Given that I am a huge fan of the AMC Network series “The Walking Dead”, it’s going to be a bit difficult for me to review the new spinoff series “Fear The Walking Dead”. To say that it has been highly anticipated ever since it was announced that a pilot had been approved is a big understatement for me and all of the show’s fans. We presumed however that since it was being written and created and produced by basically the same team responsible for both the comic book and the original “The Walking Dead”, fans expect it to be of an exceptionally high quality.
For those of you not familiar with either the original or the new show but have just heard that it’s a zombie show, you need to understand that when we say “high quality” were not just measuring how gross the special effects are or how many scary or surprising moments we are delivered or even the technical aspects of the special effects. The Walking Dead is one of the best written and acted dramatic hours on television. In a way it’s a shame that it is so gross and violent because that’s going to drive away some people from seeing what is otherwise a quality piece of television.
This new spinoff series received a green light for an initial six episodes but has already been renewed for a second season. We have seen 2 episodes that you would have to catch on demand or on reruns. (The first two episodes are being shown several times this Sunday Sept.6 all evening.)
The original series follows a deputy sheriff Rick Grimes who as the show opened the zombie virus had just broken out but he was unaware of it. He’s in a car accident and in a coma for several months. When he awakens he’s in an abandoned hospital in the world has gone to hell. So we didn’t get to see how the world got into the shape it is in when Grimes awakened in the first episode of the first season. This new series takes place in Los Angeles rather than Atlanta area and shows us what happened in the first days of the breakout.
Our main characters in this new edition are blended family consisting of Madison Clark played by Kim Dickens. You will remember her from such shows as Deadwood, Lost, and Sons of Anarchy. She is a high school guidance counselor. Her husband Travis Manawa is played by Cliff Curtis you might recognize from 2014 series Gang Related for the 2009 TV series Trauma. He portrays a teacher. She has 2 grown children. One is a drug addict Nick played by Frank Dillane a young British actor mostly known for playing Tom Riddle Jr. in one of the Harry Potter movies.
The show opens with Nick in some drug den in an abandoned church waking up from his latest dose to find that his girlfriend has turned into a zombie and is eating the face-off of one of his other druggy friends. He runs out into the street screaming and is hit by a car in France in the hospital. I guess that’s a parallel to Rick Grimes experience in the other show. However Nick awakens right away to tell his story which of course even he doesn’t believe. In some ways it may have been good for him because it’s scaring him straight. He thinks it was a bad drug trip.
Apart from that opening gory scene, much of the first episode is just introducing this family which extends to Frank’s son from another marriage and his ex-wife neither of which he gets along with.
As it unfolds, Nick is trying to track down his drug dealer to see what the hell he gave him that into such a bizarre hallucination. However Frank investigates and finds out that at least some of Nick’s story may be true. Nick catches up with his drug dealer who leads him to a remote location in the LA River and tries to kill him. There is a struggle for the gun and the drug dealer gets shot and dies. Nick’s mother and stepfather catch up with him and he confesses to killing the drug dealer in the struggle over the gun. But when they return to the scene of the crime, the body is missing. This is among several instances where the audience is familiar with how the zombies work more than the people in the show. We know from our experience in the original series that everyone has the virus dormant in them. When you die of any cause, you turn into a zombie whether you were recently bitten by one or not. The now zombie drug dealer soon shows up and survives repeated attempts by Nick to kill him. All this witnessed by Nick’s parents who were nearly killed by the drug dealer zombie. They now understand everything he was saying was true.
Except for the gory scene in the beginning and the attempt to kill the drug dealer at the end there was little or no action whatsoever so fans of the show including myself were a wee bit disappointed. But the previews of the second week promised we would see more action and indeed we did.
The second episode shows that the zombie situation is about to go public with the police shoot a zombie and it is all caught on camera. Of course the zombies aren’t the wrinkled up dead people that we are used to seeing in The Walking Dead. These are freshly deceased people for whom it’s not immediately evident that they are zombies. LA goes into a complete panic over this apparently unjustified police shooting and you can see things starting to fall apart. By the end of the second episode we are much more familiar territory where you don’t know whether you’re going to be in danger from the zombies or from the surviving humans were behaving badly as civilization is coming about them. So if the second is any indication, we’re going to get all the action we expect out of this series.
the reason I titled this review “Fear is aptly named” is that that first episode even with its lack of action actually gave me a nightmare the following night. There was something quantitatively different about the worlds of the two series even though they are the same world. We’ve come to understand in the original series that although this once was the world that we currently live in, it no longer is. The drama from the original series comes from being in a decimated world where you have to scrounge for resources and avoid not only the zombies but the other survivors who can be as dangerous as the monsters themselves. We can imagine being in a post-apocalyptic world especially because we’ve seen so many examples in movies and television but we never really experienced that world unless you’ve lived in some war zone or disaster area.
The fear factor from this new series comes from the fact that it is set in our world right now. This is punctuated even more by the timeliness of the police shooting subplot. Somehow it makes the series seem all the more plausibly real and that’s where the fear comes in. In my nightmare, I wasn’t being chased by zombies. I was living in a world where there was a zombie outbreak and we were trying to figure out what we needed to do to survive the coming disaster. The show illustrates in brilliant fashion just how fragile civilization is. One minor character, a high school student who has been following the outbreak sort of as an Internet conspiracy theory keeps reminding our other characters how quickly things are going to fall apart. Once people stop manning their posts we are going to lose Internet, television, and even electricity. He’s trying to explain to people just how bad things are going to get and how quickly it’s going to happen. We just celebrated the 10th anniversary of Katrina and we saw how quickly civilization came to an end in that particular situation. “Fear of The Walking Dead” if it has any message to it at all is that we have much to fear whether there is a zombie outbreak or not.