"Ain't nobody's hands clean in what's left of this world." We probably don't need a new interloper (Terriers' terrific Michael Raymond-James) to deliver this message to the shell-shocked survivors of AMC's The Walking Dead, which resumes its second season (Sunday, 10/9c) in the immediate aftermath of the massacre of the barn zombies, which ended the fall run on a shattering note.
There is recrimination, guilt and more grief than anyone knows how to handle on what is now the killing field of Hershel's Farm. And naturally (or unnaturally), at least one more grisly shock before the bleak business commences of laying these rotting corpses to rest. "We bury the ones we love and leave the rest," badass Andrea (Laurie Holden) suggests, while the social order at the farm adjusts again in the wake of this horrible, if necessary, slaughter.
It's a somber, sorrowful and often unnervingly silent opener, which no doubt will make restless those who have been yearning for the show to get back on the road and mix it up with the ravenous herds of the undead. But in the tradition of other AMC breakouts that dare to make us wait for payoffs, The Walking Dead wants us to consider the horror within as well as the menace lurking beyond. Which in this grim hour means confronting a future seemingly without hope, providing a new test to the flawed leadership of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he argues with a despondent Hershel (Scott Wilson) over the fate of his band of weary wanderers.
The tension only escalates when two strangers (including Raymond-James) enter the picture, welcomed not with open arms but with a mutual undercurrent of distrust and impending violence, reminding us that not all of the monsters in this dystopia are of the walking dead variety. These scenes have the feel of a classic Western, which only makes sense given that their world has regressed into a lawless frontier. I'm as eager as anyone to see the show expand its horizons, and soon, but also fearful to discover what fresh hell awaits them down the road.
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MORE FROM THE CULT CORNER: One aspect of Fox's fabulous if frighteningly low-rated Fringe that I most enjoy is that it rarely feels like the same show from week to week. This Friday's exciting sci-fi thriller (9/8c), "Welcome to Westfield," might have come from the archives of The Twilight Zone or The X-Files — or Supernatural in the way it takes our heroes far off the beaten path (even Walter, getting out of the lab for a change) to investigate a horrific anomaly. But the underlying causes are rooted firmly in Fringe mythology. TV's favorite mad scientist accompanies Olivia and Peter to a small Vermont burg under the throes of an electromagnetic disturbance that ends up trapping them within the city limits while most of the populace begins going mad. "How can an entire town turn schizophrenic overnight?" wonders Olivia as the locals begin exhibiting behaviors from someone else's lives.
Could the answer lie in the colliding universes, one reality bleeding into another with the usual cataclysmic effect? Even Olivia, who's been dreaming lately of Peter-from-another-timeline, begins to wonder if "there's somebody else in my head." Walter has a simpler answer for this no-exit dilemma: "I've seen this once before: Brigadoon." Well, it's true that watching Fringe is almost like being in love (to quote a song from that score).
It's hard to keep up with all the cult fantasy airing on Fridays these days, so I was glad to get an advance screener of NBC's Grimm (9/8c) to reacquaint myself with this diverting creep show. This week's fiend, played by genre fave Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse), is something of a lethal spider woman — though when threatened has as aspect of a spider monkey as well. Her story is enjoyably icky, but the better parts of this episode involve Nick (David Giuntoli) dealing with his unwanted notoriety among the local creature population. "You're the monster under the bed," Monroe (the always enjoyable Silas Weir Mitchell) tells him, reminding him of the power of the Grimm legend. "You're not real. You're a scary story we tell our kids." Grimm is something of a bedtime story for kids of all ages: not too scary, not too silly. Just about right for Friday nights.
Not available for preview, but always worth a look, is The CW's cult combo Nikita and Supernatural. On Nikita (8/7c), the latest evil plan in Percy's playbook is to go after Nikita's mentor (guest star Erica Gimpel), while on Supernatural, Sam must face his fear of clowns — been there — as the brothers investigate deaths linked to a kiddies' pizza chain, Plucky Pennywhistle's Magical Menagerie.
CHANNEL SURFING: Several more reasons to keep the TV on this weekend: In advance of its return next week following a punishingly long hiatus, ABC is airing a mini-marathon of Cougar Town repeats Saturday night, starting at 9/8c. ... Who's that girl? Zooey Deschanel takes a break from Fox's delightful New Girl to host Saturday Night Live for the first time. "Swag Pop" duo Karmin is the musical guest. ... One of the few culinary TV contests I can truly relate to, Food Network's Worst Cooks in America, starts its third season Sunday night (9/8c), with undefeated Anne Burrell taking on new celebrity chef/coach Bobby Flay, each mentoring a team of eight who can barely boil water. ... Sunday night's big event is The Grammy Awards on CBS (8/7c), with this year's usual all-star music lineup led by chart-topping Adele, making her first live performance since canceling her U.S. tour for vocal cord surgery. As a curtain-raiser, she is interviewed (and sings for) Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes (7/6c).