REASON TO WATCH: Well, it is Halloween.
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday at 10 p.m. on AMC
Under a broad summer sky, with the woods on either side of an empty highway fully alive and inviting, a car approaches in the distance.
Closer . . . closer . . . a police car . . . the camera tracks back, revealing pieces of wreckage, devastation. A picture finally emerges: We and the cop driving the car, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), have entered a post-apocalyptic world where the dead walk and living run.
This story is largely about Grimes - a good cop wounded in the line of duty, who then wakes up in the hospital to witness unimaginable death and decay. He stumbles out to find his family, and greater horrors await. His family, a wife and little boy, are gone. But where? He sets out in search of them, and a new series begins.
"The Walking Dead" is a good, old-fashioned horror-genre flick/series, without pretension or - for that matter - much of a message, either. The press materials prominently quote Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic book on which it is based: "In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living." Don't know about you, but I don't need zombies stumbling around to remind me why life is so precious.
The show is often extravagant - there is a cast of thousands, most of them uncredited - but sometimes as aimless or dramatically unchallenged as the "walkers" themselves. One reason for that is the convention that tightly binds this particular idea, rendered so memorably by George Romero in "Night of the Living Dead." People have succumbed to a terrible fever, then - suddenly, horrifically - they awaken. They also happen to be very hungry. Living flesh is on the menu, but once they've worked their way through fat and meat, it's entrails for dessert. Horror buffs will appreciate the expertly choreographed culinary scenes; everyone else will need an airsickness bag.
Executive producer Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption") is wonderfully skilled at framing shots to achieve maximum horror effect. But the middle stretch tends to bog down. My advice - watch the first 25 minutes (they're really good), then go trick-or-treating.