In light of last year’s Torn Apart, I found myself somewhat less than enthused at the prospect of another Internet spin-off of AMC’s The Walking Dead. The biggest problem with the first Web series lied in its stars’ community theatre performances, so I was immediately relieved to find out Cold Storage has got Josh Stewart as its lead… Scratch that. I was downright ecstatic. Stewart is one those criminally underrated character actors you see taking on bit roles in just about everything (including CBS’ Criminal Minds and this year’s The Dark Knight Rises) and you wonder, why doesn’t this guy have his own show? Well, he does now. Granted, there are only four episodes, and each lasts about ten minutes or so, but, hey, it’s a start (more on that later).
Chapter 1: Hide and Seek
Unlike Torn Apart, Cold Storage takes place some time after the fall of civilisation. The remaining populace has already grown jaded, as evidenced by Harris joking about the lottery tickets and exclaiming, “Why?” when Chase asks him for the time. I find the latter’s reply particularly intriguing: “Let me rephrase. How long was I out?” Indeed, the long hand of a clock doesn’t hold the same importance in the zombie apocalypse, and I like the notion that the survivors are slowly adapting their vocabulary to the new world order.
Unfortunately, our heroes’ amusing dynamic is quickly dissolved by way of a horde of ninja zombies popping out of nowhere and making yum-yums out of Harris. The producers of The Walking Dead have used the device before in “Judge, Jury, Executioner”, and I dare say they need to drop that nonsense right away. Humans, you see, have been granted these amazing abilities called hearing and peripheral vision, which strike me as particularly well adapted to spot dimwitted ghouls that shuffle their feet and moan all the time. If Chase is to fear anything, it’s the living.
Chapter 2: Keys to the Kingdom
Enter B.J., played by Daniel Roebuck, whom most will recognise as the explosive Arzt from Lost. The former storage worker rescues Chase and accepts his offer to help restart a generator in exchange for a truck, but we sense our hero might prove too trusting with this one. Again, I have to praise the actors. As written, one could easily mistake B.J.’s flippancy for a verbal defense mechanism akin to Harris’ clowning around. However, Roebuck’s performance lets us know right away that his character is more of a jerk than a cynic.
On the other hand, I’m not sold on the scene in which Chase rummages through Rick’s locker. Admittedly, it serves as a clever confirmation that Cold Storage takes place not only in the same continuity as the television show but also in the same neighborhood, and the whole point of the Web series is to advertise The Walking Dead. However, I find the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” aspect of it all detracts from the character’s journey. I find the guy compelling in and of himself. I don’t need him to fondle the Grimes’ family albums to understand his story matters.
Chapter 3: The Chosen Ones
All right, some action at last: after a quick preamble reminding us of B.J.’s creepiness (the dude’s name is “B.J.” for heaven’s sake), Chase scours a deep, dark basement with one of them atmospheric but crazy inefficient flashlights from The X-Files in order to flip a switch of some kind. This leads to a rather suspenseful set piece in which yet another ninja zombie sneaks up on our hero as the power flickers on and off. The effect turns out not unlike watching a live re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video with disco strobe lights. Scary stuff.
Granted, the concept isn’t desperately novel, and I just complained a few paragraphs above about the implausibility of a walker getting this close to a moderately intelligent human being who is neither blind nor hearing impaired. The difference lies in the generators making a lot of noise to distract our hero, who’s already got his eyes focused on a tiny control panel. Also, by virtue of Cold Storage taking place on the fringes of The Walking Dead, we have no assurance Chase will survive his own Web series, making B.J.’s eventual treachery a particularly effective cliffhanger.
Chapter 4: Parting Shots
I honestly had no idea whether our protagonist would finish the series as a determined hero or a flesh-eating ghoul. As such, I was glad to find out B.J. missed his shot, less pleased to discover he’d been raping a young woman for weeks. I generally frown on writers using sexual abuse as a means to raise the stakes in a fantasy thriller. It doesn’t help that Kelly’s insistence on nagging Chase to kill her assailant instead of doing it herself or running away follows a long-standing tradition on The Walking Dead of portraying women as whiny nincompoops incapable of taking charge of their own lives without a man to hold their hand.
Of course, Kelly redeems herself off screen, and I suppose you could forgive the convoluted staging that would allow her to chop B.J.’s head off by attributing it to his own deep-seeded misogyny. More to the point, as I’ve grown fond of Chase and bear no ill feelings toward his new companion, I’m relieved Cold Storage bypassed the usual melodrama in favour of a happy ending. I can’t help thinking how great it’d be if, instead of hopping on a caravan to zombie-free China or whatever, the duo showed up in an upcoming episode of The Walking Dead. I could do with more Josh Stewart on the tube.