World ends, smart people hardest hit

There are a growing number of TV series about people struggling to survive after global devastation.  AMC will soon roll out a third season of its wildly popular The Walking Dead, about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, while TNT has Falling Skies, about a plucky band of resistance fighters living in the ruins of a planetary beatdown by invading aliens.  This fall, NBC will add The Revolution, about a post-apocalyptic world in which all technology has spontaneously shut down, from electric power to automobiles.

We???ll have to wait and see what the new NBC show looks like, but thus far, The Walking Dead and Falling Skies have mainly concerned the highly improbably survival of deeply stupid people.  It looks like the zombies and aliens were careful to target everyone with a lick of common sense during their initial attack.

The thick skulls of The Walking Dead???s characters are so pronounced that their idiocy has actually become part of the show???s charm.  You can make a drinking game out of watching for the survivors to do something that no rational person would do, in a world over-run by flesh-eating zombie hordes.  A great deal of fan-forum discussion about the show concerns how incredibly foolish the heroes are.

One of the characters is a little boy named Carl, who none of the others ??? including his own parents ??? bothers to keep track of.  Carl just magically pops up in the thick of every zombie-related crisis, producing a chorus of anguished ???WHERE???S CARL???? shouts when his absence is finally noticed.  The adult survivors frequently wander off on their own, and manage to die in ambushes improbably launched by the groaning, slow-moving undead.

When important news needed to be conveyed to Carl’s absent father in one episode, his mother promptly jumped into a car and drove off to find him, even though any fool could see this made the situation worse in every conceivable way.  She got about a mile before she plowed into a zombie jaywalker and wrecked her car.

The cast spent the entirety of last season camping out at a farmhouse, whose owner made a point of disarming them… then allowed them to make camp right next to a barn he was secretly stuffing with zombies, because he stubbornly refused to admit they were zombies.  Before this, we were treated to ridiculous scenes of the group leaders deciding that only certain people should be allowed to carry guns.  The only character who consistently displayed a shred of common sense was the show???s villain, and one of the idiots finally got around to shooting him at the end of last season.

Actually, The Walking Dead could be viewed as a meta-commentary on the abject stupidity of 21st-century mankind in general, because as they have been portrayed thus far, it seems wildly unlikely that the zombies could have overwhelmed a reasonably competent human military so quickly.  A team of Navy SEALs should have been able to mop up every zombie in Georgia within a week.  At one point, we actually saw a flashback in which helicopter gunships were zooming in to fight the undead horde.  How the hell did humanity lose that battle?  Did the helicopters accidentally fly into each other?

Likewise, the aliens in Falling Skies managed to defeat the armed forces of Earth in a matter of days, but for some reason they can???t eliminate a rag-tag band of insurgents that completely lacks all military discipline, and insists on making camp in the open, surrounded by bright lights. Did all the competent alien warriors head off to invade another planet?

The Falling Skies drinking game would involve doing a shot whenever a resistance fighter disobeys direct orders from a superior, which happens roughly six times per episode, and frequently results in the death of a minor character or two.  Most of the ???tactical??? decisions made by the resistance seem to amount to lucky guesses; the heroes are alive because the writers have arbitrarily decided not to kill them yet.

And most strangely of all, the show has repeatedly told us the aliens have complete air supremacy??? but the heroes are frequently shown pitching camp with plenty of lights that would be clearly visible from the sky.  In the most recent episode, they spent the night hanging out at a brightly-lit airport.  Did these technologically-superior aliens decide that orbital surveillance was somehow unsporting?

Lazy writing is building a pop-culture narrative that smart people will die first when the world goes to hell, leaving the stupid to blunder through comical misadventures in survival.  The only TV show along these lines that strove to portray the survivors of Armageddon (as well as the perpetrators) with any measure of genuine intelligence was Jericho, and that barely made it into a short second season, ending right when it was about to go from interesting to fascinating.