Fear the Walking Dead has some things different going for it from the start. Set in the West Coast, it brings a much different experience from The Walking Dead. In regards to post apocalyptic genre it has a more of a “bug in” approach to dealing with it, as apposed to the more “bug out”, migrating approach of doing things found in The Walking Dead. Ethnic makeup of the group and society at large also has some great potential for drama that the writers can make good use of. But most interesting is how the show can handle the outbreak’s critical phase, the part where it goes from a mild epidemic to a full fledged pandemic with mass extinction consequences. This is what Fear the Walking Dead has going for it, at least on paper.
Much as with The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead is a character driven story. Many world wide problems take a back seat to the character relationships. The story starts out with three families grouping together to weather out the storm. Bonds thicker than blood are strained when families fight to stay together and people deal with this crisis differently. They all have different ideals, learning curves, and worries that they deal with during this crisis. Fortunately there are a few characters that think quick on their feet and are far from helpless.
The leading lady and head of one of the families in the show is a great relief from the damsel in distress cliché that The Walking Dead often finds itself in. Kim Dickens brings real street smarts, grit, and strength to the role of Madison Clark. Her character’s social skills, wisdom, and compassion give her all the makings of a great leader. Contrasting her character to the women in The Walking Dead’s first season, she looks to take charge of her own destiny much more quickly. Where the first season of The Walking Dead female characters seemed helpless at first, she is independently strong. This is a great thing to see in a show as it’s never enjoyable to have a main character seem helpless.
Her foil would be her boyfriend, Travis Manawa. He’s an idealist who looks to be slow to adjust to the new world that they live in. Hopefully he’ll become the glue of the group, binding people together with his strong morals and compassion. But his strong dedication to ideals are a source of great drama for the show as his former marriage constantly strains on the group’s survival with his new family. He often has to balance his needs to protect his own with that of the groups greater good. This is one of the shows main sources of drama. Regrettably though, it comes off more as trivial, especially considering the situation that they find themselves in. This may change as the show goes on but there is nothing worse than seeing two families squabble when the world is falling down around their ears.
The third family in the group is headed by the veteran actor Rubén Blades. His character brings great experience and Blades in this role is fantastic. He plays a father of an immigrant family that has been through a lot. He has risked many things coming to this country and he knows the true face of humanity when life is on the line , when the chips are down. From the original show he is most like Dale but is much more jaded, far less idealistic, saving his compassion for his family. Rounding out the adult characters with Blades was an excellent choice and pleasure to watch.
Another fantastic actor, channeling a young Johhny Depp, is Frank Dillane. He has a great charm and innocence
that other actors would have a hard time even attempting. Intriguingly enough, Dillane makes it look easy. He plays the troubled, drug addict, who has found himself in trouble so often that he never flinches when finding a lucky way out of it. A maverick who always plays it cool, his character looks most to fill the role of Glenn in the new show. He may even become more like Daryl, given enough lessens learned. That is if his luck doesn’t run out.
Essentially both shows are character driven dramas, spending little time concerning the viewer with larger world in which they live. It was hoped that more light would’ve been shed on how the pandemic happened and what were other people’s reactions outside the main group.
At first the show does a decent job of this, tying modern concerns of police brutality and riots, all while the virus spreads. All done on the side with snid bits of news clips and circumstantial accounts. But the critical tipping point is glossed over when people hunker down and close their eyes to the world. This would’ve been great to have seen fleshed out.
Many zombie films and shows take the safe way out. The Walking Dead and 28 Days later, for example, have the protagonist in a comma, thereby skipping out on the explanation. In Fear the Walking Dead the community is quartered off and its citizens are shielded from what is actually going on outside and instead the narrative focuses on interpersonal drama. In the show so far, most conflict is internal, between family members. It can’t be helped to wonder if this was a lost opportunity.
Unfortunately this inter-family arguing comes of as petty squabbling and trivial. Family members arguing, families rubbing each other the wrong way, all of this is uninteresting. In The Walking Dead the conflicts, such as between Rick and the Dixon brothers, was explosive. It could go off any second and you had to watch. The struggle between Shane and Rick, doubly so. But with Fear the Walking Dead more often than not, it’s one naive family member’s bad idea that people have to deal with. Little sis is going to go off and visit her infected boyfriend, druggy brother better stop her because she’s too smart for her own good. Not great television.
Ultimately the show feels like they copied and pasted the idea from The Walking Dead and haven’t really added much new to it, only shuffled things around a bit. Being in a much larger city with not as many guns would’ve been interesting. Resolving conflicts from various ethnic groups and other cultures in the locale would’ve been a more interesting source of drama than family pains. So far it feels like The Walking Dead has done this better.
Having the scope be a little larger may have helped Fear the Walking Dead as well. Nothing too extreme, something like having one of the parents work for the government instead of both parents working for the school would’ve been interesting. Having the children and parents all tied to school is a fairly flat approach. It actually very all too ’80s. Not only is most drama caused internally, it revolves around one focal point too much. Odd for such a big city.
However The Walking Dead did pull this off with a much smaller focus, at least in the beginning. Following Rick around, slowly introducing the web of drama from his family. What is lacking may be the focus of a father returning and protecting his family. Where as in Fear the Walking Dead it’s much more diffused, splitting attention among three squabbling families. Maybe when things come to a climax and the dust settles things will come together for the show.
The prognosis for the Fear the Walking Dead would be: wait and see. Signs are not great for it just yet but there may still be some entertainment to be found here. They may venture into explaining more about what actually happened in the world during Rick’s coma. But it looks like they are still laying the foundation for a character driven drama and this takes time. The start is a little shaky but they have some talent on the show that could make things work. It may have stumbled a bit out of the gate but it may find its stride.
What do you think of Fear the Walking Dead? Is it a must-watch? Does The Walking Dead still reign as champion of the zombie drama? Comment below!