Fear the Walking Dead – “Pilot”
“I don’t know what a viscera is.”
So if you were wondering why The Walking Dead has a spin-off and why it’s set in Los Angeles, I’m pretty sure you have me to blame. That place where Rick finds a tank in the original series (the Fairly-Poplar District)? Less than a block from where I lived in Atlanta. That park in Los Angeles everyone on Fear the Walking Dead seems to drive by on the way to school or anywhere (Lincoln Park)? I run through there every weekend.
The zombie apocalypse seems to want to follow me around. But this time I’m glad to see it. Fear the Walking Dead seems to be about what I always wanted The Walking Dead to be about. And that’s everything everyone else seems to hate to watch.
It should be known that one of my favorite seasons of The Walking Dead was Season 2. The one with the farm. It was slow. Man, was it slow. Painfully slow at times. And then there’s that wedding. Okay, it wasn’t exactly the perfect season. But it’s the thing The Walking Dead needed most at the time.
The thing is that I can go anywhere to get a shoot-em-up, gore-strewn, zombie-sucky-sound horror show. That’s almost every zombie movie since zombie movies were a thing. But the great opportunity about doing a horror movie as a series is that you have time to let characters develop and to really consider how people would react in a post-apocalyptic viscera-fest.
We can expand and grow and really break down what those character archetypes of heroes and damsels and villains and underdogs and whatever because we have more time to fill and more time for the audience to really fall in love or grow to hate characters. In a movie you only have an hour and a half of time before the audience either gets fatigued or bored so you have to introduce characters and get to the action set pieces really, really fast. But in a TV show, you have the individual installments to set up action pieces but the much longer seasonal unit or even series unit to dive in deeper.
The more time you get to spend with someone, the more profoundly you get to know them and that opens you up to a richer experience.
The first season of The Walking Dead was terrible about the character development part. You knew a lot about Rick but anyone else that wasn’t part of the Rick web of lies, even the ones suffered great losses like Andrea, or were around a ton, like Glenn, had pretty superficial stories. Despite the heaviness of Dale’s story, because of how little was paid to his development, he came off like the world’s most annoying creepy uncle. But then season 2 rolled around and we got to dive deeper.
Part of that, of course, was because of the shorter first season. There were only 6 episodes to really get this cast up and running (literally, running — all the time running). But then we ask ourselves the same question that we do of the horror movie. Is six episodes enough time for a first season to really get everything off the ground? Breaking Bad did it but that’s an expertly executed show. Did the first season, with that kind of order, have a chance to do right by its characters?
Everyone hates that farmhouse now for production and pacing reasons. I’ll be the first to admit It’s a real snail of a season. But it’s what kept me invested in the show. And it seems like that’s what Fear the Walking Dead is trying to emulate while tweaking the formula to encourage people to keep coming back.
Fear the Walking Dead is a family drama and we shouldn’t get it twisted. It’s not the humanity-questioning drama in the same way its predecessor is. In fact, it centers on people that don’t seem very well equipped to make it in the same universe that Rick and Darryl live in. When it comes to people like Nick, they may not even seem well-enough equipped to live in the world we live in.
But that’s the potential of this new show. Instead of a group hanging on by convenience of a marksmen cop, a tough survivalist, a katana-wielding badass, and a cadre of people willing to be convinced that Rick has leadership charisma, we’re going to follow a couple academics and their loner charges.
It’s going to be Parenthood in LA with people-eating monsters. I’m actually kind of excited.
But I think that’s a major obstacle this series is going to have to overcome. Kim Dickens is great and, honestly, there’s not a poor portrayal on the screen. Not even from the difficult to play River Phoenix/Johnny Depp drug addict character. But the audience that’s going to come to this show is going to be looking for another dose of The Walking Dead. And I just don’t think that’s going to happen.
This is going to be the more meditative of the two. The Walking Dead will be there for all your set pieces where Darryl splits a skull and Rick the Dick does something ghoulish in the name of self-preservation. But the difference is in the title. This show is called “Fear the Walking Dead.” These are not people that are going to sally forth through the desert of fallen cities knowing they can take down the hordes if they want it badly enough.
The potential here is that this is going to be about how the panic affects our humanity. This is a more academic, introspective family. Let’s see how this already strained collective, with lots of problems that aren’t debates of killing human, lives against the backdrop of a collapse of civilization. We’ll investigate how the family operates under duress, how trivialities go to the wayside and real problems come into focus when everything is about making it through the night alive.
And it takes place in Los Angeles! And they use the setting relatively well! What a concept for LA-based television shows!
After watching True Detective, I was just glad to see Silver Lake as Silver Lake (of COURSE the apocalypse would start there — dirty hipsters) and Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, and Venice, and that this is a family that knows how to use this city and finds themselves all over the place. And they do this while keeping true to the city’s geography. Metro even has a large presence in this show. (though, to be fair, Metro had a small presence in the first show, too, even though it took place in Atlanta. Sorry, MARTA).
That’s why it’s also disappointing that they moved the production to Vancouver after this episode. For the rest of the season, all the scenes are going to take place north of the border with, presumably, exteriors shot in LA. Get ready for a lot of “it’s really rainy in Los Angeles lately” and “why are all the extras dressed in head-to-toe denim?” and “why isn’t there’s a juice bar in the background?” It’s disappointing that they moved the production to Canada for several reasons, some of which are in the sad financial loss for the city of Los Angeles. But it’s also depressing to find a show and a director that’s willing to use LA as a dynamic setting rather than as a generic city backdrop only for it all to be faked somewhere else. It’s a travesty.
But that’s beside the point. What’s done is done. But this show has potential. The thing is that you probably shouldn’t think of this show like another opportunity for you to watch The Walking Dead before October. The fact is that this show might be somewhere between your Rick Grimes Adventure Hour and your iZombie will-she-or-won’t-she melodrama. In fact, it might be a lot more iZombie since it seems like the drugs Calvin was selling was somehow making brain-eaters out of people. Unless the gun was really just finally clear out those kids Velcoro was yelling at in True Detective to get out of the river. I don’t mean shoot them. Is that what you were thinking? Maybe you should really should stick with the original series.
With the next episode, we’ll get to dive more into how the characters are being drawn and where this thing is going. I mean, since it looks like it’s planning to be more introspective and melodramatic, I’m guessing this thing is headed toward cancellation. But let’s hope for the best.
- August 27, 2015