August 24, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Fear the Walking Dead”


FEAR THE WALKING DEAD:  Sunday 9PM on AMC – In the Queue

The opening episode of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD was audacious as only a sure thing can be.  The new series is, of course, a spin-off of the fantastically successful The Walking Dead–even if it lost two-thirds of its parent show’s ratings, it would still be a major hit–and it’s launching with a 2-season, 21-episode order (6 to air this year, 15 in 2016).  So its premiere faced almost none of the pressure that usually comes with a series launch.  That allowed it, after a bloody precredits sequence (and a glimpse of cell-phone video along the way), to wait almost the entirety of its 90-minute length before bringing us an encounter with an undead walker.  It knew perfectly well that its viewers weren’t going anywhere.

That knowingness is a key part of Fear‘s bigger creative decisions.  It’s set in Los Angeles, a continent away from the east coast events of Walking Dead, and uses none of the original show’s characters.  (Among other things, this means that Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, who’s currently suing AMC over his compensation, didn’t have to be a producer or writer here, with “created by” credit going to Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson.)  More importantly, its events precede those of Walking Dead by a considerable amount.  It’s set at the very onset of the zombie crisis, when word of illnesses and strange events were just starting to emerge, and LA was functioning more or less like a normal city.  We in the audience are many steps ahead of Fear‘s characters, and while it’s interesting to fill in some of the backstory that Walking Dead has been too busy to provide, it can lead to some impatience while we wait for the characters to catch up, especially because the territory Fear is covering is familiar from many other post-apocalyptic thrillers.  (Come on, you have to shoot them in the heads to stop them.)

Another distinction between Fear and its predecessor is that the new show concentrates on a single extended family.  Madison (Kim Dickens) is a high school guidance counselor, and Travis (Cliff Curtis), an English teacher at her school, is her newly moved-in boyfriend.  Her children are the smart and well-adjusted Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and drug addict Nick (Frank Dillane), who becomes the first to have contact with a walker when he wakes up (in the precredits sequence) to find carnage in his derelict church drug den.  The first episode only gives us brief views of Travis’s ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and his son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie).  Keeping the focus so domestic will certainly be different from Walking Dead, but it may be narrower in appeal.

The extended premiere, written by Kirkman and Erickson, and directed by Adam Davidson, was mostly concerned with Nick, who walked into a moving car after seeing the walker and her handiwork, escaped from the hospital, and ended up fleeing to his drug pusher, who tried to kill him and died in the struggle, only of course to instantly return as a zombie.  That put a lot on Dillane’s shoulders, and as Nick was strung-out nearly all of the time, it’s probably not a model for how he’ll behave for the rest of the series (one would hope).  Dickens and Curtis mostly played concern, but they’re tremendous actors, so presumably they’ll have more to do as the story continues.  Dickens, in particular, as a veteran of Deadwood, Treme and Friday Night Lights, is owed a big fat hit by the TV gods.

Fear the Walking Dead has the luxury of working out whatever kinks it has while we watch, but it’s already a slickly produced, intense piece of work.  Even if its portrayal of the breakdown of pre-walker society turns out to resemble many others, and even if its protagonists are annoyingly less effective at battling zombies than their Walking Dead counterparts, it’s going to be munching on bodies for some time to come, as AMC moves closer to its ideal of an all-year-round Sunday zombie line-up.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."