Day of the Dead episode 1 recap – “The Thing in the Hole”

October 16, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
SyFy, Weekly TV
2

Summary

“The Thing in the Hole” doesn’t exactly instill much confidence for the rest of SyFy’s Day of the Dead, which proceeds as if decades of zombie media hasn’t come and gone since the original.

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2

Summary

“The Thing in the Hole” doesn’t exactly instill much confidence for the rest of SyFy’s Day of the Dead, which proceeds as if decades of zombie media hasn’t come and gone since the original.

This recap of Day of the Dead episode 1, “The Thing in the Hole”, contains spoilers.


It’s impossible to overstate the influence that George A. Romero’s 1985 classic Day of the Dead has had on contemporary media. But at the same time, it’s also impossible to overstate how boring zombies are these days, just as a general concept. The same tropes that Romero pioneered all those decades ago haven’t really evolved since then, even as our familiarity with how they work has become baked-in on a cultural level. We know how this works by now. The dead rise, you must destroy their brains, getting chomped on is bad news, and so on, and so forth. Syfy’s new version of Day of the Dead proceeds as if none of the intervening years took place.

Day of the Dead episode 1 recap

That’s its first problem, but there are plenty more, most of them related to how shoddy the show’s production, writing, and performances are. A cold open gives a lot away. For a second, I thought I was accidentally screening a different, later episode, one that might give me the context for the limp gags and supposed drama that I realized after a while was supposed to be grabbing my attention. It does, admittedly, introduce mayor Paula Bowman (Miranda Frigon) and her son Luke (Daniel Doheny), and the fictional town of Mawinhaken, Pennsylvania, but it doesn’t give much of an indication of what this version of Day of the Dead is actually trying to be. Serious zombie drama? Unlikely. Schlocky B-level gore fest? Maybe. Outright slapstick comedy and/or satire? It wishes.

This might work as a functional opening if it had more relationship to what follows, as we wind back in time to meet the characters properly and nothing seems to have any real formal relationship to what we’ve just seen moments prior. And that sours the first impressions even more because you realize how artlessly the show was trying to win you over in the first place. Do we really need to see blood and guts right from the jump to know we’re watching a zombie show? The arc of “The Thing in the Hole” outside of this opening at least follows a logical trajectory and builds up to a bloody conclusion – that would have sufficed as an introduction. Most of us have an attention span that can survive 40 minutes, after all.

The thing in the hole, by the way, or at least one of the things in one of many holes, is a masked corpse which is uncovered by Sarah Blackwood (Morgan Holmstrom) as part of a – topicality! – fracking operation. Obviously, her boss tries to cover it up, which is part of the brand’s overall satirical point, which is the idea that most of the living are worse monsters than the dead. Almost by definition, then, everyone in Mawinhaken is self-serving and deeply unlikeable. Paula is the standard careerist politician whose husband Trey (Christopher Russell) is playing away, there’s a young-ish budding romance between Cam (Keenan Tracey) and assistant mortician Lauren Howell (Natalie Malaika); Cam’s father McDermott (Mike Dopud) is the obligatory cop. These are dull archetypes that aren’t just thinly-conceived but actively annoying – whether it’s by design or not, and I’m willing to concede that some aspects are even if others aren’t, this isn’t exactly conducive to caring about what happens to any of them.

That might well be the point, too, since the show’s ideas about politics and environmentalism and such are obviously deeply cynical and archly cartoonish. Maybe witnessing the downfall of the town and the deaths of everyone in it is supposed to be cathartic. I could get behind the idea. But the flat visuals, leaden dialogue, and overreliance on a hodgepodge of tropes make it difficult to buy into the show even on that level. The only real saving grace is the gore, which leans against admittedly impressive practical makeup and effects. After the cold open, most of this stuff is jammed into the climax, which has a sense of fun – a leafblower chase through a graveyard, and a funeral taking quite a turn – that the rest of the premiere lacks. Maybe if subsequent episodes indulge in a lot more of this stuff we’ll be having a different conversation as the weeks go on.

For now, though, Syfy’s previous track record of low-budget genre shows doesn’t exactly instill much confidence, and neither does the bulk of “The Thing in the Hole”.

You can check out Day of the Dead episode 1, “The Thing in the Hole”, exclusively on SyFy

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