Everyone knows that AMC’s The Walking Dead had its mid-season premiere this past Sunday night; The ‘walker’-filled show’s return is sure to be atop the night’s rating war. AMC premiered another show Sunday night though, directly after The Walking Dead, that the network hopes will capitalize on its new found comic book friendly audience. Comic Book Men follows the life and times of the employees of Kevin Smith’s New Jersey comic book store (Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash) as they deal with the craziness that comes with the territory. Hardcore fans of Smith are going to watch this regardless, but for those hoping for a weekly show that sparks thoughts of High Fidelity with comic books will be very disappointed.
The show follows the four main ‘employees’ of the shop: Walt Flanagan (the boss of the shop), Mike Zapcic, Ming Chen and Bryan Johnson. I say ‘employees’ with quotes because technically Bryan Johnson is not an employee, he’s just a guy that hangs out at the shop with the guys all day…every day. If you’re a regular viewer of any reality television, you’ll settle into this show easily. Quick cuts, multiple cameras (some hand held, some placed), they’re all there. The show is moved along and exposition is presented though the five guys sitting around in Smith’s podcast studios, pontificating about the issue at hand. While these scenes somehow feel scripted and forced at the same time, they’re some of the best spots of the show. This is what I wanted from the show for the entire hour! I want these comic book connoisseur, in their element, talking about the thing they know the best. I know that won’t jive with the masses, so the show creators have to inject some forms of drama.
In the premiere episode, the drama is added in one of two ways: A rummage sale competition between three of the shop’s ‘employees’ & the seemingly constant stream of interesting people who come into the shop wanting to sell their collectibles and/or comics. The competition played out exactly how you’d think it would. There was friendly insults between the employees, some arguing and in the end someone wins and gets 2 weekends off of work. While there where entertaining moments throughout the contest segments, that’s mainly thanks to Johnson. Bryan Johnson provides the needed ‘comic relief’ to many situations, most times by being as big a jerk as possible. The ‘pawn stars’ aspect of the show is where the show slows down to it’s lowest point. Seeing the collectibles and comics that customers want to sell is cool, but the negotiating between boss Walt and the sellers isn’t the ‘edge of you seat’ drama the producers try to make it. At some points they’re haggling over $10 for a good 60-90 seconds of the show. The most watchable of all these transactions is when a guy tries to get $1000 some Dawn of the Dead memorabilia that you learn is worth around $300, while it’s fun to watch him squirm as his dreams of quick cash are dashed, it’s not enough to save this part of the show.
With all shows, I give the pilot a pass and I don’t judge the entire series on the pilot alone. It’s great to see a network like AMC giving more legitimacy to genre programing, and I’ll continue to support the show with my viewership for that reason alone…for now. But I wanted High Fidelity with comics. I wanted Walt to be the John Cusack character, overseeing his domain while wearing his snob on his sleeve. I wanted to see the guys at the shop sitting around, giving their top 5 Batman villains and making fun of a customer who says Brainiac (By the way, through the entire episode you don’t see a single customer…not one), I wanted the Comic Guy snark. You get that level of geekiness during the ‘podcast’ section that moves the show along, but I wanted more. If nothing else, the show went a long way showing me that I really enjoy the podcast/online medium more than television these days. I enjoy listening to a 30 minute conversation about why Powergirl’s cleavage window should be on her Earth 2 suit, but I also understand that you can’t pull ratings on a national show like that.
Again, it’s only the pilot, but I really want to see something more from the show going forward. I’ll reserve full judgement of the series for a later date, but for me it’s not off to a great start. If you’re like me and want to hear more from the guys (Including Kevin Smith), going deeper into the geek rabbit hole about things from the show, Smith’s Smodcast network has launched an companion podcast that (it appears) will go live after each episode of Comic Book Men. You can check that show out over at Smodcast.com.
Did you see the premiere of Comic Book Men? What did you think? Do you agree with me or did you love it? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter and in the comments.
Comic Book Men airs on AMC Sunday nights directly following The Walking Dead at 10pm/9CST.