He was one of the six original cast members dating back to 2010, a regular pizza delivery guy who grew into a leader as he adjusted to a post-apocalyptic future where zombies roam the planet and eat braainnnsss!
He was Glenn Rhee (played by Steven Yeun) of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” one of the most watched shows on the air (last season averaged 13.15 million and a whopping 6.84 in the advertisers’ coveted 18-49 age group). Somehow, this shy guy even managed to bed an attractive white woman, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), whom he eventually married and is expecting his child.
But most fans of the comic book upon which the series is based knew that in Issue #100, Glenn was brutally clubbed to death by the villainous Negan. Even though the television creators haven’t stayed consistent (or predictable) with the original source material — letting some characters live longer and others die sooner — that date with destiny hung over the series for years.
In the third episode of last season, it looked as if Glenn had bought it ahead of time. He and Nicolas (Michael Traynor) were surrounded by a horde of zombies, leading the latter to shoot himself. It ended with what looked like Glenn’s guts being ripped open. The producers wanted you to think he had died, even going as far as taking Yeun’s name off the opening credits of the next three episodes.
Many fans were outraged, asking the producers to bring him back. Some posted videos with their theories of how Glenn could have survived the attack (most correctly deduced that it was Nicolas’ entrails that were being violated as he lay on top of Glenn). A black woman posed next to a trash dumpster, the kind the two “Walking Dead” characters were next to. She demonstrated how she could slip under the dumpster to safety, therefore “proving” that Glenn could’ve done the same.
I laughed out loud. For non-Asians to be so invested in the survival of a fictitious Asian American man was encouraging. Because my theory has always been: If you make audiences care about Asian characters in television or film, chances are they just might have an open heart toward Asians in real life. That’s why, for over 25 years, I’ve met with movie studios, filmmakers, talent agencies, and television executives — to gain more acceptance for Asian Americans.
In the season finale last April, the cast finally met their inevitable foe Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who usually plays friendlier characters). Because our heroes had killed some of his men, Negan was going to randomly murder one of them. As they were kneeling on the ground, he played “Eeeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” and his barbed-wire-laced bat Lucille struck someone. But we didn’t get to see the face.
Many were furious at the manipulation, having to wait six months to find out who bought the farm. Some swore they wouldn’t watch the show again. But as you can imagine, when it finally returned on Oct. 23, TWD came back with huge numbers: 17 million, and an amazing 8.4 in the 18-49, their second-highest-rated episode of all.
But critics were gunning for Glenn. As much as they liked him, having him escape two deaths in a year would’ve been too much. The conclusion: Glenn Must Die!
At first, it looked like he’d escaped his comic book fate when Lucille landed on Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). But then Daryl (Norman Reedus) got up and punched Negan, which led him to take it out on poor Glenn. It was so graphic it made some people sick. I mean, we saw his eyeball pop out of its socket. Even then, he managed to mutter to Maggie, “I will find you,” which most took to interpret as an expression of everlasting love for his wife.
Glenn’s death put Yeun on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Asked about the significance of playing a strong Asian American character, Rhee mentioned having just attended a (25th anniversary of) CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) event:
“One of the founders mentioned she went to this camp in Michigan called Sae Jong Camp, where kids that are Korean Americans go to get more of a cultural awareness, whether they’re adopted or whether they’re Korean immigrants… She was so saddened to hear that they all thought they were ugly … that someone who looked like them wasn’t supposed to be on television or… wasn’t supposed to be desired or heroic or cool… And I do remember feeling that way myself growing up. I didn’t have a Glenn. I didn’t have someone to watch on television… where I could say, ‘That’s my face, and my face is being accepted by everybody watching this program.’”
Gotta change subjects quickly. There’s something in my eye.
CBS Attacks Millennials! Department: The current installment of CBS’ “Survivor” is subtitled “Gen X vs. Millennials.” At first, each age group (18-31 vs. 33-52) was separated into separate tribes and each made fun of the other. Many played to type. Self-important millennial Mari Takahashi told the cameras, “This is the best generation ever!” Said one Gen-Xer of his opponents: “No one has a regular job!” Another joked that unlike the millennials, Gen-Xers didn’t expect trophies for merely participating in a competition — only when they won it.
Maybe the producers interviewing the contestants really pushed the generational differences in the early episodes, but Mari kept saying that playing “Survivor” was a lot different than her usual activity of playing video games (well, duh!). She was voted out in the second week.
Lucy Huang, a Gen-Xer, was initially barely heard from. Then she tried throwing her weight around telling a bunch of guys how they had to vote, even going as far as telling them not to talk to others because that would make her suspicious of their motivations. In interviews, she rationalized that men should be comfortable with her talking like a man (wow, how naïve!) and that’s how she treated her children back home, so what works there should work on “Survivor.”
Surprisingly, she would’ve gotten her way. Her alliance overwhelmingly voted out her target, but one of the tribe members used his immunity idol to cancel out all of those votes, and Lucy went home instead.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Rachel Ako, a Gen X Asian Pacific Islander who talked too much, told her tribe she was good at solving puzzles, only to blow it in the immunity challenge, and was the first person voted out. That’s three Asian American women out by Week 4!
In the last three weeks, with members of Gen X and millennials broken up into three new tribes, even when one group has the majority, the minority has managed to vote out a member of the majority. So I guess both generations can work together after all.
CBS has another show that focuses on the differences between these two groups, though it makes fun of the generation gap a bit more evenly. It’s “The Great Indoors” (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.). Jack Gordon (“Community’s” Joel McHale) was used to traveling the country reporting for an outdoors magazine, but the company was forced to become a website-only operation, thus grounding his travels and adventures. He’s stuck working with a team of millennials who have no actual experience in the outdoors, despite having to write about it.
One of them is social media expert Emma, played by Chinese American Christine Ko. She’s great as a droll millennial prone to saying “Eww!” (like when Gordon insists, “Trophies are for winners!”). (In a video on cbs.com where she addresses fans as herself, we realize she’s very outgoing compared to the character she plays). After learning that Gordon doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter, she tells him, “You’re like the human version of dial-up!”
While showing the youngsters a nearly extinct animal, Gordon says, “You don’t know what it is to be looking at the last of its kind.”
In unison, they answer, “Yeah, we do!”
In last week’s episode, Gordon mocks the staffers for being in a bar and trying to get dates through apps as opposed to simply going up and talking to someone. In order to prove this, he approaches a black woman but is interrupted when the date she got through (what else?) an app arrives. To really add salt to the wound, it’s his co-worker Clark (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
So Gordon tries giving app dating a chance. When he finds an attractive woman, they try to school him on the warning signs. Says Clark, “This girl only has one photo! It’s obviously stolen from the Internet.” A naïve Gordon shakes his head: “Why would a girl that hot steal a photo from the Internet?!” It’s a pretty funny show.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.