Let me set the record straight – I am a huge fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I am the biggest Deadhead around – even bigger than Ben and Jerry with their Cherry Garcia. That doesn’t mean I am going to be automatically a fan of the spin-off prequel Fear the Walking Dead. In fact, after this first episode (which AMC is calling a “pilot”), I am afraid that I am a not fan of this version of the zombie apocalypse or even coming back next week.
AMC has created some great shows. I loved Breaking Bad and never wanted it to end; however, Better Call Saul did not win me over. The whole idea of the prequel is in and of itself problematic because we know where the show is going. In the case of Saul, we know Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is going to end up a manager of Cinnabon in Omaha, just as he predicted to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad.
The whole of what came before concept may attract some fans, but I just find it to be very tedious. I would have much preferred to see Saul’s life after Heisenberg, constantly running in fear from someone coming into his life from the Breaking Bad universe. That’s a show I would have tuned in to see.
Fear the Walking Dead suffers from a similar lack of urgency to watch. We all know what’s going to happen – Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and company have given us the utter horror and despair of what occurs when the dead walk the earth. The “what comes after” is infinitely more compelling than what came before – we know that already.
In this incarnation we couldn’t have a more annoying family. They are dysfunctional with a capital D, and each has issues that should be more interesting than they are. Where TWD began with Rick waking up from a gunshot wound in the hospital after the world had gone to hell, here we have first annoying teenager, druggie Nick (Frank Dillane), waking in a drug den to find his gal-pal missing. As he staggers around the almost bombed-out abandoned building looking for her, he discovers that she is feasting on two other dead druggies and starts coming toward him to continue the carnage. Oh, she has a knife in her heart, so that kind of tells loopy Nick that something is amiss.
He ends up running outside and, while we expect a zombie horde, instead we get the living denizens of LA, one of whom hits druggie with a car. This sends Nick to the hospital where he will be questioned by police who obviously know more than they are saying. We realize this because we are like the audience watching Hamlet knowing that Polonius is behind the curtain (more than a few minutes of that wears thin very quickly).
Back at dysfunction central – Nick’s home – we get to meet mom Maddie (Kim Dickens), boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) who can fix pipes, and even more annoying but not druggie child Alicia (Alycia Debnam- Carey). In an effort to show some sort of domesticity before the descent, the show’s creators should have known better and gave us a family with whom it would have been easier to identify. At this point their problems don’t seem more important than yours or mine.
The story line then takes us to a city high school where Maddie’s kids attend and she and Cliff work. A scene where a kid brings a knife to school and is saved by Maddie from the principal is supposed to set an ominous tone – the kid knows what is going to happen. Earth to AMC – so do we! The suspense factor is not there. Just as we know Saul will end up saying, “Time to make the donuts,” we know this kid has seen every episode of TWD and Maddie hasn’t had the time because her Sunday nights are too busy.
I will spare you the rest of the less than gory details. The point is that AMC should have learned from Carl (Chandler Riggs) on TWD that one annoying, self-absorbed teenager is quite enough, but here they give us two. Of course, one could defend Carl because he has been through hell, has lived in that world with no devices, no friends, and has seen his mother die giving birth to his sister. Yes, perhaps these kids Alicia and Nick are going to be where Carl has been, but we have to care first.
There will always be those who will like this show because of its pedigree. To them I say, “Enjoy!” Unfortunately, I am not won over by this first episode. It took a seemingly long 90 minutes to get to the point where Maddie and Travis know something is wrong – Nick’s drug dealer friend becomes a zombie and doesn’t die after being shot in the chest and hit by a car. Even then Travis utters what could be a signature line or the death knell for this series, “What the hell is happening?” Duh!
But Maddie’s inane response kind of sums up my reaction to the pilot: “I have no idea.” And, the truth is, after watching FTWD for ninety minutes, I have no idea why I did. So far the teens are like those dispensable kids from Halloween of Friday the Thirteenth whom we cannot wait to see be dispatched by Michael or Jason; unfortunately, they seem to be part of the core group that will experience the zombie apocalypse unfold. At this point, I just don’t think I can go forward from here.
Just as with Better Call Saul, I believe AMC could have taken a different direction. They could have made this into a concurrent series, with another group of survivors in New York or Philadelphia. For five seasons of TWD there has always been the awareness that there are more survivors – perhaps even larger groups – and we could see how they are dealing with the end of the world differently than Rick, Carl, and company. There would also be a chance for crossovers in both series, but here there is no way a group in LA will ever meet up with our Georgia gang.
For now Fear the Walking Dead did little or nothing to keep me watching. I just might come back to see if those two annoying kids get it, but my “fear” is that they will not only survive but find more of their ilk to bring into the fold. Be afraid, dear readers, be very afraid!
Photo credits: AMC[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00VGQJLDO]