Dave on Demand: 'The Walking Dead' cranks up the gore - and its audience

Dominic Chianese appeared Sunday as Judge Marx on "The Good Wife," above, and as Leander Cephas Whitlock on "Boardwalk Empire." JEFFREY NEIRA / CBS (top), MACALL B. POLAY
Dominic Chianese appeared Sunday as Judge Marx on "The Good Wife," above, and as Leander Cephas Whitlock on "Boardwalk Empire." JEFFREY NEIRA / CBS (top), MACALL B. POLAY (JEFFREY NEIRA / CBS (top), MACALL B. POLAY)
Posted: October 21, 2012

Now, of course, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was one of those who complained that last season  of The Walking Dead, which transpired mostly on bucolic Greene Farm, was too civilized. "Too much walking, not enough dead," I wrote.

I imagine I'm going to feel pretty stupid about making that statement - just as soon as I get over the lingering nausea that this week's grotesque gorefest induced. The Season 3 opener was like an X-rated grindhouse film, with a body count higher than the Rose Bowl's.

"But Dave," you may ask, "isn't killing zombies the whole point of this show?"

Well, yes, but previously there was always a terrified survivalist edge to the way our overmatched band of survivors dispatched these lumbering predators.

But in this episode, when Rick and his troupe began mowing down the zombies fenced in that prison yard like fish in a barrel, it seemed a lot more like sport - right down to the whooping celebrations.

And the new poles our heroes have adapted specifically to drop zombies at close range (I'm trying really hard not to be graphic) struck me as a particularly cold method of execution. More like extermination, really.

And the portions were so large. Welcome to the abattoir of Season 3. There will be blood.

The good news is that AMC has stumbled across TV's Holy Grail: the formula for attracting young adults. This episode of The Walking Dead drew more 18-to-49-year-olds than any nonsporting event this year. For programming executives, this is the equivalent of discovering Brigadoon.

The secret turned out to be surprisingly simple: Fashion a TV show that looks exactly like an MA-rated video game. This was a barely modified first-person shooter adventure, annoyingly broken up with commercials.

In fact, if you go back and look at the scenes where Rick and the boys are clearing the cell blocks - especially when the zombie prison guards in riot gear show up - it looks eerily like the Nazi zombie level of Call of Duty: World of War.

Finally, the key to the audience that has stubbornly eluded TV for decades: Kill shots to the head, nothing but kill shots to the head.

Fakin' it. This week, Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari, veterans of MTV's reality show Laguna Beach and its more popular sequel, The Hills, separately revealed that the shows staged a lot of scenes and, in both their cases, dramatized and exaggerated their romances with Brody Jenner.

Shocking, right? But also encouraging. It means that maybe Brody's father, Bruce, is also just playing a role and isn't really dumbfoundingly under the spell of the crass Kardashians.

Two places at once. This week, Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior on The Sopranos) committed one of show business' cardinal sins: double booking himself.

On Sunday, he reprised his role as Leander Cephas Whitlock on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, informing Gillian (Gretchen Mol) in no uncertain terms that she has reached the end of her financial rope.

At the very same time over on CBS's The Good Wife, Chianese was playing Judge Marx, who was hard of hearing and out of touch when it suited him and sharp and extremely well-informed when he preferred to be.

Which role was better? Well, despite Leander's impressively rococo facial hair, his turn as Marx was spry and crafty.

Did I do that? When Animal Practice was canceled by NBC on Thursday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cited a campaign it had started that resulted in 40,000 letters to the network and sponsors protesting the show.

Yeah, that was probably what killed this series, not the fact that the simpy sitcom was finishing dead last in its time slot, lower even than the CW.

PETA bragging about its role in the cancellation is like me taking credit for the U.S. Olympic team's medals because I was rooting for it.


Contact David Hiltbrand

at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv.

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