AMC‘s Fear The Walking Dead Pilot TV Show Review. Fear the Walking Dead, Season 1, Episode 1: ‘Pilot,’ is the first episode of AMC’s new zombie apocalypse series that takes place in the world of The Walking Dead. Worst case scenario, Fear the Walking Dead is an attempt to capitalize on AMC’s ratings juggernaut, The Walking Dead. Best case scenario is that the show is an earnest attempt to expand the narrative scope of the routinely repetitive storytelling devices utilized by its predecessor. With the success of Marvel’s shared cinematic universe model as well as The CW’s consistently enjoyable universe binding work on Arrow and The Flash, The Walking Dead fans have been privy to some entertaining shared universe content resulting from studio’s experimental TV and film alchemy. The writing on The Walking Dead has improved as the series progressed, finding its creative groove just in time to pass on some valuable lessons to its sibling series. However, will learning from The Walking Dead’s storytelling mistakes be enough to prevent Fear the Walking Dead from sputtering out the gate with the bungling stride of a one-legged zombie?
Fear the Walking Dead begins toying with audience expectations right from the start. As the series kicks off, what we believe to be a ravaged dystopian dwelling is just the junkie flophouse of an L.A. millennial. Sure, the opening moments of the show takes place in what could easily be a derelict bunker from Mad Max: Fury Road, but the series quickly takes a step back and tells the audience, “Slow down guys, this is just a slice of life in modern day Los Angeles.” We know that L.A. is on the brink of a zombie uprising but we don’t know when, and the series is intent on teasing viewer’s with the impending mayhem for as long as possible — perhaps a little too long. Pilot was about 20 minutes longer than a standard episode and with so many scenes feeling like they were just padding the show’s run-time out, Pilot could have easily cut ten minutes of its run time.
The new setting immediately sets Fear the Walking Dead apart from its sister show. The sunny streets of Los Angeles radiate with a heightened vibrancy that serves as a stark contrast to the broken down rural country side that Rick Grimes and his clan mope through in The Walking Dead. Another major distinction from The Walking Dead is that at least for this first episode, this series is focused on a single family — true to the spirit of The Walking Dead, a dysfunctional one. Whereas The Walking Dead deals with a group of strangers coming together, Fear the Walking Dead places its focus on a burgeoning family made of up of two divorced parents and the children from their previous relationships. Madison (Kim Dickens), Travis (Cliff Curtis), Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) couldn’t figure out how to be an ideal family before the end of the word landed on their doorstep, and the obvious path for the show to travel down is allowing us to see the family slowly come together as the world crumbles around them.
In the beginning of The Walking Dead, Rick served as a proxy for the audience. Much like a macabre rebooting of Rip Van Winkle, Rick awoke from a coma to find a zombie-infested world that he couldn’t make sense of. As Rick traveled the dusty Georgia highways, slowly figuring out the rules of how to survive in his zombie laden world, the audience learned the ways of his newly desolate existence right alongside him. Rick’s journey was one of coming to terms with a world that no longer existed, while Fear the Walking Dead is ultimately the story of people looking on in terror as the apocalypse tears the world that they know apart. This show intends on holding a magnifying glass up to the lives of ordinary people as they slowly come to terms with the end of society.
Sure, people tune in to The Walking Dead for the scares, creative zombie mutilation and the gore, but what keeps them coming back are the relatable stories about the survivors. The zombie apocalypse is a dangerous place, but the marauding bands of humans often pose a greater threat than the undead. The Walking Dead is at its best when it focuses on the uncomfortable union of such a discrepant group of strangers. Fan’s keep returning to The Walking Dead to watch the interplay between Rick’s band of misfits as they reluctantly come together to form an unlikely family. Whether it’s their sacrifices for one another or a back-stabbing betrayal, it is the longstanding bonds between the characters that makes what takes place on the show so gut wrenching. So far an actual family is at the center of Fear the Waking Dead. Based on the casting of its two stellar leads (Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens) and the slow burn pacing of the first episode, this show seems intent on having as much in common with family dramas as violent genre shows.
Although Fear the Walking Dead takes place before its sister series, it has a couple of factors going for it that allow it to avoid the trappings that hold back most prequels: it focuses on an entirely unfamiliar cast and it deals with material that the original series only hints at. One of the problems with prequels is that there is rarely a reason for them to exist aside from expanding a franchise’s earning potential. In many prequels, the stakes feel low because the audience already knows where the story is headed as well as smaller plot points such as who lives and who dies. The Walking Dead only vaguely hints at the root of the zombie infestation, and for five seasons fans have been yearning for any information that sheds light on the particulars. The massacre of humanity took place while Rick was in a coma, and both Rick and the audience never had an opportunity to experience the world as the zombies ripped it apart at the seams. Fear the Walking Dead not only shines a spotlight on the pre-apocalyptic world, it also utilizes a 100% expendable cast of characters that can be killed off without a fear of having to keep them around to appear in The Waking Dead. Knowing that anyone can be killed off at any time adds a level of tension that most prequels can not compete with.
With its new batch of characters and refreshing shift in location, Fear the Walking Dead does a decent enough job of establishing its own identity. Although one episode is a small sample size (albeit an extra large one), Fear the Walking Dead feels like an ideal companion show, one that looks at a fascinating world from a fresh perspective rather than retreading the original series’ subject matter. Although Fear the Walking Dead’s first season is comprised of only 6-episodes, AMC has already green-lit a 16-episode second season. What that means is audiences can fully invest themselves in following the lives of the show’s forsaken Los Angeles family without worrying about the network pulling the plug just as things start get exciting. While the first episode is far from perfect, it does provide enough intrigue and zombie mayhem to make me want to see what happens next, and in this overcrowded television market where there is never enough time to catch up on really good programs, sticking around to see what’s next is a ringing endorsement.
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