that out of hand.
In theory, and as a matter of commerce, introducing “Talking Dead” was a brilliant maneuver. With all the social interaction devoted to the program after each episode, why not tap into that, and the few million fans still hungry for more?
This isn’t a call for Hardwick to conduct a wholesale grilling. He isn’t a journalist (although in terms of adding a modicum of sobriety to the conversation, occasionally including a few of them among the third-party voices would help immeasurably), and everyone knows where the bread’s being buttered. Frankly, the show usually feels like 40 minutes of filler to get to the 90-second clip for the following week.
Still, amid this modern TV renaissance, viewers have demonstrated that they can handle a more elevated level of discourse than this. And just because talk – or in this case, “Talking” – is cheap doesn’t mean that it also has to be empty.