Hint: the answer is not "Send more paramedics."
The Walking Dead arrived on AMC last year to thunderous fanfare from critics and fans alike, and then sort of… died off. (Sorry.) Though it garnered enormous ratings for its first few episodes and had everyone frothing at the mouth over its mix of cinematic production, deep human drama, and, you know, fucking zombies, dude, fans began abandoning the show as its season plodded on through high-minded moralizing (though the finale did draw a record number of viewers). Here are some gentle suggestions for the makers, should they want to avoid the same pitfalls during The Walking Dead's second season, which premieres Sunday.
5. Keep things moving
Going back over season one, I was shocked to remember that the group was only in the CDC for one episode… because it felt like forever. Jenner was a great character, but keeping the walking dead out of their own show is a misstep. Obviously, much of the show's appeal comes from the humanity of the survivors, but to isolate them too much and put the focus on the internal conflicts of the group makes the show drag. Keep the drama grounded by keeping its context at the fore.
4. Keep track of your plotlines
Remember Merle? The crazy sumbitch that sawed through his own arm to escape, then stole the group's van because he just. Did. Not. Give. A. Fuck. I remember him, and chances are a lot of the other viewers do, but apparently the creators of the show don't — you'd be hard-pressed to find any further hint at his existence after the aforementioned van incident. Obviously, in a show of this scope, there are going to be loose threads — it's a common hazard in any sweeping drama (The Sopranos episode "Pine Barrens" is an example of such a lost plot thread — and David Chase doesn't care, either), but you can't Chekhov's gun the audience and then forget about it. Hopefully he gets brought back (in some capacity other than having Norman Reedus occasionally mention him), but the narrative gap caused by his absence wasn't a small one, and it shouldn't get repeated.
3. Balance the intellectual with the visceral (or viscera)
People love seeing zombies get killed. Period. (And this can happen in such an endless variety of gloriously disgusting ways!) The Walking Dead needs to remember that that's an easy way to please viewers. The show is walking a fine line. On one hand, it revels in gore, but on the other, it wants to be better than that. There's some deep shit going on with these people, and don't you forget it. I'm not saying season one completely failed to manage that balancing act, but it did tip into wordiness at points. The high/low juxtaposition of ordinary folk moralizin' and brutal zombie slaughter is riveting when it delivers, and season two's success depends on maintaining that.
2. Drop some laughter in there
I understand that a show about the zombie apocalypse is not going to be a zany laugh-fest (to dig deep into my bag of television-critic cliches). But there is such a thing as gallows humor, and The Walking Dead should lift its veil of seriousness every once in a while to whistle past the graveyard, or at the very least sing in the rain (of blood, obviously). Glenn, in particular, offered much of season one's comedic relief, and there were some great moments (the women of the group joking about missing their vibrators was funny and oddly touching) that went a long way to balance out the show's dire mood. Season two needs more moments like that to even things out tonally.
1. Don't lose sight of the source material
The Walking Dead was adapted for a reason: it's an incredible graphic novel. Obviously, there are compromises that need to made for the transition to television, and the show has already toyed with moving around characters and chronologies to suit the medium (or maybe just because they could). With the series' creator Robert Kirkman on staff, this won't be as big a problem as it could have been, but I'm still hoping some of my favorite plot lines and "oh shit" moments from the comics won't fall by the wayside. In particular, I'm holding out hope that Michonne, the samurai sword-wielding femme fatale from the comics, gets placed into the show sooner rather than later.