‘Fear The Walking Dead’ Premiere Review
Those of us addicted to AMC’s The Walking Dead tuned in warily but eagerly last night for the premiere of Fear The Walking Dead—a title I’m still not crazy about—to see if creators Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson could bring us new (fresh?) scares and an intriguing prequel storyline to compliment those bedraggled Southerners we love so much. In many ways this new series feels almost like Kirkman appealing to Hollywood more than to his fans, even to the point of setting the story in Los Angeles and focusing much of the first episode around junkie Nick Clark (Frank Dillane). And this is the only major stumbling block of the pilot, not enough walkers, way too much family drama.
The diverse family dynamic certainly makes for quite a few characters, which is a smart move in that those of us familiar with The Walking Dead will know that starting with a crowd means more people to choose from when the significant deaths start happening. Gruesome? Yes, but it’s the way of the walker world we’ve come to know. The pilot started and ended with a newly deceased walker—which may not end up being what we even call these zombies in this new show—but otherwise followed Kim Dickens’ Madison Clark, a school guidance counselor mostly concerned with her junkie son, Nick, and vaguely aware of the subtle signs around her that something major is happening in LA. One of those signs is that a lot of her students aren’t showing up for school, blamed on a bad strain of the flu going around.
When Madison isn’t at the hospital with Nick—where he insists he wasn’t hallucinating and did indeed stumble upon his girlfriend eating the face off a junkie in the church they were crashing at—she’s trying to get through to her teenage daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), who is going through an all too familiar, just-need-to-get-to-college phase. Madison’s live-in boyfriend (soon-to-be-husband?) Travis (Cliff Curtis) is the only one who thinks to check out Nick’s crazy story about cannibalistic girlfriends and finds a gruesome sight at the church to back it up. (You’d think the cops would also follow-up on that. LAPD, amiright?) Madison insists Travis keep his findings to himself so as not to “enable” Nick. And thus the zombie apocalypse begins, and our main characters write it off as either the flu or a drug-fueled hallucination.
Granted, the show couldn’t jump right into survival mode. The epidemic didn’t likely happen over night, but it also didn’t take that long. Rick Grimes woke up about a month after things got started and the world was already a pretty dismal place by then. Getting to see how news of the epidemic spread initially, and the reaction of a city as large as Los Angeles, is what I’m most intrigued to find out about, but the first episode was incredibly insular. As a devoted watcher of The Walking Dead, it was hard not feel a lot smarter than these new characters. In the end they encounter their first undead person, they run him over twice and watch as he still tries to get up. Madison and Travis look at each other with incredulity but not nearly enough terror. If FTWD is going to match the scares of TWD they are going to have to get the characters on-screen a lot more amped up over the insanity happening. We Angelinos are tough, but we’re not numb to blood-covered dead people trying to eat us.
The look and feel of the show are there, casting orange-ish L.A. hues in abundance in contrast to TWD’s green ones, and the music maintains decent tension, even if I was rather craving Bear McCreary’s frenzied strings (no complaints about Atticus Ross’s opening theme). Because of the newness of the disease-spreading, there will be a lot more opportunity for blood and gore on the show, rather than the decayed look of TWD. Madison Clark isn’t nearly as compelling as Rick Grimes was in his pilot episode, but Nick Clark is and so far is the only one displaying a little gravitas toward the situation. But considering that the similarly short season one of TWD played out in a slow Georgian sizzle, I’m trained well enough in Kirkman’s world-building to know its worth sticking around to see what’s coming.