How do you like your zombies?
Shambling and dazed, with a gift for sniffing out not-dead human flesh and a disturbing habit of looking almost alive? Or feral and furious, running toward fresh meat like the cast of Jersey Shore chasing down free drink tickets? • Forget the pouty, psychologically tortured bloodsuckers of True Blood and Vampire Diaries. The supernatural fiends in style on TV this All Hallows Eve are a different kind of undead, and you'll have two versions to stoke your nightmares on the small screen tonight. • The best known of the two is AMC's The Walking Dead: a sumptuous, expansive take on a sizzling graphic novel masterminded by Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont. Here, Brit actor Andrew Lincoln goes all Gary Cooper as Rick Grimes, a Kentucky cop waking from a coma to find all the dead have returned as zombies — who, of course, want nothing more than to make a screaming, messy meal of the living. But if you prefer your zombies with a healthy dose of social satire, IFC is re-airing five episodes of the British miniseries Dead Set, which shows zombies taking over London while a crew of typically self-obsessed twits are stuck inside the English version of the unscripted TV competition Big Brother. • The Walking Dead premieres at 10 tonight on AMC; all five Dead Set episodes air in a marathon on IFC at 7:30 tonight. Here's a handy comparison to help you decide which one would be the best Halloween companion on this frightening night.
The Walking Dead opens with hero Grimes taking out a tween zombie with a shot to the head, then eventually flashes back to the moment he awoke from a coma to discover zombies have taken over the world. As he stumbles through his devastated hometown, we learn the rules for surviving this zombie apocalypse and its sweeping scope. Grade: A.
Dead Set kicks off with an elimination episode on Big Brother, a series much more popular across the pond, where throngs of adoring crowds turn up to see a collection of oddball fameseekers isolated for months in a camera-filled space. When zombies attack that crowd and the studio, we get a cheeky satire of media culture along with some gross-out horror scenes (my fave: a Chelsea Handler-style host getting bitten across the neck by a particularly vicious undead dude). Grade: B.
The makeup and production is better on Walking Dead's creepers, who shuffle in a deceptively slow pace but can track a scent for miles (I expect no less from Darabont, the mind behind Stephen King adaptations such as The Green Mile and The Mist). Dead Set's producers keep jiggling the camera whenever zombies appear, as if that might keep you from noticing the rubbery entrails and tomato soup-consistency blood. Advantage: Walking Dead.
Both shows feature a motley crew of human survivors stuck in a seemingly impossible bind. But where AMC's series brings Grimes to Atlanta, turning the city into a cinematically decaying horror show, Dead Set works on a smaller scale — making a deadly claustrophobia of the isolation game these clods had been playing for fame and profit. Both shows get a B-minus for echoing the theme of every zombie movie, a plucky band of characters struggling to survive the undead and each other.
AMC's Walking Dead has better production values, a sharper cast and the promise of an engagingly long run. Dead Set is more irreverent and filled with British slang you'll spend long minutes trying to decipher (hey, some Anglophiles like that stuff). I suggest using the early Dead Set episodes to warm up for Walking Dead's premiere as the best recipe for a Halloween night filled with funky TV horror fun.