By James Nelson
So. Here I am. Reviewing a Walking Dead spin-off. These were the thoughts I had as I fired up the ole cable box to catch the series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead. I’ve abandoned the flagship series back in season four, due to a litany of reasons, all of which I was sure was going to make me hate this new show. After all, what could this show do different that would make me like it?
Just as a brief recap for those that don’t know, this series is set several months before the beginning of The Walking Dead and plays over the end of the world. In this series we will get to see what happens as society falls apart as the dead come back to life with a penchant for human flesh. The leads of this series are a pair of educators (a literature teacher and a guidance counselor) and their children. Its a modern story so two of the kids belong to the guidance counselor, Madison (played by the always excellent Kim Dickens) and the other one belongs to the lit teacher Travis (played by Cliff Curtis. Sadly, the only thing I remember him from is his part as Fire Lord Ozai in the terrible Last Airbender movie).
Much of the premiere centers around this family unit as they deal with the oldest son Nick (Frank Dillane) coming back into their lives after being struck by a car as he ran from a drug den. It’s these parts that shine in this episode as it really feels like they are a family trying to struggle with living their lives while the black sheep, whom they love, is destroying himself with heroine. It provides the emotional core of the series and I really hope that they don’t just drop this as soon as the walkers start becoming a regular occurrence, because an addict is an addict, zombipocalypse or no.
Cinematically the series seems to have more True Detective in its DNA than TWD. It spends a lot of it’s time exploring the landscape and this really adds a wonderful threatening element to the episode. If you know anything about TWD, or just zombie in general, you can image that Los Angeles is possibly the worst place to be in the event of a zombie outbreak. It contains millions of people packed in together and once things start to fall apart it will get bad extremely quick. Think Atlanta in season one of TWD except multiply the population by a factor of nine. In the background you always hear a constant buzzing, as in the sounds of electricity, the sound of helicopters, cars, sirens, dogs, horns. It’s the sound of a living and vibrant city, and a sound that is decidedly absent in TWD. In serves as such a wonderful and subtle juxtaposition.
“Nature Always Wins”
Now onto the problems. In the first hour I just kept thinking of how wonderfully drawn out the episode was. The episode kept playing with your expectations and led you to believe that you were encountering the characters first zombie with musical builds and slow close-up shots, but each time it turned out to be a tease. At first this was fine, but once you actually got to see a zombie it took much of the awe out of the moment. It was like this was just one more thing. That was really how much of the zombie interactions felt though, was that it was something they were doing to just get to the next plot point. The zombies are there, but its not a focus, but at the same time it is THE focus as they are just constantly building to the reveal of the walkers. It’s like the show can’t decide if it’s going to be a family drama or a zombie/horror show, and I suppose it can be both, but they need to do a better job of balancing the two.
My other issue is really, the idea of the show entirely, and the premiere did nothing to dispel any of my worries. A spin-off is not supposed to supplement the original series, but to augment it. It’s supposed to take the same premise and twist it into something new and exciting. Star Trek: The Next Generation showed us a ship run by an older, slight, and diplomatic man without a Vulcan so much as on the bridge crew. Deep Space Nine took us out of a starship and put us on a fort on the frontier. Voyager stranded a ship in the farthest reaches of the galaxy where they couldn’t even so much as call Earth, much less stop to get gas.
This series seems to be taking the CSI approach; make the same show. By doing that, I’m afraid their going to run into the same pitfalls (and AMC hopes the same success) that the original series has. It’s going to be a grim show with people being dramatic, crying, lots of gore, and meaningless character deaths to emphasize that the show has no meaning and everything is hopeless. As Fire Lord Ozai *Cough* I mean Travis said early in the premiere, Nature always wins.