by Coop Cooper
Set on the eve of the zombie outbreak from the original series, Nick (Frank Dillane), a young heroin user, awakens from a stupor at an abandoned Los Angeles church to find his friends dead and his girlfriend eating them. He runs away from the horrific scene, is promptly hit by a car and taken to a hospital. His estranged mother, high school guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens), and her English teacher boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis), don’t believe Nick’s story, but Travis decides to check out the church anyway. Inside, he finds evidence that Nick was telling the truth. Meanwhile, Madison confronts an honor student who brings a weapon to school only to receive an ominous warning that something terrible is happening in the community and around the country that is being covered up. As Nick escapes from the hospital and Madison and Travis search Los Angeles to find him, a viral video of LAPD officers shooting a zombie sends the city into panic.
The last two lines of the pilot episode is “What the hell is happening?” to which someone else replies: “I have no idea.” Unfortunately, the audience already knows. That may be the underlying problem with this whole series as a prequel. The audience has spent five seasons with Rick and the survivors of “The Walking Dead” and they have learned along with those characters how to survive. Rick doesn’t have any patience for clueless people and I doubt the audiences will either. The main characters in “Fear the Walking Dead” better show early on that they have what it takes to go the distance and beyond. That’s going to be a tall order with two educators, a junkie and a boy-crazy high schooler. As it stands, I’m not compelled and I’m afraid it’s going to take too long of a setup to get the show to where fans of “The Walking Dead” want it to go.
There are some interesting elements here. I like how a few of the minor characters seem to already know what is going on and how bad it’s going to get. The high school kid Madison catches with a knife at school had the most chilling lines in the episode. I hope we see more of him so maybe he’ll help the main characters wise up more quickly. I also like how Travis seems to think quickly on his feet, but unless he can shoot a gun competently or swing an axe without hesitating, he runs the risk of being a weak character. Another cool element is how you always hear police and fire sirens in the distance, especially when the characters are outside. Granted, it is Los Angeles, but it helps create an atmosphere of impending dread.
The best scene happens when a viral video starts spreading of a freeway accident victim biting a chunk out of a paramedic’s neck then absorbing dozens of gunshots from police before finally going down with a shot to the head. That one video sends a wave of panic through the characters more so than anything else did in the plot. The lame thing about it is that people misinterpret the video and, because they have no idea what is going on, cry police brutality and start rioting. It is REALLY annoying to see that no one is catching on (except for the high school nerd).
Unfortunately, some dreadful mistakes were made that made me wonder who is really in charge of this series? Some of the executive decisions really had me scratching my head. Perhaps political backlash against police and military prompted the development of civilian main characters, even though they would be frustratingly slow to catch onto the situation and learn survival. Perhaps the political climate explains why drug addict Nick chose to mouth off to cops and playfully insult them while he tries to convince them that his girlfriend ate their friends. Maybe the slow pace prompted the painfully corny and laughable false jump scare scene with the high school principal. Maybe it was too inconvenient for main characters to be clued in by obvious signs that something disastrous is imminent. Pools of blood lying around after a person was shot and killed then walked away a zombie? Hmmm… That might tip them off too soon. Let’s not show that – or have somebody clean it up so no one will believe it.
“The Walking Dead” has been criticized for intermittently slow pacing and occasional ineptitude, but it always makes up for it with gritty, hard-hitting shocks and memorable characters making impossible decisions in order to survive. “Fear the Walking Dead” has none of that… yet. Maybe we just need to be patient with it for a few episodes, but I don’t see fans of the original liking it outright. They might give it a chance if it somehow begins to regularly tie into the characters of the original “Walking Dead” series (hopefully sooner rather than later). If the creators are smart, they will do this. If not, “Fear the Walking Dead” could be the biggest misfire of the fall season.
To put it simply, instead of this…
We are getting this…
At least we will have the premiere of the 6th season of “The Walking Dead” to look forward to on October 11th.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars