A review of the “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 5 premiere

“Fear the Walking Dead” has devolved.   It’s fallen a long way from its early years as an earnest, deadly serious prequel to “The Walking Dead.”  (I, for one, really liked the first season’s creative mix of slow-burn horror and family drama, and I loved the ambitious, milieu-exploring apocalypse-in-progress stories of subsequent seasons.)  Today, we’ve reached the point where the show has become so slapdash and campy that you have to wonder whether its creators take it seriously at all.

I’m sorry to say this, but the Season 5 premiere felt like pretty amateurish stuff.  Its writing, directing and acting (in some places) were really, really spotty.  Its early action set-piece involving a plane crash, for example, was choppy, confusing and awkwardly staged.  The plotting and dialogue were … poor.

Even the premiere’s marketing was goofy.  Its television ads seemed like an intentional self-parody — like maybe a Saturday Night Live skit lampooning zombie shows.  (See below.)  The poster is a mess too — even if the center image’s suggestion that John Dorie is a gunslinging Christ figure is pretty damned nifty.

With all of this said, it may surprise you that I still liked the episode well enough, and I’ll still watch the show.  I’d rate the premiere a 7 out of 10, because “Fear the Walking Dead” still has its merits.  I can think of three reasons in particular why I still had fun with the premiere, and why I’ll still tune in next Sunday.

First, some of the characters are terrific.  I’ll always love Victor Strand (Colman Domingo). I really like Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and his mild-mannered girlfriend, June (Jenna Elfman), and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) is the kind of child character that typically grows on me.  (Let’s hope Dorie’s posture in the poster isn’t a hint about his death.)  I still like Morgan, because Lennie James is always a pleasure to watch, even if I don’t share the immense zeal of his legions of fans.  (The writers need to do more with him beyond his weird, vaguely “Kung Fu,” born-again altruism.  I know he’s supposed to be the Eastern philosophy guy, but his dialogue sometimes makes him come off like a stereotypical, nattering Evangelical.)

The second reason I’ll stay with this show is that its stories move along quickly.  There are no static, Negan-centered endless epics here, like there are on this show’s plodding progenitor.

The third reason is this — “Fear the Walking Dead” has always hatched the most creative story ideas.  Whatever problems the show might have developed over time with character, dialogue or plot details, the basic story concepts have always been really damned inventive.  (They consistently offer much more than “The Walking Dead’s” two  boiler-plate plot arcs — group-vs.-group or refuge-with-a-hidden-danger.)  This season looks like it will be no exception.  There are two major reveals in this episode’s closing minutes.  One connects Season 5 with past seasons of “Fear the Walking Dead,” while another is a tantalizing hint about greater forces in the “Walking Dead” universe.

Oh!  One more thing!  There is an important new character here played by the terrific Matt Frewer.  If you’re a true zombie horror fan, then you’ll recognize him as none other than Frank, from Zack Snyder’s superb, unfairly reviled 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake.  And if you’re an 80’s kid like I am, then you might remember him as the original Max Headroom — from both the Coca-Cola ads and excellent but short-lived 1987 sci-fi series.  That’s some pretty fun casting — and the guy is a really good actor.

 

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And here is the latest thing that makes me feel old.

What’s with all the people in music videos looking so damn young these days?  Did they change the child labor laws?

There was a time when I was daily viewer of MTV (the sedate stuff on VH-1 was for old people), and I rocked hard, people.  It seemed to me that whenever I watched a video, I saw people who were my own age.

Now these videos are inhabited only by people who look young enough to be my kids. And that makes sense, because … they kinda are young enough.  (Yes, I realize the video below for The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go” was made 18 years ago, but that’s beside the point.)  If the performers in a video today were in their very early 20’s, then they’d be about the right age, if I’d fathered kids when I was 26.

Furthermore, some astute commentators pointed out online Monday night that 2019 is the year in which the original “Blade Runner” (1982) was set.  The opening title card names “November, 2019” as the time when all things Fordesque turn angsty and existential and killer-androidy.  Am I … older than Harrison Ford’s character? I am six years older than Ford was when he made the film.

Now I just feel weird.  Why do I write these blog posts, anyway?

[Update: Today I am learning that “Akira” (1988) and “The Running Man” (1987) also set their stories in 2019?! That’s ironic, given that the future we’ve come closest to is that of 2006’s “Idiocracy.”

I wonder how people in our parents’ generation felt when 2001 arrived, if they’d happened to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in theaters in 1968.]

 

Cover to “Detective Comics” #577, Todd McFarlane, 1987

DC Comics.  Part of the “Batman: Year Two” storyline.

I keep thinking of Todd McFarlane as a 90’s phenomenon, because that was when I started reading comics.  It’s weird seeing a cover by him that was published when I was in high school.

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Throwback Thursday: “Airwolf” (1984-1987) and “Blue Thunder” (1984)

“Airwolf” (1984 – 1987) and “Blue Thunder” (1984) were part of the decade’s fad of building TV shows around incredibly high-tech vehicles — sports cars, helicopters … even a preposterously conceived “attack motorcycle.”  (Does anyone else remember 1985’s lamentable “Streethawk?”)

“Airwolf” was a decent techno-thriller produced by CBS.  (It was revamped in its final year and relaunched on the USA Network.)  It had great action sequences, a likable star (Jan-Michael Vincent) and seemed written to appeal to an older audience, with a fairly sophisticated and morally ambiguous overall story setup.  And goddam if it didn’t have a kickass theme — even if it’s a bit of an earworm and leans heavily on  the snythesizers.  (It was an 80’s thing.)  You can check it out in the first clip below.

“Blue Thunder” was ABC’s putative competitor, I suppose.  It was an adaptation of what I remember to be a pretty respectable 1983 feature film with Roy Scheider, but the show only ran for a single season.  I hardly remember it.  (As you can see from the second clip below, though, it had a pretty interesting cast, including Dana Carvey, Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith.)  I’ve never heard anyone bring up “Blue Thunder” nostalgically either.  I do remember that my friend Keith was a fan — he and I got into a spirited debate once about which could defeat the other in an aerial battle.

If Hollywood wants to recycle everything from the 1980’s … how the hell did “Airwolf” escape its radar?  (No pun intended.)  I would love to hear Ki: Theory update that killer theme.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: The “Platoon” soundtrack (1987).

This will probably strike many as a strange summer memory, but I listened endlessly to the “Platoon” soundtrack during the summer of 1987.  (The movie was released at the end of ’86; the tape arrived in stores later that winter.)  I bought it the following summer, just before my sophomore year at Longwood High School, and it served as the soundtrack for the “diving” expeditions at my friend Brian’s house.

Brian lived on an immense lake.  Our “diving” was really just two dorks snorkeling (dorkeling?), while one of them pretended to be various heroes from Peter Benchley novels.  (I’d inherited a few from my Dad.  Benchley wrote all sorts of sea-based horror-thrillers, people, not just “Jaws.”)

I swear that some of my happiest summer memories will always be snorkeling that lake.  It was an landscape as alien as I imagined the moon might have been — fantastic, airless, unknowable, and even apprehension-inducing.  Brian and his kid brother Brad had gravely intoned to me their accounts of the black eels they’d encountered underwater; the impression they made on me was enough to make me startled at the sight of any vague, longish shape that I spotted beneath the surface.  (We all still loved seeing fish, though.  I’ll never forget that curious sunfish who approached my face so closely that it looked like he was about to kiss my mask.)

Anyway, the “Platoon” soundtrack was known to play while we prepared for one of our forays, or when we were taking a break in Brian’s basement.  (Believe it or not, snorkeling can be slightly vigorous exercise if you do it long enough — especially if you’re wearing flippers.)  I’d brought it along on cassette, of course, as DVD’s weren’t a thing yet.  And sometimes we’d listen to it and other tapes when we were brainstorming our plans to appropriate some radio-controlled planes.

Brian and I absolutely fetishized RC planes for a while … neither one of us owned one, but we wanted to — very badly.  Fueling our greed for the pricey toys were a couple of catalogs Brian had ordered from a hobby company.  (The Internet wasn’t a thing yet.)  We hatched various plans to raise funds for their purchase — I think mowing lawns was the go-to option back in the day for kids who weren’t old enough to drive.  I occurs to me as I write this now that a smarter or more ambitious pair of high school boys would probably have focused on earning money for actual cars, rather than their radio-controlled equivalent — driving age was only a couple of years away.  Brian had a thing about RC boats, too — a predilection that I thought was entirely lame.  But, then again, I was the one without a lake in his backyard.

I’d bought the “Platoon” tape at Smithhaven Mall because of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings;” I was a nerdy enough kid to do that.  (That’s the instrumental score that most people think of as the “Platoon movie music.”)  But I quickly came to love the “Songs From The Era” selections on the rest of the tape — it was really my first sustained exposure to the music of the 1960’s.

The Doors’ “Hello, I Love you” was my instant favorite; Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was another favorite.  (I have a habit of quoting its lyrics to this day.)  I still love every song on the album, really, with one exception.  I really liked Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” when I was in high school, but my affection for it has definitely faded.  Today it’s a slightly annoying earworm, and I might have to play some Doors right now to get rid of it.

 

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