This has become something of a cliche in the zombie genre, which in recent years has proliferated like... well, you know. The zombie story has merged with the disaster story to create scenarios in which zombies serve as a sort of natural disaster, an overwhelming outside force that spurs the teaming up of a ragtag group of survivors.
Nowhere is this formula better utilized than in We're Alive, an ongoing audio series produced in Los Angeles by Modern Myth Productions and released on a weekly basis. The setup is exactly as described above. But within that setup, creators KC Wayland and Shane Salk construct a world that is compelling, fully realized, and a thrill and a half.
The "we" of the title are a group of survivors holed up in an apartment complex to fend off the zombie hordes. As with the best disaster stories, We're Alive presents its characters with a series of creative, unpredictable "Oh crap" moments, then forces them to rely on their wits and strengths to find a way out -- or not.
The show's action sequences are great, but there's a lot more going on here, and things often slow down enough for the human moments to come through. The writers take their time in constructing fully believable characters. They're confident enough to make these characters unlikeable at times, and thus all the more complex and interesting. Meanwhile, the show presents its share of mysteries (Where did the zombies come from? How do they keep finding us?) but does a good job of doling out plausible answers at reasonable intervals.
On top of all that, the production is excellently realized. It's the rare audio drama that can pull off (for example) a scene in which the characters rappel down the side of a building onto a fire truck surrounded by zombies, fending them off while threading the fire hose back through a nearby window -- and make the scene comprehensible without benefit of visuals.
Naturally, I've always wanted Chatterbox to take on an ongoing series, but the logistical challenges are just too much for us at the moment. All the more reason to be impressed with We're Alive, whose roster of actors has remained pretty consistent since the show debuted in 2009. (Excepting the characters who get zombified or outright eaten, of course.) Wayland and Salk have a roster of great talents, and they use it well.
We're Alive is quite popular, and chances are you didn't need me to tell you about it. The show had its 4 millionth download this year. It has a dedicated forum and even a fan-produced podcast. (I'm midway through the second season right now, so for fear of spoilers I avoid these supplementary materials like you'd avoid that guy in your ragtag group of survivors who got scratched but not completely gobbled by a zombie, so he's probably fine but is acting a little weird, and even though you don't want to alienate him it's always best to be careful.)
As of this writing, the entire series is freely available through iTunes and through the We're Alive website. Start with Episode 1 to get the full effect.
So, yes, I'll gladly check out The Walking Dead. But it's got a lot to live up to.