Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead, Ash vs. Evil Dead, American Horror Story: Roanoke, and Dusk Till Dawn.
Television-viewing America has finally met Negan, and the verdict is in: By depicting the brutally realistic barbwire-wrapped baseball bat bludgeoning of two of of its most popular characters, the producers of AMC's The Walking Dead have finally gone too far. The Parents Television Council blasted the show in a terse press release the morning after the episode aired.
“Last night’s season premiere of The Walking Dead was one of the most graphically violent shows we’ve ever seen on television, comparable to the most violent of programs found on premium cable networks,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “This brutally-explicit show is a powerful demonstration of why families should have greater control over the TV networks they purchase from their cable and satellite providers.”
This being the current year, I chuckled just a little bit. The only control families have over video content these days is to not have cable, not have internet, not have cell phones or a single damn video monitor in the house, and forget about sending the little liebchens to public schools, where CNN Student News is featured in many classrooms every weekday morning.
The horror. The horror.
To be sure, PTC president Winter gets that.
“For those who say there is no societal impact from media, I urge them to contemplate the presidential election for a few minutes,” he reminds us.
Which is exactly what I was trying not to do by watching TWD and the festival of filmic gore that's been offered up on cable television and video streaming services this October, in the grand fall tradition known as Halloween in America. From Ash vs. Evil Dead to American Horror Story: Roanoke to Dusk Till Dawn, there’s been plenty avenues of escape.
Yet there’s just no escaping this particular presidential election, a political horror show some observers have labeled “the monster versus the crook.” You pick which one is which. The cable news coverage has been particularly atrocious. One week they’re chattering about pussy grabbing, the next week it’s texting wieners (again!). Issues like a potential nuclear confrontation with Russia are verboten. Both sides are now thoroughly convinced the election's rigged. Everything's political, especially your favorite TV show.
Thus hours before Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) crushed Glen (Steven Yeun) and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) skulls to bloody pulps in the season premier of TWD, posters appeared on Hollywood streets pointing out that Negan only wants half your gross annual income, while candidate Hillary Clinton wants it all.
If we really want to go with this narrative, and it seems like we must at least temporarily, Negan is something of a benevolent despot. In exchange for not killing you, he gives you a job and asks for only half of what you produce. That’s about what the average middle class family pays in local, state and federal taxes, and most folks fork it over without need for the truncheon. Negan is an old school Democrat, and if he was running today, he’d be ahead in the polls, his plan is that simple.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of TWD fans siding with the Parents Television Council the morning after witnessing Negan's handiwork, swearing they’d never watch the show again. My guess is most of them tuned in for the second episode, just like I plan to. But some fans have no doubt abandoned TWD for good, because the violence depicted in the season premier was just too realistic. They can't re-engage their sense of disbelief.
That will probably never happen to anyone watching Ash vs. Evil Dead, the highly improbable hit series on the Starz network based on director Sam Rami's Evil Dead trilogy from the 1980s and now in its second season. The campy, low-budget films featuring schlocky claymation special effects and B-movie legend Bruce Campbell were cult favorites, but hardly something you’d expect to see as a cable series, let alone with Campbell reprising his original role.
Times have changed and not necessarily for the better. Gore has gone mainstream, which is why the mainstream British publication The Guardian beat me to the punch last week by pointing out that TWD isn't the only horror show crossing boundaries this Halloween season. On a recent episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, an actor's head—Campbell's—was shoved up a fake cadaver's ass for the first time in TV history!
“It’s hard to count just how many taboos were broken in this sequence, but it’s clear that nothing like this has happened on television before,” the Guardian's critic pontificated. “Will it, indeed can it, ever again?”
Having regretfully watched the scene in “The Morgue” episode, I can say of course it can be repeated and undoubtedly it will be repeated. In fact, it’s already been topped.
Ash's idea of making America great again resembles spring break in Jacksonville, FLA. That's where he was headed back in the 1980s, before he encountered the dreaded Necronomicon, the Book of the Dead, in the Michigan woods and released its evil into our world, basically ruining his life and the lives of those around him forever.
Getting his head shoved up (pulled into really, it's complicated) a corpse's rectum is pretty much par for the course in Ash’s universe, where evil’s one and only steadfast rule is that anyone who falls in love with Ash or perhaps even remotely gets to know him dies, horribly. So I was worried this year when Lee Majors joined the cast as Ash’s estranged father. I knew as soon as they repaired the relationship, the Six Million Dollar Man was a goner.
Sure enough, in the fourth episode, “D.U.I.”, aired the very same night Negan was introducing “Lucille” (the name of his bat) to America, Ash’s beloved Oldsmobile Delta 88, possessed by a demon, vividly demonstrated why self-driving cars may be a bad idea when it ran down Majors, then peeled out on his face until the spinning tire cut through skull and brain, throwing off a rooster tail of blood and shattered bone. Then Ash somewhat forlornly attempted to reassemble the pieces of yet another doomed relationship.
It's a task he’s grown accustomed to over the years. He's participated in hundreds of dismemberments, including his own hand, which he hacked off with a chainsaw after it was infected by evil decades ago. He duct-taped the chainsaw to the stump, sawed off a double-barrel shotgun, and armed with his “boom-stick” in his good hand, set out to meet evil head-on, uttering the immortal word, “Groovy.”
I could see Ash running for president on the Republican ticket. True, he's a notorious womanizer with a foul mouth who doesn't pay taxes, but he's the only guy who knows how to fight evil. Considering the way the viewing public's sentiments are running against Negan and his baseball bat, Ash would have a fighting chance if the election were held today.
Unfortunately, the election isn't being held today. It's still a long, long week off. The good news is there's plenty of television gore on tap between now and then to distract you. TWD and Ash vs. Evil Dead air on Sundays, so hopefully you caught them last night. All hell broke loose on American Horror Story: Roanoke last week when malevolent colonial ghosts murdered the entire crew and cast. This week's episode is bound to be a shocker. And Dusk Till Dawn is heading into its rollicking third season finale. Check your listings for times and channels.
If things get too desperate, there's always Netflix, where Human Centipedes I, II and III await streaming. The guy from the Parents Television Council is more right than he knows. Contemplating this presidential election, even for a few minutes, is a proposition so horrifying it is to be avoided at all cost.