'Town of the Living Dead': TV Review

Michael Cogliantry/Syfy
A missed opportunity to tell an interesting story about passionate amateur filmmakers, the show relies instead on well-worn Southern stereotypes.

For six years, zombies have invaded Jasper, Alabama. Syfy is looking for its next hit film to come from the experience.

With Town of the Living Dead, Syfy appeared to have found a new way to appreciate the current zombie craze: through the lens of amateur filmmakers. The residents of Jasper, Alabama, have been attempting to make a movie, Thr33 Days Dead, for the last six years. After hearing about the project — a clear labor of love — the network agreed the air the film (if it's ever finished). In the meantime, they would document the production's ongoing progress in a 12-part series.

There was an opportunity with Town of the Living Dead to focus on the heart and charm behind such a production. Instead, producers True Entertainment (who also handle The Real Housewives of Atlanta) went another route, turning the docu-series into what has become over the years a generic brand of Southern-sploitation (see also Duck Dynasty, anything with the word "swamp" in it, the Honey Boo Boo franchise, etc), with a hint of Jackass

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The series' main focus is the amateur production's innumerable setbacks, with each of the first episode's conflicts revolving around harried action scenes (such as dummies being run over or boats being blown up). But lead actor Bryan (described by director John as "one of the best actors in Jasper that I've seen") considers the dialogue to be the production's main strength. Him actually speaking some of it — "let's make like a tree and get the hell out of here!" — tells a different tale, though. Producer Tina is not worried, however, nothing that there's "one way to raise the production value: let's blow something up!"

Town of the Living Dead is designed to be funny, but that push for quirk can feel too strained. There's a genuinely interesting dynamic going on in the town between those making the movie and those who are against it (as one radio caller said, "I don't want to come back from church and have a lot of dead people running around. That just ain't Christian, y'all"). But ultimately, there's not much time given to it, or towards getting to know the stories behind the main cast. Town of the Living Dead is content to just skim the top of what could have otherwise been a really fascinating piece of work.

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John, for example, laments his job at Radio Shack, and dreams about making movies. But his influences, or how he learned shot composition (which he is extremely particular about) are left unexplored. The same is true of the very talented makeup team (how did they learn their craft?), as well as Tina, the mother bear of the operation. The struggle for financing is one of any production's biggest problems, but Tina seems to be a fully-dedicated fount of resources — an anomaly in such a small town. Any of these threads would be interesting to explore, but Town of the Living Dead prefers to turn its attentions to more expected comedy and comments, like those from "explosions expert" Chase: "There are three loves in my life: woman, food, and watching things explode." Cut! Sound bite secured.

There's clearly a hope by Syfy that Thr33 Days Dead, should it ever wrap, could be its next Sharknado — an unexpected ironic juggernaut. But unlike the organic insanity of Sharknado, Town of the Living Dead feels far too planned when it comes to its cast of characters and knowing one-liners. "I feel like a welfare child on Christmas Day," Chase comments gleefully among the homegrown explosions. "You know what I'm saying?" Those who do may enjoy the series. Everyone else may feel more like Tina's son: "every bit of this is making me gassy."

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