The life cycle of any television show is unique. As they age, they change. Nothing surprising about that. A recent show which has started mediocre, risen, only to completely fall apart is “Fear the Walking Dead”.
“Fear The Walking Dead” is a spin-off of the original The Walking Dead. Therein laid its potential and its pitfalls. The writers got to create something totally new within the zombie apocalypse world of The Walking Dead. In its first season it showed us how the whole zombie apocalypse started in Los Angeles. It wasn’t a great start, but it created a set of characters I was curious enough to follow into a new season. The next two seasons were great. The show dealt with how the early survivors relied on different internal compasses of faith. Especially season three, both seasons, were the best of what The Walking Dead can be. Then it all went off the rails,
Over the last two seasons the storytelling has become exceedingly lazy. It is the worst of genre tropes every week. They don’t have enough fuel one week leading them into risking themselves to get it. The very next week they’re off on extended joyrides without a mention of conserving gas. Its just carelessness by the writers. The other crime these writers have committed is they have made all the characters stupid, until they need to be brilliant.
This character assassination killed every great original character. It even destroyed two characters who joined the cast from the original series. This past season was so poorly written I have removed the show from my DVR list.
On the recap show “The Talking Dead” they have a segment called “In Memoriam” where they recap all who died in that night’s episode. At the end of season five they should add the show to the list. These guys killed a promising show.
Two years ago, I wrote in this column after the first four episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had aired, “Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.” All throughout that first season I was pulled through by characters who grew on me and it paid off with a back third of the season which had dealt with much of my annoyances laid out back then. Now two years later I enjoy Fear the Walking Dead as much as The Walking Dead.
One big reason for my enjoyment is I don’t know what is coming. These are all characters that do not exist on Robert Kirkman’s comic book page. Mr. Kirkman created a whole new set of characters. Early on they seemed two-dimensional. As time has passed the backstory has been filled in providing the emotional connection to the characters. In hindsight I must admit I was being unfair. When The Walking Dead came on the air I already knew those people on the TV screen. My feelings about them had already been determined years earlier. Fear the Walking Dead did not have that advantage and I showed impatience early on. Now at the end of season three the cast of Fear the Walking Dead have won me over.
Ruben Blades (l.) and Colman Domingo
On The Walking Dead most of the characters are clear-cut heroes or villains. It is only with the recent introduction of Negan that the concept of whether they are “heroes” has been explored. Fear the Walking Dead has done this with characters made up of deep gray hues. The mother who will do anything to save what’s left of her family. Actress Kim Dickens plays Madison Clark with a surety of purpose. Except in decidedly small steps it seems like she might be sliding down a slippery slope to something less heroic. Actor Domingo Colman plays the hustler Strand he is the quintessential out for himself con man. The interesting thing here is even through trying to look out for himself he manages to save others. The final character in this trio is played by Ruben Blades, Daniel Salazar. He carries the burden of his past life as a secret policeman in a dictatorship. He fled to the US with his wife and daughter to start over. As the dead have shambled into his life the old habits of his original life have proven useful. The open question is does he want to fully embrace them or find a way to keep as much of his new life he had before the zombie apocalypse. These three are the heart of Fear the Walking Dead.
The show by using its California and Mexico border setting has explored all kinds of modern themes like immigration, water rights, and Native Americans. Without a previous story to adapt it feels like the writing team has more freedom to create more contemporaneously. It has felt like they have a grasp on where the show is heading.
Next weekend with the season eight premiere The Walking Dead will celebrate its 100th episode. Two years ago, I didn’t think I wanted Fear the Walking Dead to reach the same milestone; now I do.
I’m not sure who did it first but there is a fairly recent storytelling trope which I find annoying. If you watch any television dramas at all you will be familiar with it. It goes something like this. The opening few seconds show our well-known protagonists in some dire predicament. After it plays for some time the words “x hours or y days or z years previously” appear on the screen and the show starts from how the situation came to be. Maybe the first time it was used it was interesting. Now that every show seems to use it, some multiple times, I think it is just lazy storytelling. Good writers can take you from a place where the audience has no idea what’s going on and finally get you to a place where you finally get a handle on things. I prefer that and it is arguably harder to pull off which is why the “insert amount of time previously” treatment is so popular.
One show which totally got this right was “The Walking Dead”. When our hero Rick Grimes comes out of a coma directly into a zombie apocalypse both he and the audience are asking the same questions. In the first season there was a strong desire to find out what happened. By the second season our survivors had realized even if they knew it wouldn’t help them stay alive. In the three seasons since it has been asking the question of which is more dangerous the living or the dead? Which has been a much more dramatic question than “why?”
Unfortunately the creators of “The Walking Dead” has decided to employ the “insert amount of time previously” with the new companion series “Fear The Walking Dead”. Robert Kirkman who created The Walking Dead is also behind the new series. They have decided to go back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and show us how it happened. The story has moved to the west coast and is set in LA. We meet a blended family complete with progeny who check off all the necessary checkboxes. The brilliant daughter, the drug addict son, and the video auteur son. The first episode was very heavy handed in comparing the drug addict and his shambling ways with the coming zombies. It was so obvious it made it more irritating each time they did it over the first two episodes.
There is definitely horror to be mined from people you know who all of a sudden want to eat you for lunch. At this point you can’t tell the living from the dead until they want to take a bite. That has been when “Fear The Walking Dead” has been its best. In both episodes a character has been responsible for killing a friend turned zombie. The emotional reaction to that is interesting. This is all moving along at a crawl with way too predictable plotting. This time the audience does know where this is heading; patience wears thin as characters do things which put them at risk. We are left at the end of the second episode with the family separated into two parts of the city. The next four episodes will be the fight to reunite and then flee the city at which the first season will probably end.
I am hopeful that Mr. Kirkman can somehow rescue the pace and pedestrian plotting, surprising me. Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.