Though it’s set in Los Angeles, 3,000 miles from lawman Rick Grimes’ jurisdiction, “Fear The Walking Dead” rewinds AMC’s “Walking Dead” universe to the point when Rick Grimes was hospitalized, and its six-week first season covers the period in which Grimes lay comatose.
“Fear” deals with a whole different set of characters in Los Angeles: high school guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickins), her college-bound daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey, her drug-addict son Nick (Frank Dillane), her lit-teacher boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), and many others in their orbits.
It also deals with the early days of the zombie apocalypse, and maybe even the beginning. Within three minutes of its first episode the drug-addict son Nick discovers his hot friend Gloria feasting on another human being. Presumably she overdosed and died. Maybe she’s the first zombie in Los Angeles. Maybe she’s the first zombie in the world.
As “Fear” starts, L.A. still has electricity, TV, Internet and iPhone reception. The humans still outnumber the zombies to the point where no one is even aware that there are zombies.
As I see it, there are two big problems with “Fear.”
1) While the new show certainly looks more expensive than the early episodes (or even the current episodes) of the mothershow, the spin-off is so far not nearly as compelling as the original has been of late. (This may owe in part to Scott Gimple, the brilliant writer-producer who has steered the original “Walking Dead” for the last few seasons, does not appear to be involved with “Fear.”)
2) “Fear” is not different enough from the mothershow. Being set earlier than the original (at least in "Fear's" first season), “Fear” had the potential to answer the two big questions of the Zombie Apocalypse: How and Why. But I don’t think it’s really going to do that in a satisfying manner, largely because it’s depicting people just as out-of-the-loop as Daryl, Carol and Maggie are.
While the teacher and the guidance counselor are likable enough, I suspect many viewers would really prefer if this series followed whoever’s on duty at the morgue or the mortuary. I’d like to know why they’re not on the phone to the cops or the CDC when the dead start trying to kick their way out of their coffins and morgue drawers. And why those likable coroners’ assistants aren’t at least pulling out their smartphones to post their zombie footage to YouTube or Facebook.
According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, on average of 165 people die in Los Angeles County every day -- out of a total county population of more than 10 million. Even if it takes 10 days to get the dead gentiles buried in L.A., that’s not a lot of dead people above ground on any given day.
If the zombies were the fast-moving ones from “Game of Thrones” or “World War Z,” I could see a handful taking over. But the slow ones in “Fear The Walking Dead”? Not so much.
The first two episodes of “Fear” set up the idea that a lot of those 10 million non-zombs are precipitating Rodney-King-verdict-type riots.
Why the riots? In “Fear The Walking Dead,” living people – black, white, Asian & Latino – are rioting because they saw camera-phone footage of cops using perhaps too many bullets to immobilize a zombie or two (which I guess the cops are mistaking for homeless people or PCP addicts).
And this weird riot immobilizes the city.
Which maybe makes it easier for the zombies to get a foothold?
Pardon the pun, but I’m finding this zombie origin story really hard to swallow. Here’s why.
A) I don’t believe L.A. cops would waste their bullets shooting limpy, unarmed suspects, no matter how hungry. These zombies are not so strong (or so numerous at this point) that they can’t be handcuffed and thrown into the backs of squadcars.
B) I don’t see giant riots destroying Los Angeles (and perhaps other cities?) because cops are emptying their guns into crazy homeless-looking humanoids. Maybe – MAYBE – if the cops were tried in court and unexpectedly found innocent. But that’s not this. This is just footage. It could even be fake footage.
I’m a big fan of “Walking Dead,” and for that reason mostly I’m giving “Fear” a season pass. Maybe what I’m seeing will make more sense by the third or fourth episode. Maybe the characters will get more interesting. But from what’s been made available so far, I’m not confident the producers behind “Fear” know what they’re doing.
… if "Fear" is a project with some noble intentions, it has uneven execution, with the prequel nature of it hurting as much as helping. … even an actress as nuanced as Dickens, who plays all of her roles (whether in "Deadwood," "Tremé," or "Gone Girl") with an innate intelligence, can only do so much when her character has to spend much of the first episode dismissing other people's warnings about people turning into monsters. …
... Screeners of the early episodes feature staticky, too-loud music, which is used so insistently to amp up the suspense that it quickly feels like a crutch — the kind of schlocky horror-movie device that “The Walking Dead” mostly avoids. It also feels like a sign that the show’s creators, who include Robert Kirkman, the impresario of the “Walking Dead” graphic novel and TV franchise, aren’t nearly as sure of their footing this time around. … early episodes spend a lot of time on domestic-drama tropes — teenage rebellion, the messiness of divorce, dealing with addiction — that are handled adequately but seem particularly tired in this context. …
... takes Los Angeles, and itself, very seriously. So seriously that in the first two episodes it is sometimes difficult not to laugh. At the general cluelessness of the characters, at the intensity of the local "realism," at the heavy-handedness of the Cinematic Symbols of Foreboding (Beware the Bounce House) and the sight of so many fine actors trying to keep their feet in a promising but initially borderline-absurd narrative. …
... C- … resorts to the dumbest of jump scares and runs in circles. You’ll get impatient for a walker to come chomping by. You might be disappointed when one does. An action sequence that caps the extended premiere is choppy and amateurishly directed. …
... The new series is compelling in its own way, but it will take a while to see how it congeals. Or, more aptly, if it coagulates. …
... Some viewers will be eager to get to more zombies, but the quicker the show does this, the less unique it will be. Episode two moves the plot forward faster — more characters begin to understand what “the infected” are capable of — which will appeal to those craving zombies, but is sure to disappoint anyone wanting this show to shamble its own way. …
... the 90-minute first episode and the hour-long second episode — while not actually boring — are certainly less magnetic than the original. … Even if Fear falls short creatively, there must be some solace for its creators that millions of viewers will still embrace it. …
... initially feels too much like a snore, narrowly following a single, not-terribly-interesting family, and leaning heavily on musical cues to stoke a sense of suspense. A second episode begins to propel the story forward, thankfully, but for starters, anyway, it’s more a snack than a feast. … when it comes to the longterm future of this new program, the network might discover that the only thing it has to fear is, ultimately, “Fear” itself. …
9 p.m. Sunday. AMC.