I don’t know whether or not I’ll be reviewing the entire season of Fear The Walking Dead, but I figured I’d give my initial impressions after watching the pilot.
Full disclosure, I was against watching this show ever since the title was announced. In general, I’m not a huge fan of spinoffs and have mixed feelings about The Walking Dead in general. Plus, the title had an amateurish feel about it, which didn’t bode well. Still, I figured I’d take a look at the pilot for Fear just to see what it was all about.
Fear is not The Walking Dead. And you know what? That’s a good thing. It’s not trying to copy the original, which shoved its characters into the apocalypse full tilt and made drama out of their floundering attempts to adapt to a changed world. The world of The Walking Dead is fast and brutal. The danger is clear, and it’s the humans rather than the zombies that add the most clever and cruel instances of violence. There are advantages to throwing your characters into a setting without warning – the shock makes for excellent character development, which The Walking Dead certainly had.
Fear has more of a slow burning paranoia vibe. How that’s going to play out for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but I thought it was a good choice for the pilot. It’s a delicate balance between what the audience knows and what the characters do, but it worked much better than I expected it to. That being said, I haven’t been keeping up with The Walking Dead, so that might change my estimation somewhat. Still, I expected to find myself frustrated while waiting for the characters to play catch-up to the plot, but Fear paced itself in a sparing, thoughtful way. Again, it remains to be seen how this will work out for the rest of the season, but the pilot has me hopeful. I’d even say that Fear has a better pilot than The Walking Dead, which struggled a bit at the beginning to get its tone down.
The plot starts a little before The Walking Dead, when the zombie apocalypse is just beginning. The story follows a family whose heroin-addicted son may or may not have encountered one of the first zombies – or he might have just had a really bad trip. That uncertainty, along with a rash of unexplained illnesses and weird happenings, fuels an underlying sense of paranoia throughout the episode. I especially liked how technology was used to spread information, but not necessary to provide definitive answers. The scene where two characters were trying to interpret a YouTube video of a zombie attack is one of my favorites. I’m hoping that Fear will continue to utilize social media and popular society to tell its stories, since this is something that The Walking Dead no longer has access to.
So far the characters have been written well, with small, human problems and realistic friendships. The portrayal of addiction has been good so far, and I’m interested to see where Fear intends to take that character once the apocalypse really kicks off. Hopefully it will be handled well. We’ll see.
One thing that worries me a bit is that of the four named characters that have died so far, two of them have been black. Given The Walking Dead’s shaky track record with its characters of color, this doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that Fear is going to do much better. Still, it has cast Cliff Curtis as one of the main POV characters. I suppose it remains to be seen. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a lot of economic diversity shown in the various characters – all of them have been clearly middle to upper-middle class, and no queer characters have been introduced. Obviously this could change in later episodes, but it’s important to note how the characters are presented in the setup.
Normally, I like to give shows at least three episodes to hit their stride before deciding whether or not I’ll continue watching them. Perfect pilots don’t really exist – there are always kinks to work out. Still, Fear introduced some good characters, had a consistent vibe of paranoia throughout, and the change of scenery from the Deep South to California worked better than I expected it to. I was hesitant about creating a shared universe with the Walking Dead, but so far, Fear appears to be standing on its own – complimenting its sister show rather than competing with it. I’m curious about how this shared universe will play out in future seasons – will it have crossovers like Arrow and The Flash do? How will the online Walking Dead mini series play into this? The videogames?
A lot remains to be seen. Still, I’m curious. This has been a good start, and has the potential to become really interesting as the story progresses. Let’s hope it continues on like that. I’ll be tuning in next week.