Tag Archives: Fear the Walking Dead

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.

 

D5-Saa_X4AIh0Vn

A few quick words on “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 3 (2017)

For my money, “Fear the Walking Dead” is the best zombie show on television.  Yes, it has its share of stupid parts — sometimes the writers seem to throw in some incredibly implausible story points only to test viewers’ credulity.  (My favorite this season was the occupants of a heavy truck throwing a beeping keychain from a horde-infested highway — the zombies are attracted to the sound of the keychain, but not the rumble and movement of the truck that sneaks past them.)

On other levels, “Fear the Walking Dead” can be a relatively smart show — at least more so than its more famous progenitor, “The Walking Dead.”  I’m talking about being smart in terms of character, dialogue and themes.  Sometimes I think of it as “The Walking Dead for Grownups.”  The characters are … often more three-dimensional and compelling than their counterparts on the flagship show.  Not being based on a comic series, they’re not bound by the medium’s character tropes, the way that Rick Grimes and company always seem so inescapably tethered.   They feel more like real people, and not the disposable inhabitants of Robert Kirkman’s (admittedly excellent) comic series.   That makes the show scarier, because the characters are more identifiable.

The dialogue and story logistics are far more thoughtful.  The stories themselves are more expansive, more quickly paced and farther reaching.  Consider the three major locales covered this season — the ranch, the dam and the bazaar.  Two out of three of those settings are explored in depth — along with the characters inhabiting them. (I’d like to see more of that bazaar.)  Now consider how slowly “The Walking Dead’s” major plot-lines move.  It would take the latter at least three seasons to cover the major stories covered in a single season of “Fear the Walking Dead.”

I know this show has its share of detractors, but I’d rate Season 3 a 9 out of 10.

 

 

 - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 3, Key Art - Photo Credit:  AMC

A short review of the Season 4 premiere of “The Strain”

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PAST SEASONS OF “THE STRAIN.”]  I love “The Strain.”  It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s usually creepy, and the screenwriters seem to want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink in order to please horror fans.  It’s also the most ambitious horror show on television — it endeavors to depict nothing short of an entire vampire apocalypse, from its inception back in Season 1 to what appears to be a complete victory by the monsters at the start of its fourth (and apparently final) season.  Only the outstanding “Fear the Walking Dead” has attempted something like that.  And although “Fear” is the better show, it can’t match “The Strain’s” epic storytelling goals and its level of detail.

The writers’ energetic efforts almost always pay off.  Part of “The Strain’s” appeal is that you never know how far they’ll go.  And they do push the envelope so creatively that they sometimes hit upon ideas and story points that are grotesque and darkly creative.  I’m still enjoying this show even after I predicted back in Season 1 that the plot-driving creatures themselves would grow boring after our repeated exposure to them.  (I’m happy to be proven wrong.)

Regrettably, the Season 4 premiere suggests that the writers are now reaching too far, too fast.  It continued the show’s pattern of brave creative choices, but it was sloppy.  There were enormous changes in story and setting with insufficient exposition.  We jump nine months forward from the close of last season, when a nuclear explosion devastates New York, and our heroes are scattered.  We’re offered little information about how our protagonists arrived at their respective new junctures, and that is forgivable.  (It’s a convention of serialized storytelling like this that things can be explained in subsequent episodes.)  But the enormous changes in the overall milieu left me a little confused.

Following the nuclear conquest of New York last season, why would Philadelphia and other cities also be ruled by the vampires?  I understand that the nuclear winter is to blame for this, because the bad guys can move about by day.  But would a single bomb cause a sufficient nuclear winter to affect the entire Eastern Seaboard?  (Yes, I am aware that I am illustrating my ignorance of this subject.)

Or … is it the entire continent that’s affected, or the entire northern hemisphere?  Have other cities been bombed or not?  Why are the vampires seeking out more nuclear devices?  (We are given confusing information about these things through new story elements and dialogue.)  Furthermore, why is Vasiliy Fet (the likable Kevin Durand) trying get his hands on a nuke on behalf of the human resistance?  Is he planning on nuking an entire city, with both vampires and their human slaves?  If he neutralizes “The Master” in the remains of New York City, will it be worth it?

These are important plot and story elements that left me scratching my head.  What’s more, the season opener was further marred by some pretty spotty scripting and direction.  (The action sequence at the end was poorly done.)

The episode was still fun enough.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.  I’m just surprised that an episode that seems so hastily developed served as the season’s opener.

 

“Fear the Walking Dead Poets Society?” With music by Glenn Miller?

Besides its references to Charles Bukowski, Sunday’s episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” also referenced Hughes Mearns’ haunting poem, “Antigonish.”  I might have run this poem on the blog before; it is often referred to as “I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There.”  (This is the piece that the character Phil is reciting when he is found by the search party.)

Strangely enough, I discovered just now that Mearns’ poem was set to music by none other than Glenn Miller himself.  Miller entitled his 1939 jazz adaptation “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There,” which is another individual line in the poem.

Now all we need is zombie prep school lit students in the next episode.

 

Antigonish,” by Hughes Mearns

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

 

AMCs-Fear-the-Walking-Dead-Season-3-Episode-5-Madison-Clark-gets-attacked-by-an-infected-inmate-670x388

 

A few quick words on the Season 3 premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead” (2017)

I’m going to go ahead and commit horror-nerd heresy here … at this point, I think I enjoy AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead” more than “The Walking Dead.”  The characters feel more “real,” and the stories move far, far faster.

Last night’s first episode was a hell of a lot of creepy, disturbing, pathological fun — enough for me to give it a 9 out of 10.  And to make it a little cooler, we’ve got a couple of terrific “that guy” actors in supporting roles.  The first is “Band of Brothers” and “24” alumnus Ross McCall, the second is “The Following’s” Sam Underwood.

Good stuff!

 

 

A few quick words on “What We Become” (2016)

“What We Become” (2016) is a competent, serviceable Danish horror film that nevertheless could have been better.  (The film’s original title was “Sorgenfri.”)  It’s capably written, nicely filmed, and well performed by its actors, and there is genuine suspense once its zombies are allowed to run amok.

The trouble is, that takes far too long.  Like America’s “Viral” (2016), this is a zombie movie that spends so much effort on its setup that there is little time left for enough payoff.

This is another thoughtful apocalyptic monster movie that pays a great deal of attention to the media and military response to the emerging crisis.  (And it’s creepily effective the way this is told exclusively from the point of view of a Danish suburb’s residents.)  It will hold your attention as a kind of “slow burn” horror film — it reminded me a little of the first season of AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead.” Ultimately, however, the zombies get too little screen time.  And that’s a shame, because what we do see as a horrifying, tragic climax is actually very well executed.

Overall, I’d rate this a 7 out of 10.

 

 

large_fdm3dawxz9kkpg2gybnu0ui3gba

A short review of “Fear the Walking Dead” Season 2

I realize that “Fear the Walking Dead” is the show that so many people love to hate.  But I myself am just thrilled with it.  I’d give the second season a 9 out of 10 for being the show to which I looked forward to the most all week, and for arguably being more enjoyable than … that other zombie show.  (Its name escapes me at the moment.)

I suppose it feels smarter than it really is.  The pace is slower, there is far more background and context for the story, and I personally feel that there is far better characterization than in its predecessor.  (My fellow horror zombie fans strongly disagree, but I always thought that consistent characterization was a problem with “The Walking Dead.”)

As friends and reviewers have pointed out to me, though, it isn’t as smart as it feels.  People do dumb things; I’m not sure if it is laziness on the part of the screenwriters or just a lack of good judgement.  A typically egregious example is when our seafaring heroes deploy an unwieldy landing party to the beach while literally waiting to be attacked by pirates.  Another is the characters’ general apathy about the possibility of infection from blood splatters, from surfaces or from skin-to-dead-skin contact.  (We actually see a hero destroy a zombie by inserting his thumbs through its eye sockets into its brains.)

But the show is still damned enjoyable.  It has an epic feel.  Season 2 opens with a sweeping panorama of a ravaged Los Angeles, seen by a departing boat.  We have action by sea and by land, and show visits Mexico.  Radio transmissions and the accounts of minor characters further paint the apocalypse broadly.

I actually found the characters identifiable, if not always likable.  They just seemed more like real people than their counterparts on “The Walking Dead,” who lean closer to recognizable tropes (the good cop, the kid, the biker-with-a-heart-of-gold, the ninja).  The grounded, real-world drama among average, mundane people just made the show’s horror story context more real, and therefore more frightening.  (Let’s face it — you and I would probably be far more similar to “Fear’s” Travis, Madison or Alicia than to “The Walking Dead’s” Rick, Daryl or Michonne.)

And I think the subplots and story devices are often just genuinely creepy.  The hazards at sea, the boat-to-boat conflict, the outcome of the lighthouse storyline on the dock … a few of the show’s story arcs seemed like they were inspired by the kind of short stories you’d find in the best zombie anthologies.  Maybe I enjoyed “Fear” more than other viewers because I like the kind of varying, “situational” horror tales it served up every week.  This appealed to me more than the standard colony-vs.-colony stories seen that have grown routine on the show’s progenitor.

All in all, “Fear the Walking Dead” isn’t perfect, but its still a a great horror show.

 

A review of the Season 2 premiere of “Fear the Walking Dead.”

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF “FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.”]  “Fear the Walking Dead” has done something interesting.  It’s taken two truly reprehensible characters, and made them the most attractive among an ensemble of protagonists in a survival-horror story.

I’m talking about Victor Strand and the young, troubled, drug-addicted Nick, who I’ve been reluctantly but undeniably rooting for since the closing episodes of last season.  They’re both expertly played, by Colman Domingo and Frank Dillane, respectively.  Colman is actually amazing: his deep voice and perfect line delivery should make him a leading man here or elsewhere, either as a hero or a villain.  In just a couple of episodes, he’s easily become one of the best things about the show.

But these aren’t “good guys.”  Or, at least I don’t think they are.  Are they?  Strand is openly a sociopath, and doesn’t even bother to hide it.  He appears to act nobly in rescuing the group.  But as Ruben Blades’ character, Salazar, shrewdly observes, he is almost certainly acting somehow according to his own self-interests.  (And Salazar has been right about these kinds of things so far.)

As for Nick?  No, I am definitely not judging the character about his addiction to illegal drugs.  That would make him a flawed protagonist, not a bad guy.  I’m talking about his demonstrated willingness in Season 1 to victimize the helpless in order to feed that addiction — he does nothing less than kill a sick, elderly man in order to get his “fix.”  (I did understand that scene, didn’t I?)

And what about Salazar himself?  He is easily the third most interesting character to me, and he’s perfectly portrayed by Blades.  I want him to survive this show’s zombie apocalypse, simply because I enjoy watching him so much.  He’s a former torturer for the El Salvadoran junta.  That’s … that’s pretty much as bad as you can get, isn’t it?  And this isn’t a character aspect that the viewer can easily put aside, as audiences did with the character of Sayid on “Lost.”  (He was a past torturer with Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.)  Salazar’s deplorable skills are front and center at the end of the show’s first season, driving the plot.)

There’s nothing pathological about my attraction to these characters.  (And I’m sure it’s shared by other viewers.)  It’s just that these are creatively conceived characters on a show that seems to bungle its efforts to create anything resembling or interesting likable good guys.  The remaining protagonists of “Fear the Walking Dead” are written to be utterly bland, even when they are very well portrayed by their actors.  Travis (Cliff Curtis) is a one-note altruist.  Madison (Kim Dickens) shows promise, but isn’t yet that interesting to watch.  Alycia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) is a boring nice-girl.  Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) is so forgettable that I can’t really remember how to describe her as I write this.

The worst offender, by far, though, is the character of Chris.  I can’t imagine how dreadful a job it must be for actor Lorenzo James Henrie to play him.  He’s an utterly punchable brat — an entitled, immature, self-absorbed teenager that makes you root for any zombies that pursuing him.  I can’t imagine the show’s writers created him to be sympathetic … surely they must be setting him up as zombie fodder.

All told, though, the Season 2 opener last Sunday was good stuff.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  Fans who were frustrated with Season 1’s slow pace (I wasn’t) will be pleased to discover that the show opens with an action sequence and a pretty skilled depiction of the destruction of Los Angeles.  No, the show doesn’t have the same special effects budget as a major feature film.  But this was still impressive — we get to see some of the destruction and mayhem that’s only been alluded to or briefly, limitedly portrayed via flashback throughout six years of “The Walking Dead.”  (Remember the faraway shots of the bombing of Atlanta?)

The suspense is also quite good.  I can’t really say much more for fear of spoilers.  But I thought it was well written and intelligent, and I think it will please even seasoned fans of the zombie horror sub-genre.

This was pretty decent stuff.  I think Season 2 should be a fun ride.

 

fear-the-walking-dead-season-2-key-art-logo-400x600

 

victor-nick-and-daniel-prepare-for-the-journey

“Fear the Walking Dead” has webisodes.

Should you care?  I dunno.

The first webisode is one minute and 25 seconds long.  That seems like minimal entertainment, even for the little effort required to visit a website and click play.

Remember the plane that we saw over a panoramic shot of Los Angeles in one of the later episodes?  It appeared to be stuck in a dive, but then seemed to correct its course.  I’m pretty sure that it’s the subject of the the webisode series, entitled “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462.”

It’s embedded below.

A review of “Fear the Walking Dead,” Season 1 (2015)

I know that love for “Fear the Walking Dead” (2015) is not universal, but I needed to pipe in at least once to say that I thought that “Season 1” was terrific.  (I feel funny calling six episodes a “season,” but I’ve heard that de facto miniseries like this are a new trend in television.)  I’d give this apocalypse story a 9 out of 10.

For me, “Fear the Walking Dead” satisfied a longstanding itch.  If you grow up a fan of post-apocalyptic horror, you are constantly exposed to the aftermath of the end of the world.  In the vast majority of films and fiction, horror fans are treated to flashbacks, at best, of how it all went down.  Here we (partly, at least) get to see it all go down.

I’ll bet that stories so expansive in scope are a little harder to conceive and write convincingly.  Very few writers of prose or screenplays have expertise in disaster management, disease control, mass psychology or homeland security.  How much easier is it to have protagonists roam a landscape of burned out buildings, with only graffiti, snippets of conversation, and occasionally a blown newspaper offering hints of exactly how the end came about?

“Fear” deserves a hell of a lot of credit just for trying (as does “The Strain” over at FX).  It’s also why the globally plotted “Contagion” (2011) was such a frighteningly interesting thriller, and why Max Brooks’ stage-by-stage zombie pandemic easily made “World War Z” the greatest zombie novel ever written.  Through the eyes of an average family, “Fear” at least tries to show us meaningful glimpses into how police, emergency and military authorities would react.  The result is some interesting stories.  A nerdy high school student is the first to prepare, for example, due to his attention to the Internet’s alternative media.  And a doomed compact between a civilian neighborhood and their putative military protectors concludes in a particularly horrifying way.

Soooooo many viewers complained that there were “no zombies.”  Well, there were always a couple, at least — we got a great one in the first episode’s earliest minutes.  But that wasn’t the point.  The creators of “Fear” told us that this would be a different type of show, with a “slow burn” -type horror.  For me, that worked.  Look at it this way — we routinely see “zombie swarms” over at that other show (what was its name again?).  We’ve been seeing them for five whole seasons — the first repelled Rick Grimes’ ill advised solitary horseback exploration of Atlanta.  That’s fun for a zombie horror fan, but it’s nothing new.

“Fear” offers us something much different — a kind of “creeping horror.”  This seemed like the “Psycho” (1960) of onscreen zombie tales.  No, we don’t see zombies everywhere, but watching even one episode of “The Walking Dead” (2010) lets us know that these lackadaisical everyday people are in for a hell of a ride.  We, the viewers, know what they do not.  That’s what our high school English teachers taught us was “dramatic irony,” and it makes this a nice little companion show to “The Walking Dead.”  In fact, ALL the characters we see are probably doomed to die, given what we know of the statistics established by “The Walking Dead.”  That’s pretty dark stuff.

Other viewers complained about the characters being boring or unlikable.  I do get that.  Nobody here, I think, will ever gain the same viewer loyalty as Rick, Michonne or Daryl Dixon.  (If it were put to a vote among the women of the world, I’m pretty sure they’d rename “The Walking Dead” as “The Norman Reedus Show.”)  But “Fear’s” average (and, yes, sometimes boring) people seemed far more “real” to me — I think they functioned better as viewer surrogates, and better allowed me to imagine how I might react in a world like this.  I almost started viewing this as an end-of-the-world docudrama in the same manner as the BBC’s little known “End Day” (2005).

Besides, two characters in particular do show great promise.  I just can’t say who or why without spoiling that they survived.  Yet another character who appears suicidal in the final episode is one that I thought was pretty interesting, and we do not actually see this person’s death.

Sure, I had my own quibbles.  Los Angeles is remarkably empty for a city of nearly 4 million people.  I’m inclined to think that, even after an unlikely evacuation attempt, it would still be swamped either with people who still needed help, or with zombies.

Also … the sparse information we’re given about the zombie phenomenon here seems disappointingly contradictory.  We’ve established that a universal, invisible illness means people will return into undeath, regardless of how they died.  But we also see a flu-like illness affect some people (who are doomed to die shortly thereafter), but not all people.  Are these two different manifestations of the same disease?  Is it even technically a contagion, or is it an environmental illness?  (I know my questions here are absurdly silly, but this is precisely the sort of thing that horror nerds argue about over at the Internet Movie Database.)

Oh, well.  My recommendation here is to give this a chance, with the caveat that it definitely isn’t “The Walking Dead.”  It’s damn good.

Oh!  One more thing!  Keep an eye out for occasional homages to “28 Days Later” (2002).  And watch closely — one such plot arc is devilishly turned on its head in a subtle thematic twist.

tumblr_ntb25ok2ex1t7b5qro1_1280