It takes more than legions of book and graphic novel fans to turn a popular written work into a ratings winner. See: HBO's fangtastic vampire series, True Blood, whose fans haven't necessarily read the Sookie Stackhouse books.
So here's a warning right up front about this zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead, premiering at 10 p.m. on Halloween: There's no crazy zombie sex, and not a single hunky zom-boy in the bunch. And every one of them looks as if they spent several years locked up in a crackhouse. Never mind the ones missing most of their body parts.
Those rabid Dead heads will spend untold hours debating whether the series lives up to the revered novel by Robert Kirkman. But I'd never even heard of the graphic novel, despite several excursions to Comic Con. So this creature feature needs to stand on its own.
All I needed to jump on the bandwagon was seeing the opening minutes with taciturn sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) coming up against a zombie in bunny slippers. Scary with a touch of humor, just the way I like my horror.
Zombies seem more suited to a movie setting than an ongoing series. They aren't exactly compelling, and that's what drew in viewers who made True Blood a true hit based almost entirely on the sizzling hot skin mambo that occurs every week.
So how does The Walking Dead stack up against True Blood?
Blood sport runs rampant in both series. Neither is for the squeamish. Zombies feed on human flesh. Victims come back as mutilated corpses. Vampires gorge themselves on blood, while other supernatural creatures rip the entrails out of people who become tasty snacks. It's a tie between these two series when it comes to grossest gore.
True Blood verges on soft porn. Vamps have personalities, Zombies have none. Zoms can't even talk, walk like they've got a load in their pants and generally avoid even basic hygiene. Vamps may lack a pulse and have a body temp best suited for Siberia, but they can stoke up the fire in most humans. There's not much action taking place on Dead, but Shane and Lori doing the nasty in the zombie-infested woods held the promise of some titillating encounters in the future. Still, gotta give this one to Blood.
You can take one zombie on, but in a group they can be intimidating. Heck, they fillet large animals with ease when they go into a feeding frenzy. But a human can easily outrun them before getting a chance to bash in their catatonic brains. Vamps can leave the scene before the last drop of blood hits the ground. A person couldn't grab the silver or garlic fast enough to stop a vampire, which makes them much more likely to suck the life out of you. True Blood supernatural threat trumps Walking Dead.
As it turns out, there aren't a lot of true humans in True Blood, with even Sookie having fairy blood coursing through her veins. But Walking Dead is all about human interaction and how they react when faced with annihilation. If you're looking for people struggling to survive and maintain their humanity, go with Walking Dead.
Jason Stackhouse offers some of the most unintentional chuckles in a largely humorless series. But Dead has the wit of Glenn (Steven Yeun), who constantly delivers lines that lighten the dark drama. When Rick devises a crazy plan to get past the zombies, Glenn responds "If bad ideas were an Olympic event, this one would win the gold." In between the fighting for your life stuff, Walking Dead gives more laughs per episode than True Blood offers in an entire season.
Final score? The zombies only provide the motivation for these scrappy survivors to change and move forward in relationships. Vampires and werewolves are much more interesting creatures when interacting with humans, but focusing on the people has its advantages. Can't wait for the next Dead episodes to find out what happens, but don't count on me going to the comic book store any time soon to check out the graphic novels. This is a series that stands on its own.