Now, I should preface this by saying – noir and I are like this. I know you can’t see me right now, but I’m crossing like eight fingers. I have a ritual – every three months, I re-watch Brick, Spartan, The Way of the Gun, and LA Confidential, sometimes along with Se7en, depending on how bad I want to feel before I go to bed. I should also be clear in mentioning that zombies are awesome.
So, it should be a no-brainer for Hamilton Carver: Zombie PI to tap in to that part of my brain labeled “Awesome Sauce.” The premise of the show has the titular character finding his girlfriend dead, swearing an oath of vengeance, and promptly being murdered at a pot luck he threw with all the suspects in attendance. Of course, if you read the title, he doesn’t stay that way.
Right off the bat I have to say that the dialogue is incredibly off-putting—not in the writing, which, while sufficiently pulpy, can get a little cliched over time—but in the actual sound of the dialogue. It seems as if it’s all re-recorded in post-production, sometimes with different voices, sometimes with the same voices but a completely different reading than what we’re seeing on screen.
If that seems confusing to you, it’s double for me – it’s all over the place, and I’m not entirely certain what they were trying to accomplish. Were there technical constraints? Was it stylistic choice? Either way, Hamilton Carver’s use of post-production sound doesn’t work. The recording/mixing process of the audio shouldn’t take you out of the action, and all too frequently here, it does.
(Later, I read the lead/writer/producer of the show, Ben Cunis, has done a couple of silent/wordless plays. Did this have anything to do with that choice? I don’t know – I’m grasping at straws here.)
The story and concepts are fun and engaging – as I mentioned, some of the dialogue as it’s written in the midst of boilerplate noir tropes contains plenty of good bits. Particularly for me, what had something going for it was shown in the tenth episode, which involved Hamilton in Hell with various Shakespearean tragedy leads, utilizing the “hell of your own making” concept with a supernatural spin. There are a lot of great ideas in here that are entertaining. It’s just getting lost in translation to the screen.
The actors, well, it’s tough to tell. Cunis has a good instinct about him, the look and feel of a hard-boiled detective, but others are hamming it up, being “theatre-big” in a film production. As always, the camera is a magnifier, so big acting can easily become overblown. However, I can’t say with certainty that it’s their fault – particularly with the way the audio is played.
The most frustrating part of this show is the pacing of cuts. The editing is ridiculously slow. And while a show can be slow-paced, in the more deliberate moments there should be a point to the dead air. Yet in many portions, actors will appear as if they’re simply waiting for the next bit of action to happen, reacting uncomfortably.
A very unfortunate and rookie mistake is the insistence that an overwhelming portion of the dialogue be shown – in that, whenever a character is speaking, the cut almost always has to be to them, and almost always has to be held for the duration of the line. When that happens, the moments of dead air put us in our own purgatory. The aforementioned tenth episode has a total time of, including titles and everything, 13:51. It felt about half an hour long with the unnecessary pauses, and had enough content for maybe half of its actual run time.
Visually, the direction is pretty workmanlike – nothing fancy, just putting a camera into the action – and while that in and of itself is fine, when the problems of audio and “big” acting – which, again, may not be necessarily laid at the feet of the actors – come into play, there’s nothing there to even remotely cover for it.
It pains me to say these things – my above love for noir abounds as God loved Jacob – but to put it simply, Hamilton Carver: Zombie PI was a fun concept that, when hit with the realities of production, didn’t come out intact on the other side.
Win, Fail or Trainwreck: It stings quite a bit, but this is simply a Trainwreck. I can see all of the individual elements in place, but it’s not a sum of its parts, and nothing here makes a cohesive whole. With such a snazzy title card, they create the expectation of something at least technically on the level of Pink, but from second one you’re already let down. The season finale was July 6th. It would be my hope that, were they to get a second season, to figure themselves out – whether it be bringing in a new director who can handle actors and keep a consistent tone, or simply changing the format. It’s all over the place tonally and technically, and I don’t think they intended it to be.