Idiot Box: “Fear The Walking Dead”

“Fear The Walking Dead” On Amc

Devin D. O'Leary
4 min read
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Given the runaway success of AMC’s zombie-filled adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s hit comic book “The Walking Dead,” it was probably inevitable the cable network would work up some kind of spin-off. So it is that we’re treated to or threatened with (depending on your take) “Fear the Walking Dead.”

Given the open-ended concept of “The Walking Dead” (zombies roam the Earth), it’s easy enough to imagine a companion series. Just pick a different city and a different lineup of characters, and—bang!—you’re good to go. That’s exactly what Kirkman and his associates have done with “Fear the Walking Dead.” We start the series by ditching Atlanta for Los Angeles and running the clock back to the early days of the zombie infestation. Our main characters are Madison Clarke (Kim Dickens, last seen in “House of Cards”) and Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis from
Whale Rider), a couple of LA County school district employees in the process of combining their broken families. Madison, a counselor, brings her teenage daughter (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and son (Frank Dillane) to the table. Travis, a teacher, has a younger son as well—when his grouchy ex-wife will let him near the kid. This “Brady Bunch” union is complicated by a number of factors. First, we have the fact that teenage Nick (Dillane, who played Tom Riddle Jr. in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is a junkie. Second, we have the fact that people in the greater Los Angeles County are dying and coming back to life as zombies.

The strength of “The Walking Dead” has always been its in-depth examination of the zombie survival genre. When you think about it, making a zombie movie is kind of pointless. Surviving for two hours does you no good when the world is filled with the living dead. You need to survive week after week after week—which is what “The Walking Dead” explores. “Fear the Walking Dead” fills a (so far) tiny gap in the narrative of “The Walking Dead”: Namely, the opening days of the zombie apocalypse. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the protagonist of “The Walking Dead” was in a coma when it all went down. “Fear the Walking Dead” gives us the creeping build to all-out apocalypse—which is both its strength and its weakness.

It’s a slow-paced show. On the one hand, that’s an admirable approach. We spend time getting to know our characters. The pilot of “Fear The Walking Dead” had a much more naturalistic, almost indie-film style of dialogue—a contrast to the rapid-fire shouting matches in “The Walking Dead.” But not everyone will appreciate the delicate work. Although the second pisode amped up the tension, the show is light on thrills and slim on zombie action. There just aren’t a lot of “walkers” around yet. For the first season, much of the conflict looks like it will be between panicked citizens trying to figure out what’s going on and military/government types trying to keep order.

“Fear the Walking Dead” has got a fine, familiar cast—including Rubén Blades, who shows up in the second episode. But the real staying power of the show will depend on how strongly the characters stick with us. So far, they aren’t the most sympathetic group. The adults bicker constantly, the kids won’t get off their iPhones, and one of them is a lying, thieving heroin addict. Until the show finds its fan favorite (a la Daryl Dixon), “Fear the Walking Dead” will continue to shamble several steps behind the original.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 7pm on AMC.

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