Saturday, September 26, 2015

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead

'Fear The Walking Dead' plays heavily on the fact that we know what's coming while the characters don't.

  Once my favorite TNT post-apocalyptic shows ‘Falling Skies’ and ‘The Last Ship’ finished their summer Sunday night runs, I switched my Sunday night post-apocalyptic television viewing to AMC for the first season of ‘Fear The Walking Dead’.

  ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ (FTWD) is the first spinoff of the fantastically popular AMC show ‘The Walking Dead’ (TWD) and is set in the same zombie apocalypse reality. TWD is set in Georgia and started its story after the zombie apocalypse had laid waste to much of society, while FTWD begins its tale in Los Angeles just before the start of the apocalypse. This allows us to see how society unravels as what first appears to be a few isolated incidents of ill people turning into rabid beasts is slowly revealed to be a pandemic of flesh eating zombies.

Not having seen 'The Walking Dead', no one understands the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

  FTWD centers around the extended family of high school English teacher Travis Manawa, his guidance counselor girlfriend Madison Clark, Clarks’ model student daughter Alicia and drug addict son Nick. As Travis realizes the scope of the zombie apocalypse, he brings his divorced wife Liza and their son Chris into his and Clark’s household, creating a weird Brady Bunch meets zombie apocalypse dynamic to the show.

  The show had excellent ratings for its debut which I attribute to the popularity of zombies in general and The Walking Dead in particular but the ratings have gone down for each episode. I attribute the declining viewership to the lack of zombies and the emphasis on character development. There was two zombies in the first episode, one which was discovered by Nick in his drug den and verified by the rest of his family over the entire hour and a half to be real and not a heroin induced hallucination. The other zombie was a drug dealer that Nick killed and then ran over repeatedly with his fathers truck, leaving it disabled but moving. Episode #2 showed Madison sneaking into the closed down high school to get some drugs for Nick only to be confronted by the zombified principal who she eventually kills by bashing a fire extinguisher over his head while Travis is trapped in an inner city barber shop as he and Liza are getting his son out of a riot situation. Episode three has one of the neighbors in Madison’s suburban neighborhood turn zombie and attack a neighbor as well as the Clark’s family dog as Travis gets his original family and the barber’s family out of the barbershop, through the riots, and to safely in his and Madison’s house in the suburbs. Everyone is ready to make a break for the desert when the neighborhood is taken over by the military and put under martial law in a zombieless episode four.

  FTWD has more suspense and character development than action. This is understandable because it is a new show with new characters and it is early enough in the zombie apocalypse that there aren’t enough zombies for very much zombie action. The suspense comes from the knowledge that the viewers have of how dangerous the zombies are while the main characters still think they’re sick and try to talk to them and comfort them and touch them, getting unknowingly terrifyingly close to being eaten alive. No one even knows yet that the only way to kill the zombies is to crush their brains.

There's not much action in 'Fear The Walking Dead' so far...

  At the close of episode four the neighborhood seems safe behind their fences under martial law with their rationed food and occasional electricity but there is a sense of foreboding as Madison ventures outside to the city and discovers dead bodies everywhere while the barber’s wife (who suffered a broken ankle) and drug addict Nick are forcibly taken to a military hospital. I expect the last two episodes to feature a showdown between the military and the neighborhood and possibly the neighborhood being overrun by zombies. This would seem to fit the way the parent show cycles its story lines where our group of familiar zombie apocalypse survivors find a save haven for much of a season until having a conflict with another group of survivors until a zombie attack overruns the haven and our group of zombie apocalypse survivors is on the road again until they find a safe haven for much of the next season.

  What makes ‘The Walking Dead’ one of my favorite shows is a partly the zombie action but a whole lot more the action that goes on between the main characters and the groups of survivors they run into. Almost every group that Rick Grimes and crew run encounter has survived by killing before they are killed. From the Governor to Joe and the marauders to the people of Terminus, the conflicts between our heroes of ‘The Walking Dead’ and these groups have been built up over multiple episodes and almost always end in a very violent climax. Another attraction of TWD is the violent acts committed by the ‘good guys’ while battling their adversaries. The upcoming season six starting on October 11th looks to be the best yet with Rick and company helping the soft survivors of the Alexandria settlement battle the ferocious clan of Wolves who rig zombie death traps and seem to live to kill survivors.

  ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ hasn’t had time to develop any adversaries and Travis and company haven’t been through the zombie apocalypse long enough to find their killers within. The performances are decent. Cliff Curtis as Travis and Kim Dickens as Madison are likable enough in their roles as parents of dysfunctional families thrust into the zombie apocalypse. I especially enjoy Frank Dillane's portrayal of Nick as a decent enough kid except when he needs his drug fix and will even stoop to hiding under a makeshift hospital bed to steal a sick person's morphine drip. There hasn’t been a death of one of the main cast members yet although my bet is on Daniel Salazar, the El Savadoran barber whose family is staying with the Clarks and is the most distrustful of the military. I’m finding FTWD to be pretty slow moving so far and I don’t care about any of the main characters very much yet. Having said that, I’m going to give the Los Angeles version of the zombie apocalypse a chance to get going before I make any final judgments. I have to think the showrunners will use ‘The Walking Dead’ as a guide for the new show and follow the same types of story arcs. All the same I’m glad I didn’t skip the last few episodes of ‘The Last Ship’ to watch ‘Fear The Walking Dead’.

Now this is action! Only 16 more days until season six of 'The (REAL) Walking Dead!