For the record I wrote this the week Fear the Walking Dead premiered. I haven’t watched an episode since then so some of the assertions below might have already been proven incorrect. Oh well. And yes, I know 90210 isn’t a Los Angeles zip code.
I’ll preface the below dissertation with the disclaimer that my relationship with AMC’s The Walking Dead is already complicated at best, so a spin-off is kind of like going on a long (a ninety-minute pilot!) vacation with the extended family of a casual acquaintance who I’ve both enjoyed and loathed.
It took me two attempts to watch the pilot of Fear The Walking Dead because the opening sequence irked me so much I had to stop on the first try.
We open on a ragged teenager sprawled out in a dilapidated church with a dozen other unconscious bodies. The windows are boarded up. The walls are old and crumbling. Everything looks dirty. Abandoned. Apocalyptic. Fear The Walking Dead spends it’s opening salvo building toward the reveal that it takes place prior to the full blown zombie apocalypse Rick Grimes woke up to in the premiere of The Walking Dead. It goes out of its way to convince you you’re watching a ravaged survivor hobbling through the dingy remnants of our world before finally panning up to reveal a fully inhabited, traffic-congested Los Angeles.
Only, we already knew this show took place before Rick Grimes wakes up from his coma on the other side of the country. And AMC knows I know. And I know AMC knows that I know because they’re the ones who told me.
But the first five minutes of Fear The Walking Dead lean into their bad trip faux-apocalypse gag none the less. And I might know exactly what the gag is and they might know that I know what the gag is but we’re all going through the motions anyway. Which is what Fear The Walking Dead is at it’s worst: going through the motions. And when your entire show is predicated on a societal collapse we all know is coming going through the motions is the last thing you should be doing.
That’s not to say there isn’t compelling material here. Watching the fictional Los Angeles react to an unknown threat only we the audience know the true severity of is exciting. If you’re living in our day to day world and strange things start happening, when is the tipping point? When do you understand that the status quo is done? And what do you do when you figure that out?
Los Angeles is very much the star of Fear The Walking Dead. Watching the zombie apocalypse unfold on a macro level proves to be a fascinating new perspective on the well-worn trope. Unfortunately Fear The Walking Dead is a lot less Walking Dead: Los Angeles and a lot more Degrassi: The Walking Dead.
We’re introduced to an entire cast of teens: a troubled loner, a straight-A student, an artist, some preppy looking kid. I suspect we’ll meet a quarterback by the end of the season. And they’re exactly as compelling as a real live teenager.
The final sequence in the Fear the Walking Dead pilot is pretty cool despite the absurdly nonplused reactions of the characters involved. It places the cast in an interesting spot, having experienced a taste of what the world to come will offer but still occupying a world that hasn’t quite been brought to its knees just yet.
But how is Fear the Walking Dead going to show us that worldwide humbling? Are we going to get a look at Los Angeles and it’s crumbling infrastructure struggling to adapt or are we going to get high school sweethearts being ripped apart and brooding druggies trying to score in the midst of the coming apocalypse before inevitably going through an episode-long gritty withdrawal sequence complete with fever-dream hallucinations?
If the pilot is any indication we’re going to get a cocktail of both, made with a needlessly suboptimal ratio of ingredients.