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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The president wants “retribution” against … “Saturday Night Live?”

The morning after declaring a national emergency to fund the border wall without  Congressional approval, the President of the United States asked (via tweet, of course) how television networks could “get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution.”

This is the President of the United States, people.

The tweet can (arguably, I suppose) be interpreted as an implicit call to violence against television networks.  It all boils down to whether or not you view the word “retribution” as intrinsically violent.  In fairness to the president, the various online dictionaries don’t actually require that — “retribution” can be defined as benignly as “recompense” or “reward,” or as ominously as “punishment for a crime” or “the act of taking revenge.”

But I will tell you that “retribution” is a word that I immediately associate with organized crime movies.  (The example that springs to mind first is Robert Patrick growling it ironically in 1997’s “Cop Land.”)

Where were you that night, Jack?

I had nothing to do with it. That would be retribution, and that I leave to God almighty. I’m Gandhi.

If it helps to determine the president’s intention any, we can look at the Stalin-esque phrase he invokes, yet again, in his follow-up tweet: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”  (And we know the man is sure of his assertion when he types it in all capitals.)

I’m personally reading the man’s comments in the context of what I’ve been reading lately from a few Trump supporters in my orbit via social media.  I wrote previously on this blog about one of them openly calling for the large scale execution of “journslists” (they can never quite spell it) and Democrats.  I have also heard from these individuals that the Second Amendment was created to protect us from journalists, while another hoped brightly that journalists get “eaten alive” (a metaphor, to be sure, yet hardly one that suggests a peaceable course of action).

But back to the tweet about “Saturday Night Live.”  As though he were proceeding from some official Online Imbecile checklist, he was sure to include the term “Fake News” (his dumbed-down catchphrase for whatever he perceives as propaganda), as well as something childish (“very unfair”), something vague (“many other shows … should be looked into”) and something with inscrutable logic (“This is the real Collusion!”)

Again — this is the President of the United States, people.

Enjoy your Sunday.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Donny & Marie” (1976-1979)!

You think that 80’s kids are old?  Well, I also have memories of the 1970’s; after all, they fully occupied the first seven years of my life.

And I remember “Donny and Marie” (1976-1979), which ran on ABC.  It was a sanity-challenging, Kafkaesque combination of disco, country music, family entertainment, themed-comedy skits, sequined outfits and … ice-skating.  Which made it either the height of 70’s cheese or the very nadir of Western civilization — you decide.

I’m embarrassed to admit here that I loved it, even if I was a tot at the time.  (Hey, if you’re five or six years old, then the sight of Donny being a non-threatening goofball on stage was the very height of hilarity.)  You can see what I mean in the second clip below, if you can stomach all four minutes of it.

What’s interesting about this show is that it was kind of a dinosaur in its time … variety shows had been on the decline for a while in the late 1970’s, and were already being supplanted by the situation comedies that would become the trademark of the 1980’s.  Bizarrely, NBC tried to launch Marie in her own solo variety show during the 1980-81 television season, but it just didn’t catch on.  It was cancelled after seven episodes.

What’s truly crazy is that Donny and Marie are still performing in Las Vegas.  I kid you not.  Google it.  You can even see them tonight at The Flamingo.  There’s at least a chance that they’re immortal vampires.

Postscript: I at first typed “Donny and Maurie” in that blog post headline, and I feel certain there’s a terrible joke hiding there somewhere about Donny hearing the results of paternity test on “Maury Povich.”  That would make a great “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

 

Throwback Thursday: “Rappin’ Rodney” (1983)!

Rodney Dangerfield actually was pretty damn funny, even if I was too young to appreciate his humor when I was a kid.  Not everything he touched turned to gold … I seem to remember a cheesy movie or two.  But this 1983 single was great.  It’s catchy, and its humor still holds up today.

There are a couple of 80’s-tastic cameos in the video, too.  One is Pat Benatar as the leather-clad prison executioner.  (Totally not my thing.)  The other Saturday Night Live’s chain smoking priest, “Father Guido Sarducci” (Don Novello).