‘Tales of the Walking Dead’ Review: This Wacky Anthology Series Is The Franchise’s Weirdest Yet

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In the seemingly ever-expanding universe of the long-running story of The Walking Dead, whose original series is heading into the second half of its eleventh and final season, spinoffs are continuing to sprout off. There is Fear The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond, both of which have taken their relatively distinct stories in different directions with mixed results. Then there is the upcoming Isle of the Dead as well as a yet untitled Rick and Michonne series that both will expand beyond the current main show once it concludes this Fall. If this sounds like it is stretching things a little bit too far for you, then it is understandable why one could easily write off the six-episode anthology spinoff Tales of the Walking Dead. However, if you were to do so, you’d be missing out on the franchise at its most bonkers yet.

While it can be hit or miss in terms of overall quality from episode to episode, this newest series still manages to make the most of its narrative potential in a way that is as surprising as it is silly. Spanning a variety of genres, tones, and timelines, it is storytelling that is best when it becomes almost playful as it explores unseen parts of the world without being too restrained by any fealty to what has come before.

Of the three episodes shared with critics, all of them did rely on a similar narrative pattern where two vastly different characters are drawn together by circumstance. What separates them is the manner in which each takes its premise and runs in basically completely opposite directions from each other. One sees Terry Crews play a lonesome survivor of the end of the world who ends up in the equivalent of a buddy road trip. Another follows Parker Posey and Jillian Bell as two unlikely companions who get caught up in quite a pickle. The other places us in the shoes of an isolated scientist who believes he can somehow study and understand the walkers when no one else can.

The standout of all these episodes is absolutely the second with Posey and Bell, as both bring the necessary comedy chops to their increasingly chaotic story. Without tipping off its reveal, this tale takes us back to when no one knew that a zombie apocalypse was about to consume the world. Posey’s Blair oversees her team of insurance salespeople with an iron fist, putting a grim spin on the potential dangers looming by saying it will mean business is good for all of them. She also goes after one of them, Bell’s Gina, over insignificant concerns before leaving them all behind to essentially escape herself. When both women find themselves reunited at a gas station with a line of cars backed up and seemingly nowhere to go, they’ll find that escape is not as easy as they would hope. The way this episode sends you for a loop is both gleeful and goofy, leaving the zombies feeling almost incidental to what is really going on. It can get a little too serious for its own good, though not in a manner that takes away from the joy to be had in embracing its own eccentricities. If there is one episode that is worth seeing, it would most certainly be this one for just how absurd it is.

The other episodes, the one with Crews that proceeds it and the science-centered one that follows it, unfortunately, don’t have the same sense of flair. They do have their moments where it seems to be grasping at having some fun, enough to make them sporadically entertaining, though they can’t hold a candle to the heights that the second one reaches. Then again, it is hard to imagine anything in the remaining three episodes managing to do so either. The sweet spot of silliness that Posey and Bell bring us is just the right blend of wacky and whimsy to make it work. It most certainly won’t be for those looking to see a more gritty and grounded story even as there are moments of gore sprinkled throughout. That being said, the multiple other series more than have that covered over the many seasons that we’ve already gotten.

It is almost refreshing to see an anthology like this that can tread its own way and take big swings without having to hold back. Those big swings don’t always connect, even as the characters continue to shatter skulls left and right, though there still is a sense of pleasure in seeing the show take a crack at it. This willingness to get weird without reservation is what shows like this ought to lean into. When you have episodes that aren’t tied down to the existing story, save for one that is set to bring back a familiar face, then you can run free into the fantastical. If anything, the show would have benefited from more fully chasing down that feeling of freedom. Both big and small, these glimpses are what make Tales of the Walking Dead just enjoyable enough to smooth over its remaining rough patches.Streming Movie

As for whether you need to have seen the original series or spinoffs before watching this, the answer is probably not. Conversely, don’t go in expecting these episodes to connect back to the main story all that much. While there are moments where you may recall when the original Walking Dead was back in its heyday and the connective thematic tissue of zombie storytelling, this spinoff is mostly content to tell confined stories all its own. This makes it all feel disposable in a way where the delights to be had outweigh its dreariness. It feels like a creative catharsis when placed alongside the shambling slog of the main story that lost any sense of engagement multiple seasons ago. Sometimes just seeing characters get up to some strange shenanigans can be good, clean fun without all the boorish baggage that has bogged down other entries in this franchise. While the show is most definitely not going to win over everyone and may even be a little too odd for many tastes, that sensibility is exactly what makes it stand out. If you are going to really make an anthology show, then you ought to use it as an opportunity to make bizarre and bold choices. For all its flaws, Tales of the Walking Dead is the first time the show has been genuinely unexpected and inventive in a long while.

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