‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Doesn’t Stray Far Off Course (TV Review)

[rating=5.00] “Pilot”

Since plans for a spinoff of The Walking Dead started circulating earlier this year, there was a lot of questioning its necessity. The show itself nets maybe one or two good episodes per every season, and a handful of well-crafted scenes aside from that, meaning it’s genuinely entertaining only a little more than ⅛ of the time.

Robert Kirkman, scribe of source material and producer on the parent series, spoke about the freedom of doing a show set within the same universe but not bound to the storylines he’d already laid out in the comics. It’s a reasonable sounding, press-friendly reason to give, though the real reason I suspect had more to do with AMC never filling the void left by Breaking Bad two years ago, or Mad Men just last spring, which may or may not have involved a dumptruck full of money being driven to Kirkman’s house.

Starting with a cold open (hey, at least the structure is consistent) with Nick, a junkie kid (the irritatingly Depp-ish Frank Dillane) waking up in a dilapidated church/shooting gallery, stumbling around in his narcotic haze seeing his fellow squatters all with bloody teeth marks where the flesh on their necks used to be. Before long, he finds the girl he’d been looking for, but (wait for it), she’s a zombie – for lack of a better word, since the show hasn’t given us it’s group-specific terminology for the undead yet.

He runs into traffic partially clothed in slow motion (JUST LIKE IN THE COMMERCIAL!) where he’s hit by a car. The opening credits then flash on the screen, accompanied by a dime-store version of the Inception ‘BRAAAHAAAM’ noise, which, we really should be moving past by now.

What follows is an exposition into the dynamics of a dysfunctional step-family living in Los Angeles, complete with lines like “I’m doing the best I can” and “He’s not my friend and he’s not my brother,” once they’ve all gathered together in the hospital. Of course, Nick’s a junky, so no one believes him about the whole humans turning into cannibalistic monsters thing, so his determined mother, Madison (played by Kim Dickens) and his stepfather, Cliff (played by Travis Manawa who, it’s worth noting, looks a LOT like Joe Flaherty here) go to the church to see for themselves.

This is where we get a true moment of insight. As Madison stands in a pool of blood, she declares that “this is a violent place!”

As we see bits of civilization’s collapse through TV clips and news footage playing in the background, along with a few well-placed extras, we follow Nick, clad in the old-man clothes he stole from the patient next to him as he was presumably dying, as he meets up with his drug dealer. While Nick is curious as to the possibility that whatever drugs they were on had caused this reaction, the dealer is far more concerned with keeping Nick quiet, fearing legal recourse after hearing he’d talked to the cops.

They drive out to a large paved waterway, and in a scene that deserves special recognition, as it so desperately wants to be tense, but is laughably, clumsily predictable, and serves the sole purpose of Nick killing the dealer by accident, then being revisited once meets up with Madison and Cliff, complete with him delivering the laugh-out-loud line “I did a bad thing” when he finds them. Of course, the body of the dealer, mangled from being run over a couple of times is still writhing and gnashing, much to their slack-jawed disbelief.

The end has begun, and the eerie foreshadowing from the knife-carrying kid was right – NO ONE’S GOING TO COLLEGE!

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