Ellen Gray: Zombie carnage distracts from deeper themes in 'Walking Dead'

Posted: October 12, 2012

* THE WALKING DEAD: 9 p.m. Sunday, AMC.

WATCHING AMC's "The Walking Dead" always reminds me I was the girl who skimmed over most of the war parts in War and Peace.

I slowed down for the love stories, the family drama, the society stuff, much of which is really delicious, but the battles and the military strategy left me cold.

Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece is a much shorter read that way, of course, and it's possible that my ideal version of "The Walking Dead" would be shorter, too, with fewer zombies and even fewer scenes in which these unfortunate former human beings are cut down by the only slightly luckier human survivors.

I'm not stupid enough, though, to think my version would be nearly as big a hit.

And as "The Walking Dead" enters the first half of its third season Sunday - eight episodes now, eight more starting in February - I'm trying to make my peace with that.

But it's hard.

For a show that speaks so eloquently to the things that do and do not make us human, it runs through an awful lot of zombies.

And there's something a little soul-deadening about watching them cut down.

What keeps me watching is that while I know there's a portion of the audience that gets off on the carnage, the show is still about people who are at least conscious of what all this violence, however necessary it might be, is doing to their own humanity.

Fans of the Robert Kirkman comic-book series probably won't be surprised that Season 3 begins with a prison break-in (though fans of "Prison Break" may be amused to see Sarah Wayne Callies back inside in a different context).

Plenty of new challenges await the survivors, led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), whose performance as a man who's had ruthlessness thrust upon him continues to be a series highlight.

There are scenes between Lincoln and Callies that literally give me goose bumps.

Which is something I'm not ever going to feel about the zombies.

'Homeland' hits home

There are things far more terrifying than zombies at work in Showtime's "Homeland."

The third episode of the season premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday, a nail-biter of an hour that shows just how well producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon have managed to sustain the admittedly outlandish concept that a Marine-turned-congressman (Damian Lewis) could be working hand in hand with terrorists while the CIA continues to make use of a former operative (Claire Danes) who recently spent time in a mental hospital.

In both cases, "Homeland" does it by bringing both those characters into situations that you don't have to be a terrorist - or bipolar - to identify with and, by the end, making their frustrations our own.

It's a tightwire act, and I don't know how long "Homeland" can maintain that precarious balance. But while it does, it's by far the best show on television.

'See Dad'? Run

You can go home again.

Just don't be surprised if it's not the way you remember it.

In Nick at Nite's new sitcom "See Dad Run" (8 p.m. Sunday), Scott Baio returns to the same soundstage where he first played Chachi Arcola in "Happy Days."

Whether you'll be happy to see him there probably depends on your tolerance for laugh tracks and toilet humor.

In "See Dad Run," Baio plays David Hobbs, a sitcom actor coming off a 10-year run as America's favorite dad. Now his actress wife Amy (Alanna Ubach), home with the kids while he was working, wants him to stay home so she can return to her old soap opera.

At least one of his three non-sitcom children (who, of course, look exactly like sitcom children) is aghast.

"He doesn't know anything about raising a daughter!" his older daughter (Ryan Newman) tells her mother.

"I think Entertainment Weekly might disagree with you about that," he replies.

Mark Curry ("Hangin' With Mr. Cooper") plays his best friend, Marcus, who lives, conveniently, across the street and is one of at least a half-dozen people charged with reminding David Hobbs that most of his parenting memories are fictional. As far as I can see, it's his only job.

That I can tell you the second episode contains the longest-running fart joke I've encountered in years should tell you just how far I'm willing to go to do mine.


Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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