WEEKEND SUPERHERO: Does Fear the Walking Dead King the Kirkman?

Fear the Walking Dead

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead brings Robert Kirkman one step closer to hitmaker status. There is no denying that The Walking Dead has been a phenomenon, going all the way back to its comic book roots, and that Robert Kirkman has been the reason for that – not just as the originator of the material, but as an ongoing presence. I doubt all that many people expected Fear the Walking Dead to fall notably short of the original, so, in the wake of TWD’s phenomenal recent ratings numbers, the record setting debut of its new sister series may have come as not all that shocking.

The real question, however, is whether Kirkman should be hailed as an official hitmaker, in his own right, or is this a case of success by association – FTWD destined to succeed based on the success of TWD, regardless of Kirkman’s involvement.

It’s a question that gets asked every so often. Seth MacFarlane had been hailed as a Midas Man, by the time Family Guy became the centerpiece of Fox’s Animation Domination bloc (with 3 of its 5 first-run shows being his); so there was real interest in whether or not he could actually branch out of his formula. The success of the first Ted film seemed to confirm that he could; but after the failure of its sequel, along with A Million Ways to Die in the West, several live-action TV projects, and Fox dumping two of his animated series, it seems a high water mark had been reached, and a recession setting in.

I can see ‘haters’ predicting the same for Kirkman – citing a successful Walking Dead franchise as a winning formula, that he could coast off of. Until his Outcast series debuts, to confirm or belie that he has been a one-note wonder, I can only go by the merits of this latest series that he can claim some credit for.

FTWD began something like 28 Days Later, with a case of sleeping with the enemy. Okay – not actually like 28 Days Later, but, like TWD, the pilot did bring to mind a seminal moment. Where TWD pilot used the waking out of coma as fast forward device, FTWD’s opening reminded me of 28’s first contact scene, at the church.

While I was left uncertain as to how/ when Nick’s (Frank Dillane) girl turned, since they went to sleep together, the scene & setting reversal, from the familiar, post-apocalyptic world  of TWD, to a pre-apocalyptic world we never knew, was a great way for the new show to make a signature impression.

In the course of the immediate aftermath, the dynamics of two families, connected by Travis (Cliff Curtis), were clearly mapped out; allowing the show to do something relatively risky, but artfully done. The pilot took the time to flesh out its characters & setting, ahead of what’s to come, instead of using what’s come to do the shaping. I can see where TWD needed to cut to the carnage, for the hook; but it’s that hook having already been set, that afforded FTWD the space it needed to first put meat on the bones, before the feasting.

In short order, we came to know Nick as the Boy Who Cried Wolf, his sister, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), as the Big Fish in the Little Pond, their Mother, Madison (Kim Dickens), as someone used to having a handle & answer to all things – but never reconciling that which is within her control with everything beyond it – and Travis as a man with more heart than sense, intent on getting a grip on one family, while trying not to entirely lose another. Where TWD has been slowly recompiling characters, relative to who they were, FTWD looks to be establishing characters for the sake of deconstructing them, during the roll-out of the Z apocalypse.

The fact that we know what’s coming added tension to the getting-to-know phase – as I imagine picking out the who-deserves-what, when you-know-what goes down, would mitigate the boredom of the short attention span crowd, some. The pilot also took the time to translate the underlying genre theme, of hope vs nihilism, into the everyday cynicism of youth, a youthful fear of mortality/ helplessness (with just getting old scary enough for some), and soon-to-be ironic lessons on the harshness of nature/ reality, from a civilized standpoint. It also took one last civilized, contemporary look, at the trope of who-can-you-really-trust; likely to hit a panicked pitch, before a more familiar context of the question begins slowly going into effect.

Some of my favorite thrillers have been slow boils. The second Body Snatchers film ranks up there; and it was just that sort of background commotion that Shaun of the Dead payed homage to. I’d like to think this made FTWD fake-out moments more nod-&-wink, than cheap thrill attempts; but there were gaps in its slow-boil logic.

Unlike the remote settings of TWD, the urban confines of L.A. (relative, when you consider the sprawling nature of the city) likely would’ve meant that someone would’ve reported on the smell of death, coming from the church – drug den write-off, or not. Where did all the zombies go, after reanimation? Given our current state of connectivity, how could any zombies manifest, at multiple locations, without word getting out immediately, and filling the 24/7 news/ web cycle? Gun shots ring out, across the city, for less; so I think a little more background commotion should’ve at least been more evident.

Still, FTWD has managed, IMO, to set itself as far apart from its stablemate, as it has set itself up to become complimentary to it. Not an easy feat, where sophomore projects are concerned. Spin-off Private Practice has always been considered a poor relation, compared to Shonda RhimesGrey’s Anatomy, and Millennium was considered the beginning of the end for once-Golden Boy, Chris Carter (The X-Files).

If Kirkman was due to hit – then recede from – some high water point, it wasn’t with TWD. Again, I will have to wait until Outcast, to see if he can sell anything other than zombies; but two consecutive shows, breaking consecutive records, has to count for something. They are both monster hits, which automatically makes him a hitmaker. I guess the question I should be asking is what are his long term prospects like. Sure, we love his Waffle Dead ice cream (Ben & Jerry – make that happen, and hand it to Chris Hardwick), but how many hit flavors can he come up with.

I don’t ask because I have any real skin in the game, or fear for his career (guy’s richer this second than I’ve been my whole life); but I think Jerry Bruckheimer’s out of CSI clones, and we need a new Bruckheimer, just like we once needed a new Stephen J. Cannell.

Look it up, kids – I just wrote my age, again, so I need a nap….

Leave your thoughts on my thoughts below, in the comments section, and more editorials can be found on our Editorials Page. For more Fear The Walking Dead photos, videos, and news, visit our Fear The Walking Dead Page, subscribe to us by Email, “follow” us on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or “like” us on Facebook. For more The Walking Dead photos, videos, and information, visit our The Walking Dead Page, our The Walking Dead Twitter Page, our The Walking Dead Google+ Page, our The Walking Dead Facebook Page, subscribe to us by Email, “follow” us on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, or “like” us on Facebook for quick updates.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays, 9 pm, on AMC, while season 6 of The Walking Dead will premiere on October 11, 2015 at 9 pm, also on AMC.

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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