What’s the worst show you’re still watching? It’s a legitimate question in today’s atmosphere of media overconsumption. I guarantee there’s one show that you’re sick of—but not so sick of that you’ve actually erased it from your DVR list or your Netflix queue. And I’m not talking good old-fashioned guilty pleasures here. You know, ridiculous kids’ shows you stare at whenever you’re stoned. I’m talking shows you actively hate watch. At this point, maybe you feel too “pot committed” to let go. Maybe you’re hoping it will improve as the new season goes on. Or maybe you’re just waiting for it to get canceled so you can end your misery. I feel ya.
For me that show is “Fear the Walking Dead.” I have no idea why I’ve stuck with it through three seasons. It’s never once nailed down a consistent tone or direction or cast. Every single character is a maddening mess of contradictions. Every storyline is a parade of idiotic decisions. And yet, there I was on Sunday, dutifully watching the Season 4 premiere. Surprisingly, the new season brought with it not merely some interesting cosmetic changes, but a complete teardown and rebuild.
As this year’s eighth season of “The Walking Dead” came to an end, PTSD-prone Zen warrior Morgan (Lennie James) went a little crazier than usual, almost bashing in a young kid’s head. Deciding he was unfit for human company, Morgan wandered off to hang out in the abandoned trash heap home of the (now extinct) post-apocalyptic hippie artists (one of the dumber concepts of “The Walking Dead”). Immediately after the close of “The Walking Dead” Season 8, we got the opening episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 4. Morgan was still in the junkyard. Cementing the connection to the original show, Rick, Jesus and Carol showed up to talk Morgan into returning to the Hilltop. But Morgan was having none of it. Instead he started walking westward, encountering an intriguing journalist (Maggie Grace from “Lost”) and a slow-talkin’ gunslinger (the fantastic Garret Dillahunt from “Burn Notice” and “Raising Hope”). In fact, it wasn’t until the closing moments that Morgan even glimpsed anyone from “Fear the Walking Dead,” stumbling across mean-ass matriarch Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and the few surviving members of her group. No need for backstory. This is a square one reboot.
In uniting with its more successful older brother of a show, “Fear the Walking Dead” made a major leap forward in time. The show initially took place during the opening days of the zombie outbreak—days that our boy Rick Grimes spent in a coma in an Atlanta hospital. Now “Fear” has skipped ahead, abandoning its storylines about Mexico, the Proctors, the dam, all that baggage nobody cared about anyway. Reset in the American Southwest, restaffed with some charismatic new cast members (including the yet-to-be-seen Jenna Elfman) and injected with a long-overdue sense of humor, “Fear the Walking Dead” now feels like a dusty undead Western, God help me, this might actually be the jolt of zesty ranch flavor this show’s bland mix of rotting corpses and bad decisions has been needing. … Guess I’m gonna have to keep watching. Damn it.