I have a confession to make. After season two of “The Walking Dead,” I stopped watching. Not only was the second season a bit of a letdown, but I missed a portion of the third season and just couldn’t get back to it. And now, the idea of spending a week catching up seems less like entertainment and more like work.
And so for those of us in a similar position, the makers of “Dead” deliver a spin-off companion series entitled “Fear the Walking Dead.” The pilot makes a good case for a family drama that also features the occasional zombie. Of course, as the zombie outbreak expands, it is likely that “Fear” will begin to look more and more like the show that inspired it. The good news is that “Fear” gives you an opportunity to restart your zombie narrative without having to binge on all the rotting zombie goodness that if taken in small doses can be fun.
“Fear the Walking Dead” sadly for the local economy isn’t based in Georgia. Taking place in Los Angeles, the story finds guidance counsellor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) struggling with their new relationship. Both have children from another marriage with Madison beset with son Nick (Frank Dillane), who is addicted to heroin.
Meanwhile, Travis’ ex is still mad at him for their breakup and their son, Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) shares mom’s anger. The love/relationship/children turmoil plays out against the overheated backdrop of the impending zombie apocalypse. But as we see in episode two, all Hell will break loose in very short order. And whenever the drama gets flat, a zombie can show up and make things interesting again.
The reason that the pilot episode works so well is primarily because the viewer, who is, at least, aware of “The Walking Dead,” knows the future. “Fear” is a prequel that may ironically work best with less zombies. Because the society is more akin to the ordered world we inhabit, it was easier for me, at least, to relate to the characters. And the ominous tone that hangs over everything deepens the drama albeit artificially. But the added weightiness makes the narrative seem more important.
And that import is assisted by a gifted cast led by Dickens who’s been doing great work for years. Here she provides a credible face as things fall apart in a fantastical fashion. Effort is taken to construct a complex family dynamic that might be worth watching even without the zombie threat. This combines nicely when veteran actor Rubén Blades is added in a critical role.
The setting also helps “Fear” work. Sure, it’s not the rural expanse that has worked so well with its parent series, but the urban setting, which is continuously teased in between segments is haunting. Ironically, the look is reminiscent of the future LA shown in “Predator 2,” which also featured Blades. Everything looks hot and sweaty with washed out tones and grainy, gritty imagery. It makes you appreciate the comparative clean-living in Georgia.
One concern that I have after the chaos that erupts in episode two is whether time will be taken to let the apocalypse develop. Sure it probably would unfold quickly, but the set-up is what this show is all about. I’d like to see days pass slowly as the family and zombie dramas progress.
Finally, many readers might be wondering whether watching “The Walking Dead” is a prerequisite to watching “Fear the Walking Dead.” Part of that is like asking whether one should have read the graphic novel series prior to diving into the television adaptation of it. The easy answer is “no.”
It is not necessary to have watched a single episode of “The Walking Dead” before starting “Fear.” But knowing the future in which the world is overrun by zombies where society breaks down makes everything that happens in “Fear” a bit anti-climatic. No matter what the characters do to starve off the zombie invasion, the walking dead are inevitable.