Talking Dead

Talking Dead is the weirdest show on television right now. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the live talk show that takes place right after the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, in which charming nerd Chris Hardwick and an array of guests hash out the plot details and emotional fallout of the last hour of zombie soap opera you have just watched. The show grew from a half-hour at the beginning of the season to a full-hour, and tonight’s episode capped off what has been an eventful season—not just for zombies in post-apocalyptic Atlanta but also for what it means to be a fan of increasingly complex multi-season television.

It’s honestly wonderful to see a show so brilliantly speak to its fans. I am not a particular fan of The Walking Dead, but it’s hard to not be excited by the enthusiasm of the fans on Talking Dead—fans with various different types of appreciation for their show. Some are taking apart character arcs with a fine-toothed comb; others are gushing over the weaponry. 

Here’s the ultimate pitch for this show: If we want shows that are nuanced and complicated and weird, then we need shows like Talking Dead. To be exact, we need spaces like what Talking Dead provides—an open forum for geeking out, asking questions, and sounding off about characters and places we’ve grown to love. Talking Dead is AMC finally getting wind of what television viewers have been doing for so long and responding by providing an outlet on-air. It’s sort of beautiful, especially for a professional fan like myself. Regular fan-candy features on the show include “In Memoriam,” which recaps every death on the show, whether that is the gory eye-gouging of a nameless walker or the suicide of a beloved character. There’s a recurring behind-the-scenes featurette in which Hardwick shoots an M-16 or a crossbow and another in which the stunts and pyrotechnics crew share their tricks of the trade.

But the cornerstone of the show’s appeal is Hardwick’s banter with his guests, a rotating group that includes key actors, writers, and producers as well as celebrities who happen to be dedicated fans of the show. Hardwick himself is the fan, and his enthusiasm for the show is infectious. He offers questions garnered from social media, e-mail, and even telephone calls, embellishing them with his own observations and fan notes. At times, the fans seem to conflate the actors with the characters—at times, the actors themselves blur the line—but by and large, the conversation is lively and informed, guided deftly by Hardwick through weird callers and awkward pauses.

In the season finale I watched tonight, Hardwick’s guests are Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl), Chad Coleman (who plays Tyreese), and Yvette Nicole Brown, probably best known as Shirley from Community but known on Talking Dead for being a way intense hardcore fan of The Walking Dead. You might assume that from a fan’s perspective, the perspective of the actors or the producers would be the most valuable, but that’s so not the case. Brown steals the show as the excited, squeeing fan, gushing over certain shots, analyzing similarities between the graphic novels and the show, and ‘shipping like crazy—giving the audience a shot-for-shot breakdown of what she believes to have been a romantic moment with an attention to detail that would have made even Tumblr proud.

Talking Dead is probably too long. As fun and light as it is, it’s almost too light, though that is intended to be an antidote to the much heavier episodes of Walking Dead preceding it. But it also seems that Hardwick and his crew run out of material in the middle, relying a bit too hard on that kind of talk-show scat that feels like televisual junk food. It’s hard to find critical value in every moment of the show, and much like any other form of response to an episodic show, if the episode isn’t very good, it’s hard to find stuff to talk about. 

But then again, that’s the point—to talk through the show, to blow off steam through nerding out. Talking Dead is highly responsive—to the episode of Walking Dead that everyone has just watched, to the fans in the audience, to the viewers at home. It invites you to make your couch another forum for discussion, to delve into the details of a show that is worth delving into. If anything, in my mind Talking Dead’s major flaw is that The Walking Dead is not my particular gush-worthy show of choice—bring me your Game of Thrones, your Homeland, your Nashville, and yeah, I will be just as enthusiastic, sitting there and taking apart every important scene with tweezers and a magnifying glass.

I would not be terribly surprised to see shows like Talking Dead become the new normal. Essentially, fans want to talk about the story they have just experienced, and Talking Dead gives them an hour to do so, along with the ability to toss in phrases like “super epic” about what is obviously extremely epic—zombies, y’all! Above all it’s an opportunity to share being a fan with other people, and that can only be a good thing. But more than that, except for a few minor issues here and there, it’s a great execution of the idea—Hardwick is an excellent host, the show does a good job addressing many different types of fandom, and most importantly, it’s tailored to be a response to The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead alone. If there is a Mad Men reaction show or a Breaking Bad reaction show, the network would do well to remember that those fans, and therefore those responses, are going to be vastly different.

Stray observations:

  • Very cool to see fans calling in from Ohio, Arkansas, and Tennessee—even if that last guy was just a crazy person. Considering television critics can skew toward the coasts, it’s always interesting to hear underrepresented perspectives.
  • “LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. I WANNA SHIP. I WANNA SHIP!” Yvette Nicole Brown, ladies and gentlemen.
  • “Are those condoms filled with blood? If that happens in real life, you need to go to a hospital.”

More TV Club