The world of Syfy reality TV is usually invested in the paranormal and movie make-up, but their newest docu-series Town of the Living Dead is a fun and intriguing entry in the network’s recent attempt to recapitalize on its science fiction roots. Have you ever wanted to make a movie? Jasper, Alabama residents Tina Teeter, John M. Ware, and many others are working towards their dream of making the zombie movie Thr33 Days Dead, working with low funds and relying solely on the dedication of its cast and crew. How long have they been doing it? Oh, about six years.
One part behind-the-scenes production diary and one part Southern slice-of-life comedy, Town of the Living Dead is all on its own in the TV world, mixing the frustrations of sub-microbudget filmmaking in with the actual process itself. The series premiered with two episodes last night, “Jasper Needs Zombies” and “Premature Explosion,” and it looks like each of this initial season’s installments will be focused on particular Thr33 Days Dead scenes being shot, and the problems that ensue.
Part of the deal behind the show getting produced is that Syfy has agreed to air the finished product, should it ever actually become a finished product. Even though we don’t see much of it, Thr33 Days Dead could become a B-movie cult phenomenon in the future. And if not, it’s still better than your family’s home videos.
Let’s meet the Alabama natives who want to bring their crimson tide to the zombie world. Tina Teeter is the first-time producer who has put a lot of her own money into getting the movie made. (It involves maxing out credit cards while buying mass amounts of ketchup and chocolate sauce.) John M. Ware is the sometimes tempermental director and lead actor who balances his filmmaking dreams with a job at Radio Shack. The other two co-leads are Bryan Boylen, a panic attack-ridden actor, and Chase Lawrence, arguably the most unprofessional of the group, who doesn’t learn his lines and lives at home with his mother. Then there’s the openly gay explosives “expert” Terry, lead actress and Tina’s daughter Catie, and Tina’s do-whatever assistant Laura. They’re a squad of good ol’ boys and girls who might seem quaint and unnaturally out of time for people not used to the South and its wily ways.
Some of the hurdles that Tina has to leap involve frequent production starts and stops, along with making sure the city council approves of her film’s outdoor shots. The first episode involves a stunt involving a truck running over a zombie, while the second is centered on a calamitous boat explosion. And while your mileage may vary in watching amateur filmmaking at its most lackadaisical, I got a constant kick out of seeing it all come together (and fall apart), helped along by animated storyboards showing viewers what is supposed to happen. There’s a thread of humor throughout, despite the frustration witnessed onscreen. Watching one zombie volunteer walking around stiffly and mistakenly say, “Take me to your leader” had me in stitches.
Pop culture is still grasping onto the zombie phenomenon, with The Walking Dead serving as one of the most popular shows on TV. Syfy even has Z Nation on Friday nights. Still, no matter how numerous undead movies and TV shows may be, there’s nothing out there quite like Town of the Dead and its hometown squad. Get yourself Teeter’d and tune in on Tuesday nights.