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Stream It Or Skip It?


Believe it or not, The Walking Dead franchise has been around for 12 years now, and with the original series set to conclude in November, the franchise itself is still in good shape. Fear The Walking Dead is still going strong, and there are three other series in the works (World Beyond only lasted two seasons). Now Scott Gimple and company have created an anthology series that can tell lots of different stories that happened during and after the zombie apocalypse.

Opening Shot: A man is watching an old Ohio State football game; his dog is at his side.

The Gist: Tales Of The Walking Dead is an anthology series that tell one-episode stories set within the Walking Dead universe, at various times during the zombie apocalypse.

In the first episode, Joe (Terry Crews), a survivalist who seems to be perfectly OK in his bunker, 405 days after things went sideways, gets extremely lonely after his faithful Doberman succumbs to what this episode calls the “toe tags.” He goes back to internet chats he had with a fellow survivalist, who was building her own bunker, and decides that he should get on his modified motorcycle and go to where he thinks she is in Michigan.

Along the way, he gets trapped by Evie (Olivia Munn), a fellow survivalist. She’s more in the crunchy granola vein, not eating meat but growing her own weed. She keeps him tied up because she doesn’t trust anyone who is out among the toe tags. She wants to steal his bike in order to find her husband, but Joe tells her he installed a kill switch. So she takes him with her at gunpoint, and as they go on the road, singing Charlie Pride songs and fighting walkers, they learn to trust each other, which comes in handy at an opportune moment.

In the second episode, Blair (Parker Posey) is the owner of an insurance agency who wants to take advantage of the feat generated by the strange goings on in and around Atlanta. Her downtrodden receptionist Gina (Jillian Bell) keeps taking her abuse. But when Blair goes off on a trip with her fiancé, she sees Gina at a gas station when she should be in the office. When Blair confronts Gina, they see the first evidence that things are going south in a hurry. But when a catastrophic accident happens, they both are surprised to find themselves back in the office with the chance to make different choices.

Tales Of The Walking Dead
Photo: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Tales Of The Walking Dead of course is part of the Walking Dead universe, but these stories have more of an Amazing Stories-with-zombies tone. It certainly isn’t nearly as creepy as other anthology series we’ve seen, whether it’s The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror.

Our Take: It feels like the theme of Tales Of The Walking Dead is how the zombie apocalypse brings unlikely pairs of people together. Sure, showrunner Channing Powell and her writers throw the walkers out there, and the theme of “the people are more dangerous than the zombies” has been an overriding theme of the TWD franchise since day one. But with Tales, it definitely feels like Powell and company are looking for a little bit of sunshine through all the grimness.

We certainly appreciate the various storytelling methods used, ones that the franchise’s other three series just couldn’t attempt. The first episode is basically a road trip story, and the second one is essentially Groundhog Day. There’s also a musical episode on the horizon. All of these storytelling methods suggest that the stumbling biters are going to be even less of a factor than they sometimes are during the other three shows. No, it’s more about the people than anything else, with the walkers only being a relatively minor obstacle they have to overcome.

As with most anthology series, the stories vary a bit in quality. When you have only 42 minutes to tell a story, things get skipped. We would have liked to have seen a few more details in the Joe/Evie story, and the Blair/Gina story suffers from being penned in by the fact that the tanker Gina tries to steal has to explode for things to reset.

But the episodes are worth watching because of the performances. Can you believe Terry Crews as a survivalist? Sure. But Olivia Munn? Probably not. They sell it quite well, though, and both of them develop a believable rapport that made us buy into this unusual buddy road story in such short order. Posey starts off making Blair as silly and obnoxious as any of Posey’s other privileged characters; she and Bell make the hate that flows between them palpable. But as they go through their iterations, both come closer to actually being human characters, which is right in time for them to face what everyone is going to face.

Sex and Skin: None.

Parting Shot: Well, the last scene of the Joe/Evie episode has both Joe and Evie, and that’s all we’ll tell you.

Sleeper Star: The Joe/Evie episode features a lamb — really! — whom we don’t know is real or CGI. Either way, it’s damn cute.

Most Pilot-y Line: After battling some walkers together, Evie tells Joe that “I love you in bracelets, but…” and throws him the keys to the handcuffs she put him in. It’s supposed to be a cute line, but just feels forced.

Our Call: STREAM IT. As with most anthologies, your mileage may vary with Tales Of The Walking Dead, depending on which episode you watch. But the performances are entertaining enough to make up for some fractured storytelling and weird, overly positive vibe.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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