Wednesday, 29 June 2011

#22 Community, Epidemiology: TV Shows That Need More Zombies

One of the great things about being self-employed and working from home is that you very quickly become familiar with a number of sitcoms you weren’t familiar with before. I’m still a full four episodes off finishing the first season of the Wire, but in the space of a fortnight I’ve brought myself fully up to date with campus sitcom, Community.

For those who don’t know it, it’s a series about discredited lawyer Jeff Winger being forced to go to a community college after his BA is revealed be a fake. He falls in with a study group of loveable misfits and hilarity ensues. It’s a fun series, while it has a few episodes that rely overly on characters passing The Idiot Ball, and it’s rife with geeky references, or Chris Candy, as I call it. While it has plenty of episodes set around typical sitcom and high school plots, these are interspersed with episodes based around a Dungeons and Dragons game, or a rogue space simulator, or, a staple of the geeky sitcom genre- a paintball episode (Community actually has three).

However, for its Halloween special, the sixth episode of season two, Community went a step further with the geekiness. It actually just flat out had a zombie outbreak in the episode- it doesn’t explain it away or make it a dream sequence, for one episode, and one episode only, Community became a sci-fi horror. A sci-fi horror with an Abba soundtrack and one guy wearing a banana costume, but the point still stands. And it does it the same way Shaun of the Dead does- by playing the zombies straight and letting the characters tell the story.

This brings me back to a point I somehow never get bored of making- that in the zombie apocalypse genre the zombies exist just as a catalyst to see how the characters react. They’re good as that sort of catalyst, because we all know the zombie rules more or less, and so we’re able to keep the camera firmly on the survivors.

Community isn’t the first to do something like this- the Simpsons had an out-of-continuity zombie story for their Halloween special one year, and the Smurfs did a version of a 28 days later style plague with The Purple Smurfs decades ago (Based on a comic which actually predates Night of the Living Dead, but which is usually forgotten because the “Infected” smurfs aren’t purple, but black).

This got me thinking about which other TV series could use a zombie apocalypse episode to spice things up. And because I hate having to think of things, I recruited the Internet for some suggestions as well. Of course, the first few suggestions were all hilarious- Newsnight, the Antiques Roadshow, Waking the Dead (Although seeing Boyd and Dr. Foley fighting zombies would actually be pretty badass). But then, we got to the televisual genius...


This one should be a no-brainer really, and not just because we’ve seen what a badass zombie killer Greg House M.D. makes in this dream sequence. It’s because we know exactly how House would respond to zombies- he’d want to know what’s causing it. Since zombie movies are usually pretty shut-mouthed about the cause of the outbreak, this could get interesting, especially as the outbreak gets worse. Imagine all the microscope peering scenes in I Am Legend, only instead of The Last Man on Earth, it’s House and his team bickering the whole time.

On top of that, one theme zombie stories frequently return to is how far our ethics will bend in the face of human extinction. Given how bendy House’s ethics are anyway, we can expect stuff that’ll make the lab in Day of the Dead look like a petting zoo.


Okay, let’s make it clear from the start, when we’re talking about a zombie episode of Glee, we are definitely not talking about their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is an entirely different interpretation of how things can return from the dead a mangled, revolting version of what they once were. We’re talking about an episode where real zombies rise and invade the school with lots of songs on the run leading to a climax when they discover Kurt's falsetto can explode zombie heads. This idea came from Anil Godigamuwe.

CSI/CSI: New York/CSI: Miami

Yes, I’m imagining a massive three way crossover for this story, all over the world the dead are rising from the grave, but the CSIs still have a job to do, even if their corpses keep wandering away from the crime scene. Of course, each series would have their own approach to the zombie menace.

In vanilla CSI Grissom (They’d bring Grissom back for this, I’m sure of it) would notice interesting parallels between the zombie epidemic and the effects of a certain mind controlling fungus on ants

In CSI: New York we would see how the zombie apocalypse has caused all sorts of zombie-related subcultures, including at least one fetish group and an underground urban zombie killing sport. Mac, Danny and Lindsay would of course do some serious zombie killing.  Jo Danville would die in the most painful and gory way possible, probably while dispensing some sort of folksy wisdom.

By the opening of CSI: Miami Horatio Caine would already be the only survivor, climbing a hillside made up of the corpses of his team mates. From atop his mountain of corpses, he would spot a figure running up the street. In one swift movement Caine would shoot the figure dead without checking to see if it was a zombie, while simultaneously swiping up his sunglasses with his other hand and placing them on his nose before saying “Looks like I got you, dead to rights.” (Click this now. DO IT.)

Mad Men
Even as zombies they will look better than you
This was another suggestion, this time from Tom Hunter. Now, like I said, working from home has got me completely caught up on Community, while still four episodes away from finishing the first season of The Wire- so as you can probably guess I’ve not seen Mad Men yet. All I know about it is that everyone wears amazing outfits, it makes smoking and misogyny look cool and that it has the sexy con-artist lady from Firefly in it. Having listed all these things I can’t really tell you why I haven’t seen Mad Men yet, the only possible reason I can come up with is that it doesn’t feature a zombie apocalypse. Well dressed misogynist zombies! Who doesn’t want to see that?

Gilmore Girls
I work it out as, starting top left, lives, lives, dies, dies, dies, lives, dies, dies, dies, lives, lives, lives... ummm... dies.
Okay, so Gilmore Girls has finished- but hope still abounds for the movie version!
The trouble is, making the jump from TV to Cinema is a difficult one. You need a story that feels bigger than just an extra long TV episode- you need to raise the stakes and make everything feel just a bit more epic than before. Many TV series have done this really really badly by simply assuming it’s enough to put their character in a different location- usually Ibiza. This always results in a terrible, terrible movie. However, you know what would work?

Yeah I’m going to skip the rest of my preamble and say it’s a zombie apocalypse. This would be great for Gilmore Girls, because as the series has developed we’ve come to care not just about the eponymous girls, but the entire community of Stars Hollow. You know what that means? Lots of characters who the audience cares about, but who are expendable enough to be killed off!
Can’t you just see it as the community is, bit by bit, forced to retreat to the Inn? I can see Lorelai generating a real Ripley vibe when it comes to the crunch, and Luke, being a generally aimless slacker, will of course end up saving the day (because if zombie movies teach us nothing else, it’s that generally aimless slackers are the best at fighting zombies). Kirk, I’m sorry to say, is probably a dead man, and Lorelai’s parents will likely meet a dignified, but inevitably grizzly end. However, I imagine Lane and Michel will discover previously unsuspected levels of combat badassery.

Come on! You know it makes sense! One of the writers, Jane Espenson, even has extensive experience writing about the undead for the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

Now, returning to the episode of Community that triggered off this fountain of television genius, it’s time to play the drinking game.

Do the characters spend most of the story under siege in some manner of building? Yes, the building being Greendale Community College- particularly their study room.
Are the people coming to rescue you incompetent or more dangerous than the zombies? It’s hinted the army is planning kill everyone off, and it takes them six hours to get there, by which point the crisis has been resolved. So take two shots.
Is mankind the real monster? There is plenty of infighting, and Jeff does point out he likes one character better as a zombie. So let’s take a shot.
Are the zombies walking dead (No, just infected) who move slowly (One shot) and can only be killed by destroying the brain? (Someone does mention the importance of destroying the brain, so take one shot)
Do the dead rise regardless of whether they were “infected”? Nope.

1 comment:

  1. You had me hooked at the self-employed and sit-coms bit ;)