Citrus Thai and The Walking Dead Provide Big Flash, Little Substance

This week's TV Dinner will reanimate AMC's thrilling mid-season finale of The Walking Dead that aired this Sunday, alongside drunken noodles and crying tigers from Downtown Seattle's Citrus Thai.

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This is what it looks like When Tigers Cry... So, pretty underwhelming.

As we carry on merrily into December, most watchable television has pretty much decided that it's going to treat itself to a holiday break after a sweeps month jam-packed with cliffhangers and celebrity cameos. 2012 may bring quality premieres like the final season of HBO's infinitely quotable Eastbound and Down as well as the rest of the third season of FX's Archer (featuring Burt Reynolds!), but until then we'll all just have to endure this frozen hell of reruns and new episodes of Hoarders. Since I have no intention of ever writing about Hoarders for any reason, this week's TV Dinner will reanimate AMC's thrilling mid-season finale of The Walking Dead that aired this Sunday, alongside drunken noodles and crying tigers from Downtown Seattle's Citrus Thai.

The Cuisine: Citrus Thai is the minimalist Thai restaurant a block away from the Paramount Theater that, while probably never topping a whole lot of Best Of Seattle lists, has managed to build a respectable, basic presence on the contacts list of many a beleaguered urbanite.

I ordered the Pork Drunken Noodle, a sweet, spicy delight that had me shoveling food into my mouth quicker than I could realize what was happening. It was a well-balanced blend of pliant flat rice noodles, egg and a healthy mix of vegetables. The simplicity of the entree combined with the customizable burn of its spices makes it a comfort food to be reckoned with.

However, the sides didn't quite satiate the same desire. When Tigers Cry is the Thai restaurant standard whose dramatic title more or less promises some kind of offbeat delight, but actually delivers marinated beef which, in this particular instance, is rather bland and stringy. Granted, the strips of beef come with a reinvigorating dipping sauce, but after a few soaked bites, all I could really taste of it was lime.

On top of that, Citrus Thai can veer towards overpriced, being one of the very few take-out restaurants I've come across that has the chutzpah to charge $1.95 for a can of soda. For a second there, I thought I had ordered food from the Paramount.

The Entertainment: Comic books and live action television don't exactly have the most impressive history of cooperation. Whether it was NBC mercy killing the hilariously convoluted Heroes or ABC not even letting its high-concept Wonder Woman pilot to air, comic books don't seem to be working quite the same magic for the small screen as they do for theaters.

Certainly, cult favorites like Smallville and Tales From the Crypt each managed to provide audiences with healthy, memorable runs, but for every Incredible Hulk there are a dozen forgettable failures like Birds of Prey, Mutant X, Blade or, my personal favorite, the superhero saxophonist Night Man.

It was exactly that lack of defining comic book/television crossover that made The Walking Dead so initially tantalizing. The buzzworthy series premiere that provided not only one of the most accurate comic book depictions in television history, but a chilling and atmospheric episode that raised the bar for horror in television altogether.

Sadly, the rest of the show didn't quite live up to the haunting nightmare-scapes provided in the pilot, and the show's momentum mostly sunk into another melodramatic character drama. In the season's mere five remaining episodes, the show became so indulgent in its exposition of plot and character motivation that you could sometimes hardly remember these people were supposed a few loud noises away from being swallowed by a rogue horde of the undead.

Fortunately, season two started off with the same spark as the first, treating us to prolonged, dialogueless shots of eerie post-apocalypse scavenging that affirms us of our heroes' overwhelming danger in a way that's much more engrossing than simply having to listen to their sobbing, wailing histrionics. Indeed, the show excels whenever it pulls back to reveal the infinite hell of terrifying possibilities that await our heroes in this lovingly detailed armageddon -- which makes it all the more disappointing when everything seems to be put on pause for some nagging, heavy-handed lesson about human nature between a mob of two-dimensional characters.

And unfortunately, that disappointment is apparently here to stay. After some genuine narrative fireworks and a downright cinematic intensity, the show hunkers down into the relative safehaven of a family-owned farmland that has (wait for it) a deadly secret. It doesn't take long for the show to settle back into tension-killing melodrama just as easily as it did the first time around and begin introducing even more new characters before we've even really gotten a chance to care about the old ones.

Here at Creepy Farms, we begin to get a tiresome series of long-winded ethical arguments about undead existentialism that carry all the emotional resonance of listening to two stoned middle-schoolers giggle over whether or not it's necrophilia if you have sex with a vampire. A few episodes went by where it seemed like extremely little happened to develop the overarching plot, which has to particularly sting when you realize AMC actually invested in a live talk show devoted specifically to post-Dead discussion. However, a startling ending to this week's episode did manage to launch the survivors into a whole other level of calamity, providing a level of impact and toweringly high stakes that was sure to wake up even the most bleary-eyed of followers. Hopefully the show can take the momentum of that climax and carry that supreme unease throughout the season, instead of squandering it on another bickering quagmire.

For a show about the end of the world, The Walking Dead sure does like to take its time. As a result, the show's ambitious visual narrative kind of crushes the stripbare, often contrived plot (although, strangely enough, its cliches have decreasingly little to do with its actual original source material as the show goes on), leaving you with a noticably uneven viewing experience. Even as survivors hide themselves inside of ripe corpses and sift through the blood and guts of downed undead for clues, the show has trouble with evoking too many gut emotions besides "nauseous" with its thin, repetitive human element.

The Pairing: While both properties are perfectly serviceable for what they set out to do, the enjoyment factor of Citrus Thai and The Walking Dead definitely seem more dependent on gloss than lasting fulfillment. That said, Citrus Thai's overall agreeable taste and Walking Dead's loyal fanbase and impressively solid performance in the ratings make both franchises' futures pretty certain -- who knows where things could go?

 
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