AMC is a network that’s never been afraid to push creative boundaries. Shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead have all made it into a bastion for A-quality television, making them into one of the most-watched cable networks out there right now. With Breaking Bad and Mad Men both off the air now though, the next generation of shows is imminently arriving. Already, The Walking Dead is getting a spinoff show to continue the zombie narrative. But in the territory of newer, more innovative TV, the network is prepping Into the Badlands.
At its core, Into the Badlands is a classic Kung Fu Western, very much in the spirit of Korean films like The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. The series is set in the fictional West, where competing factions of Ninja barons have personal armies. Meanwhile, we’re following our main character, Sunny, a troubled master fighter under the service of his own (seemingly sketchy) baron. All we have to go off of is some promo language and a recently released trailer, but from what we do have, it’s immediately obvious that this is unexplored territory for AMC.
This isn’t the first time AMC has ventured into the unknown. When they brought Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead graphic novel alive, it was an unprecedented attempt at the undead genre in a full series format. It wasn’t long before the show became a crossover hit, and we all stopped caring that one of the most popular series on TV centered around a zombie apocalypse in the deep South. Clearly, the next logical step is to move things in an even crazier direction. What’s crazier than a Kung Fu Western on a network known for its nuanced character dramas? Probably nothing.
With Mad Men having wrapped up its final season this year, AMC is clearly searching for its next hit. Fear the Walking Dead (the companion show of its namesake) can only do so much as a derivative concept, and beyond that there are few other contenders. Into the Badlands represents a show that’s just different enough to change the landscape, with a core concept that could catch on enough to bring in a wide audience. Most other shows AMC has tried and failed at have been generic gritty dramas that fell flat, so perhaps something entirely out of left field is just what they need to infuse some life into a waning lineup.
The show itself looks a lot like what you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino, a director pretty much obsessed with both Spaghetti Westerns and classic Kung Fu movies. That look and feel isn’t an accident either, given that it boasts producers from Tarantino films Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction. It’ll be imperative to its initial success to capture that feel for both genres Tarantino has down to a tee. Into the Badlands will depend heavily on its ability to balance characterization with stylization, without leaning too far in either direction.
AMC is a network in search of their next hit, and has been for some time now. Shows like Rubicon and Low Winter Sun never quite landed with viewers, giving them no true heirs to the respective thrones of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Into the Badlands has the chance to ascend to that lofty title and take over as the next genre-shattering drama. For now at least, we’re cautiously optimistic.
AMC’s Into the Badlands premieres on Sunday, November 15 at 10/9c.
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