This Bird is a total TV Nerd, and I think two of the most unique series on television right now is one that caught my eye last year and one that shows a lot of promise this year -- AMC's zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead, and ABC's new contemporary fairy tale, Once Upon a Time. The interesting thing is, as different as they may seem, I actually find they're quite similar. What?! Flesh-eating zombies taking over the Flyover States with just a handful of survivors scraping by every day, paired with a bewitching fantasy series with gossamer-veiled visuals and a poisoned apple or two?
It sounds insane, I know. But oddly, as I was watching the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time, I couldn't help but draw conclusions with The Walking Dead. They're both series about fantastic, unreal situations -- undead wasteland and fairy tale figures trapped in "the real world," unable to remember their true selves and escape a curse. Not everyday situations, the lot of 'em. Yet all the characters are trapped in a very palpable state of sadness and feeling lost in their lives. Despite the fantasy world they inhabit, the heart of each character is weighed down with pathos that's very real, and it transcends a world of zombies or fairy princesses. Everyone is touched with the absence of a family member, abandonment by a parent, love gained and lost, a quest for purpose.
Series like these seem ridiculous if you describe them, but it's interesting how in desperate times, fantastic themes appear in storytelling. It's like we secretly crave the impossible to help manage our own anxiety over uncertain times. As incredulous as they appear on the surface, it's just the spoonful of sugar (or scariness) to help the medicine go down. That medicine being this overall sense of confusion and fear that's gripping people across the country, about our families, political leaders, and the stability of our jobs. It's easier to put the face of fear on a creepy horde of undead "walkers," and the tension of an unknown future living in a small, idyllic fairy tale town, trapped between the folds of time and reality.
It's in the worst of times where the basic deeds of human nature need to rise above the chaos, where hanging onto the smallest scrap of hope is what keeps us from the darkness. When all the imaginary foes are slayed at the end of an episode, the nagging reality of how we deal with the real people in our lives remain, but the way both series shine is that they seek to hang on to simple acts of humanity and kindness. And maybe that's why I put The Walking Dead and Once Upon a Time together at the top of my list for the year -- despite the odds, they insist there's still a happily ever after waiting for us someday.
Jaunty Fine Print: Images from IMDB.com and ABC website