The Light from the TV Shows: Kevin Smith and his “Comic Book Men” are coming to AMC

If you don’t know that Kevin Smith has a tendency to get a little geeky with his pop-culture pursuits, then I can only presume that the sentence you’re reading at this very moment is the first time you’ve ever heard of Kevin Smith. Seriously, the man’s all about geek culture, and he’s not afraid to liberally pepper the dialogue of his films with comic book and sci-fi references…and by “liberally pepper,” I mean that, as often as not, you’re knee deep in the stuff. As such, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that his latest endeavor finds him serving as the executive producer of a new AMC reality series – their first in the genre – called…

The series takes place in Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the comic shop Smith owns in Red Bank, NJ, and revolves around the guys who work there – Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Michael Zapcic, and Ming Chen – as they go through their daily routine, much of which…at least for the purposes of the series, anyway…will involve the people who bring items into the store in hopes of selling them.

Yes, that’s right, go ahead and figure on every review of “Comic Book Men” featuring some reference to the series being like “Pawn Stars,” except geekier. This is in no way an inaccurate comparison. In fact, to hear Smith tell it, his pitch for the series actually involved the words, “Let’s do ‘Pawn Stars’ in a comic book store.” But, look, I’m just gonna tell you outright: that sentence alone would’ve been enough to get me to sign up for a season pass on TiVo, and having now actually watched a rough cut of the first episode, I see no reason to backpedal on that theory. Not only do we see some pretty cool shit coming into the store – like, say, a still-boxed Six Million Dollar Man figure with bionic “scope” eye – but there’s a lot of incredibly geeky conversation, too, like the guys’ deepest superhero crushes. (For the record, mine was always Tigra. Just sayin’.)

By the way, speaking of Smith, you probably noticed that I didn’t mention his name as one of the guys who works at the Secret Stash. This, of course, is because he’s got better things (relatively speaking) to do with his time. Don’t worry, though: he’s still in every episode, since the goings-on in the store end up being discussed on the group’s podcast, of which Smith is a part, and the recording sessions have been filmed and are spliced into the proceedings.

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Is “The Walking Dead” losing its way?

I went into season two of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” thinking it would be a slam dunk. How could it be anything but? The first season, at just six episodes, was one of the most intriguing pieces of television I’ve seen in years. Most of its allure was the pacing. Every episode had moments of pure calm that were invariably interrupted by drooling hordes of zombies. But the zombies didn’t carry the show. The characters did most of the work, which is exactly what a good zombie show needs. We need to care about the characters so that the inevitable losses have some consequence, a task the writers of the show met head-on. All of this is to say that my expectations, high as they were, were based on the merit of the first season.

Season two started well. The survivors from last season had decided to leave Atlanta and head for Fort Benning. They hit a roadblock on the way out of town, which included a brush with a shuffling horde of zombies. We saw a pair of walkers dispatched, the first with a screwdriver through the eye, the second with a quick stab to the brainstem. It was a perfect re-introduction to the gruesome, post-apocalyptic world I loved in season one.

While creative zombie-killing is great, it isn’t enough to carry the show. There has to be some sort of plot. For season one, it was getting into Atlanta and the CDC with the hope of finding more survivors. In season two we have Fort Benning, again with the hope of finding survivors. It’s a fine plot, though it does get quickly derailed when Sophia, one of the children in the group, is chased into the woods and later disappears. Sophia’s disappearance would have been fine had it been contained to just an episode or two, but it has utterly consumed the show. Read the rest of this entry »

  

A Chat with Robert Kirkman (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well as interviews with actors Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus.

Bullz-Eye: I know you don’t remember me, but you and I met briefly when you were doing the press roundtables at the New York Comic-Con.

Robert Kirkman: Oh, good! I hope I did okay.

BE: Oh, yeah, you did great. It was a lot of fun. I just got the Season 2 press kit, and I’m 95% of the way through the first episode, so it killed me to have to get on the phone with you.

RK: (Laughs) Awesome!

BE: So how excited are you about the premiere of the show’s second season?

RK: I’m extremely excited. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of pressure to follow up our first season. It was a big success, and, you know, knowing what I know of the second season and seeing what I’ve seen, I’m fairly confident that we’re still going to come out of the gate and impress people, so I’m really anxious to see what people think of it. A lot of hard work has been going into this season, and it’s great that it’s going to finally be enjoyed by some people. So I’m really excited.

BE: When it comes to adapting the original source material, you’ve obviously got an advantage, given that it’s yours… (Laughs) …but I’m sure it’s hard to pick and choose which bits actually make it onto television.

RK: It’s a process. There’s not really a way to nail down exactly what goes into it. But everyone in the room is familiar with the comic, and we all sit down knowing what happened in the book, and we look at where the show’s going and what the characters are doing, and we just kind of figure it all out. Sometimes we take things directly from the comic, and there are a lot of times when we’re talking about things from the comic, and things will go to different characters in the show, or it’ll spin off into something entirely new that wasn’t in the comic, but the starting point was something that did appear in the comic. So it’s an evolving process, and it’s neat to be sitting down to adapt something that I wrote awhile ago. The earlier material in “The Walking Dead” is something I wrote some time ago, so it’s good to be able to revisit that stuff.

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Bullz-Eye Goes Back to “Breaking Bad”

It all started, as many things do, with a seemingly innocuous question.

In early January 2011, Bryan Cranston was doing a small round of press for his new Atom.com series, “The Handlers,” and once I learned that there was a very decent possibility that I could pull one of the few available timeslots, there was never any chance that I wouldn’t throw my hat into the ring. As regular Bullz-Eye readers know, I’ve chatted with Mr. Cranston on several occasions – on the phone, at the TCA tour, even on the set of “Breaking Bad” – and he’s never proven to be anything less than a fantastic interview.

Better yet, as a result of these recurring conversations and encounters, we’ve reached a point in our relationship (such as it is) where the man actually knows who I am. Having spent many years being steadfastly convinced that no one knows who I am, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to get on the phone with him in January and have him kick off our chat by asking A) how I was, and B) when I was coming back to the set of “Breaking Bad.”

I answered the only way I possibly could: “You tell me when I’m coming, and I’m there.”

“All right, we’ll work it out again,” replied Cranston. “We’ll have another caravan.”

My heart soared at his words, of course, but as time passed, I…

Okay, you know, this would be the perfect place for me to say that Cranston’s words faded into hazy memories, and that I received a pleasant reminder of his comments a few months later when I received an email which said, “Come join us on the ‘Breaking Bad’ set!” But that’s not what happened.

What really happened was that I committed his comment to memory, dwelled on it for two months, and when a fellow TV critic got his invite and I didn’t, I promptly dropped a line to Cranston’s publicist and said, “Hey, remember when Bryan asked me when I was coming back to the set? I hear they’re doing that press caravan he mentioned!” A few days later, I got an email from Sony in which, without preface, they asked to confirm my travel arrangements to Albuquerque.

Eh. Either way, I still got to visit the set of “Breaking Bad” again. I ain’t complaining.

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