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TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead 1.1 Pilot
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Fear The Walking Dead Frank Dillane as Nick AMC

Fear the Walking Dead
Season 1 Episode 1: Pilot
Directed by Adam Davidson
Written by Robert Kirkman & Dave Erickson
Starring Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Lorenzo James Henrie, Elizabeth Rodriguez
AMC
Air Date: Sunday, August 23, 2015, 9pm

It’s been nearly two years since AMC announced their plans for a prequel spin-off to their wildly successful drama, The Walking Dead, which follows a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Georgia. While The Walking Dead is based on the popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman, the new series, titled Fear the Walking Dead, is an original story. As with TWD, Kirkman is also involved with Fear and co-wrote the pilot episode, which aired tonight.

Fear the Walking Dead takes place in Los Angeles, CA, during the early days of the zombie virus outbreak before the general public knew what was going on. The time frame of the events shown in LA coincide with the off-screen hospitalization of Deputy Rick Grimes just before he awakens from his coma in the series premiere of The Walking Dead, when most people had already been turned into flesh-eating undead “Walkers.”

In Fear, we are introduced to all-new characters and this first episode gives us plenty to follow. There’s Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), a high school guidance counselor, and her two children, daughter Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam Carey), a classic overachiever, and son Nick Clark (Frank Dillane), a drug addict who’s failed out of college. Madison is engaged to English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who’s son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) resents him for leaving his mother, Liza Ortiz (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Shocker – none of the kids are supportive of Madison and Travis’ new live-in situation; matter of fact, they’re downright bratty and hostile, and Chris even refuses to see his father for his weekend visitation.

Fear The Walking Dead Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) Photo by Justin Lubin /AMC

The series premiere opens with an overhead shot of Nick that is reminiscent of Rick’s awakening from a coma in the hospital at the start of TWD. But the two scenarios are significantly different: Rick’s hospitalization came about after he was shot in the line of duty, while Chris is an addict who chooses to spend his time getting high and passing out in drug dens, which is where we see him in the opening. After Chris wakes in a haze at an abandoned graffitied church, the young man hears a noise and then screaming in the distance. He calls out to “Gloria” and then goes off to investigate only to come across something horrific — first dead bodies all around, then Gloria with icy glowing blue eyes, blood running down her chin and neck as she chows down on someone. In horror, Nick flees the scene into the crowded streets of LA, where he’s promptly hit by a car.

At the hospital, Nick lies to the police about what happened, claiming he was just walking against the light when he was hit, but witnesses to the accident had reported his rantings about blood and flesh. Surprisingly, Nick eventually confides in Travis about what he saw, and understandably, Travis says it must have been hallucinations from the drugs. What makes no sense here is that the police did not go investigate the area, although I guess they wouldn’t bother going to the junkie church if they figured it’s just a bunch of whacked-out druggies there. Meanwhile, Travis wants to help, so he goes to the church that night armed only with a flashlight — because that’s safe — and I guess he didn’t find anything gruesome enough to go to the police with, although there was someone there screaming not to kill him. But that’s ok, just go home and sleep it off, Travis, even though you know something bad went down there.

Back at Madison’s school, we learn that there’s a lot of people out because of a new “flu” that’s going around. That’s our first clue that something is going down, but of course, these people haven’t a clue of what’s to come. Then Madison catches one of her students, the downtrodden dweeb Tobias, carrying a knife (a paring knife, that is), which he apparently needs for protection. With some coaxing, he tells Madison that “we’re safer in numbers” and that “no one’s going to college, no one’s going anywhere” because he’s following reports in five states that there’s some kind of virus that’s spreading and killing people. (Although – if it’s a virus that’s spreading, how are they safer in numbers?) The friendly guidance counselor dismisses the worried boy, like she does with everyone else.

Madison, apparently, lives in a fantasy world where her son is going to get clean, and nothing unusual occurred at the church because it’s just a drug den where “bad things happen,” and that there’s no deadly virus because of course the authorities would have told everyone about it by now. She also remains eerily claim whenever confronted with any type of crisis or issues. (Is she heavily medicated? She must be.) Please do not put this woman in charge of anything.

AMC The Walking Dead Companion Series Kim Dickens Cliff Curtis Cobalt Fear The Walking Dead

While The Walking Dead is not about the how and whys of the zombie outbreak, choosing instead to focus on the survivors and their constantly threatened lives and humanity, Fear seeks to show us the early stages of the pandemic and how people were reacting to it — or, I should say, ignoring it. This new setting is not the overgrown desolate backwoods of Georgia; this is the bustling streets of LA. Strangely, it doesn’t seem like many people are too concerned about the “flu” that’s laying people up; instead, they are oblivious to the changes slowly happening around them. Now, I live in a big city myself, so I know people tend to keep to themselves and focus on what’s happening in their immediate situations, but just look at how everyone reacted to the recent ebola scare — people aren’t that oblivious. And while yes this is supposed to take place before the events of TWD, which now is nearly a decade ago, it looks and feels very much like present day, especially with everyone on their cell phones and texting. It’s doubtful these zombie encounters would have slipped through social media channels, remaining solely in the underground forums where only Tobias can read about it. We live in a time when NO ONE keeps quiet and even the smallest issues are debated ad nauseam on social media sites like Facebook. There would at least be a few “Thanks Obama” memes about the situation.

Fear tries to frighten us by using an ominous score when coming up behind someone, and then showing Travis and Madison in a traffic jam. A traffic jam in LA — oh no!!! That never happens! Ok, there were also police helicopters, but have you been to LA? I’m from NYC, and we have traffic jams and police helicopters overhead all the time and no one suspects a zombie virus is the reason.

Fear The Walking Dead

Also, in the 90-minute premiere, you get an hour of Madison’s denials and Nick walking around like a cross between Heath Ledger’s Joke in The Dark Knight and Johnny Depp’s touched, eccentric character in Benny & Joon. Surprisingly, it’s Frank Dillane’s Nick that is the most interesting character and most likable — next to father figure Travis. When we first see him, he’s channeling The Crow with his straggly black hair and open-chested white shirt. He’s basically sexy drug addict guy. Post-hospital as he wanders around LA scared out of his mind sporting the baggy bland duds of his coding hospital roommate, he still manages to keep the audience captivated. The British actor has come a long way here from his early days on the big screen as a young teenaged Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. His character will be the one to watch as Fear continues. By the last half-hour, a viral video sends the city into a panic, which again, makes no sense. Why the panic all of a sudden? Why are they evacuating schools before the night before the police had to shoot a man who was attacking them and everyone thinks the video is fake anyhow?

What we have in this debut is much like we did with The Walking Dead‘s premiere: Quiet. A quiet that we will never have again. A quiet that we will long for in subsequent episodes.

What Fear has going for it is the rabidity of the fans of TWD who want more. The new series gives them that, but is it enough? Will we be seeing just more of the same old same old? There’s episodes of TWD that have dragged on and not divulged enough to keep the audience satisfied, so the last thing the fans need is another slow-churning drama where the audience knows what’s going on and is just waiting for the characters to catch up. We’re only getting six episodes in this inaugural season, so the showrunners have to make it count.

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