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'The Walking Dead's' Negan Should Get Sent to the Villain Minor Leagues
December 31, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 6 comments
 

You hate to say this, for several reasons, but it can’t be avoided: Television’s worst big-league villain this year was Negan on The Walking Dead.

Here’s a guy who wraps a baseball bat in barbed wire, names it after B.B. King’s guitar, uses it to terrorize the living world into submission and somehow ends up being tedious and redundant.

It’s harder to explain than a zombie apocalypse.

The Walking Dead needs great villains and despite that zombie apocalypse premise, they aren’t built in. Zombies are useful adversaries, but in the end they’re no more interesting than a swarm of mosquitoes or a plague of locusts.

The show needs human bad guys, and it’s had some good ones, not only including The Governor, but some of the lesser, subtler bad guys inside the survivor cell on which the show focuses.

Negan started out with considerable promise – a terrific actor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays him – and because he became a fine villain in the comic book on which the TV show is based.

When we met him on TV, fan anticipation was palpable. But the TV show has never pretended or claimed to be the comic book, and just as some minor or dead comic book characters have become central to the TV show, some characters who shine in the comic haven’t transferred well to television.

Negan seems to be one of them. Unfortunately, a big one.

The problem, to oversimplify only a little, is that he’s one-dimensional. He sneers, he struts, he intimidates. He’s the ultimate bully, mocking his victims because he knows he has a mob behind him.

But that’s all he does. As the first half of the season has moved along, he’s never developed a second trick. At the end he was still fondling Lucille, his baseball bat, killing people because he could and swaggering away taunting the survivors.

The point, obviously, is that he represents something close to pure evil, and that in a world without law or rules, sometimes those who manifest the lowest depths of human morality can rise to the top.

But after a while, just being pure evil isn’t enough. If he’s going to dominate the storyline for half a season, plus however long he’ll be around from here, he needs another dimension.

It could be a hint of vulnerability, a whiff of self-awareness, or even a different level of evil. We just need more than what we’re getting, which is that every time Negan shows up we know he’s going to threaten a child or demean a woman or just kill an innocent person with demonic glee.

It’s numbing. We can’t hate him more, and he gives us no reason to consider any other response.

In an odd way, even though Negan has driven much of the action in the first half of the season, the show stops when he shows up. There will be an extended segment that ends with someone humiliated or dead, and the show can’t move forward until that’s over.

The problem doesn’t lie, it should be stressed, with Morgan. He was great on Grey’s Anatomy, Magic City, The Good Wife and elsewhere, and there’s no reason to doubt that if he had the right material, he could be great here.

He just isn’t given much to work with – a baseball bat and a God complex.

It’s a start, but it’s not enough.

The Walking Dead has lost a few fans since the season-opening episode in which we finally learned whose heads Negan smashed with Lucille.

Ratings-wise, that modest slip isn’t enough for anyone at AMC to worry about. But it should give a moment of pause on the creative side, because The Walking Dead can do and has done better

It may be based on a comic book, but it doesn’t need a traditional comic book villain, someone whose only role is being so evil that we will all stand up and cheer for the good guys finally to vanquish him.

That can be an element and a result, but we need more along the way, and The Walking Dead in the Negan storyline has been giving less. 

It’s too bad Negan and Lucille can’t be sent to the minors for a little while to improve their game.

 
 
 
 
 
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6 Comments
 
 
Robyn
I'm a rabid fan of TWD, but you're absolutely right about this season. The writing has let us all down. There has been very little creativity this year so far, except for the episode about Carol and the Kingdom. Watching Negan and his stomach-churning batting practice over and over again isn't very entertaining.
Jan 8, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Bryan Simpson
David, I have the same misgivings about this character. And also think Morgan is an otherwise fine actor. So yea, the writing needs to improve to the level of the actor. There are some hints that's coming. Negan has somewhat explained his MO. Negan has expressed, here and there, a sense of fatalism. I think they can expand on this without being touchy feely. I have to hope they do something to explain Negan, otherwise it's a waste of time watching Negan-centric episodes. It's already a drag.
Jan 7, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Tim Mahoney
To be clear, my 2nd comment, is in reply to commenter Kevin's post acknowledging Merle's contribution to the show, not to David Hinckley. (It would be great if you could edit you comments here.)
Jan 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Tim Mahoney
While my wife and I wholeheartedly disagree with your position re: Negan (and boy does my wife, and most of the TWD's female viewers) disagree), you are dead on (again, pardon the pun) regarding Merle Dixon, whose brother Daryl, btw, has equally passionate appeal among fans).
Jan 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Tim Mahoney
To paraphrase one of the greatest lines in the history of villiandom, (and the delicious delivery by Jeffery Dean Morgan), "You have never been more wrong in your whole life." You just don't get it. Dean himself MAKES Negan one of the most lovable (and desirable) bad guys of all time. If you don't believe me, just check the Twitterverse for how many fans want to screw the life out of him. I am not sure if they feel the same way about Lucille (OUCH!). There has never been an evil character quite so "fleshed out" (if you'll pardon the pun), He almost makes you hate the good guys more than him.
Jan 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
kevin
morgan does what he can with the limited material. sad. twd has gone down hill over the last 1-3 seasons. even though he exited early in the series's history, bring back darabont!!!!!!!!!!

the governor was awesome. even minor villains like joe the claimer, police officer dawn at the hospital, the wolves, and cannibal gareth of terminus were/are better than negan. even shane turned into a good villain. merle dixon? we needed more of merle, too. let's see merle in flashbacks and darryl's hallucinations.........
Jan 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for under $20.

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post

 

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