‘Torn Apart’ is DOA for New Fans

Zombies are enjoying something of a renaissance. They’ve been around in popular culture going back to “The Night of the Living Dead” in the late 1960s. Lately, zombie fiction has taken hold, particularly around the zombie apocalypse. AMC has added to the cheese with “The Walking Dead,” which is about to start a second season. The show is hardly “Mad Men,” but it offers up standard zombie fare.

In a twist similar to what NBC did with “Heroes” three years ago, AMC hopes to goose interest in the Oct. 16 start to the new season with a six-part Web series, “Torn Apart,” which dives into the back story of one character, Hannah the Bicycle Girl, from the series’ first episode. The effort is unlikely to win over new fans to the show, making it a curious piece of marketing. But existing fans will find plenty to like.

“Torn Apart” hues pretty much to the TV version. It’s graphic and violent. The series opens with a woman awakening from an apparent car accident with her child missing. As she wanders through the neighborhood, she discovers a mostly barren block, with barbeques still burning, and only two living people. Almost living. Stumbling across two zombies dining on a dead body, Hannah runs for her life.

She finds her daughter in the house she escapes to, which conveniently happens to be the home a friend or possible ex-husband, Andrew. He shares what little he knows about the situation, suggesting that it’s “terrorists who’ve figured out a way to blow them away without using bombs.” This is a dubious theory that doesn’t seem to placate Hannah. The next episode introduces us to other characters including a neighbor, Palmer, sitting in his basement, planning to shoot his family who has also been zombified.

From there, the rest of the series breaks down as far as advancing what little plot exists. The episodes feel less like packaged vignettes but extra scenes left on the cutting-room floor.

Episodes range from two to four minutes. The shorter episodes offer little beyond a zombie chase, with the requisite shooting or axing of a zombie in the closing shot.  The second half of the series felt disjointed and, as some commentators have suggested, may not have been presented in the correct order. Fortunately, all six episodes were released simultaneously, so viewers so intrigued can try to assemble the story in chronological order. I can’t help but wonder whether this is a case of a skilled director at TV struggling with the tight time restrictions of a new medium.

Produced and directed by Greg Nicotero, one of Holywood’s most recognized make-up-effects artists, “Torn Apart” delivers TV quality production values in line with the AMC series. In fact, after viewing all six episodes, I’m convinced that the series is more of a vehicle for Nicotero to showcase his mastery of gore than one meant to explore the history or thoughts of any character. And that may not be a bad thing for the intended audience.

Fans of “The Walking Dead,” will find plenty to like. There are familiar characters, stock-zombie kitsch and some fresh content to fill a few minutes waiting for the new season to start. This isn’t the worst thing. But it’s hardly an effort that’s destined to draw in new fans — and that might not be the goal anyway.