“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.