There is this little show on AMC heading into its 6th season – some of you may have heard of it: The Walking Dead….With the popularity of that show someone said “Hey, let’s capitalize on this TWD craze and create a spin off, no, better yet let’s make a prequel that shows what went down while our hero Rick was in the hospital and we’ll set it in sunny California.” Good idea? Maybe. Let’s examine the evidence then render an early verdict on the season one premiere of Fear the Walking Dead.
The pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead quickly establishes Travis Manawaw (Cliff Curtis) and Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) as the show’s leads. Apparently, Travis is estranged from his wife, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and their son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) who has daddy issues. Travis is now living with Madison, both are teachers at the same school. Madison has two kids: Nick the strung out junkie who has been blackballed from a number of rehabs and Alicia the smart but angst ridden teen who seems to be hiding her interracial relationship with Matt who hates painting by numbers. Nick (Frank Dillane) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) are not big fans of Travis as well.
The episode kicks off with our boy Nick waking up in an abandoned church (this is where users go to partake of their drug of choice) looking for his “friend” Gloria. As he stumbles through the church, he hears some muffled screams and sees a lot of blood scattered across the floor. Nick stumbles upon a body with its throat torn out. Freaked out, he wanders into the sanctuary, where he discovers Gloria kneeling over another lifeless body. “Gloria?” he trembles. The zombie-fied Gloria looks up from her corpse meal and begins zombie-walking toward a freaked out Nick who fleas the church. He runs outside only to face plant into the street after being hit by a car. Roll the opening credits.
Not a bad opening few moments of the show. Unfortunately, what happens between then and the last 20 minutes of the show was extremely mediocre. I understand characters need to be established and developed so I won’t hold it against the show….yet. During this mediocre phase we get a lot of hospital and school scenes. Travis and Gloria taking turns staying with Nick at the hospital while the other shows up to school to teach while introducing some other characters including Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos), a troubled, bullied teen. Madison seems to have a good rapport with Tobias; he sets off the metal detector in front of Principal Costa (who gets very little screen time with his most memorable line referring to a bus driver about only picking up five kids for school then saying to security “I hope you guys had you flu shots”). Madison rushes to Tobias’ aid claiming it was the change from his jacket pocket that tripped the alarm. Madison and Tobias continue into an empty room where she takes a knife from him. A verbal exchange takes place where Tobias is talking about “the disease or virus” that has now made its way to five states. Madison dismisses him telling him to stop believing everything on the internet; this relationship seems to be establishing something. I have a feeling there is going to be a sad turn of events. Meanwhile, Travis decides to check on Nick’s ramblings about the happenings at the church to see if there is any validity to it or if it was drug induced hallucinations.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Nick makes his escape when his roommate starts making familiar sounds you may have heard on the Fear the Walking Dead’s parent show and he is taken from the room by the doctors and nurses. Nick steals some clothes and heads out to buy a burner phone to contact someone (not his mom and her boyfriend). When Travis and Madison go to the hospital to see Nick, they discover he has fled and begin to look for him. They go to the church first and Madison now gets to see the bloody scene….but where are the bodies? They then go to visit this nice young gentleman, Calvin, who is a friend of Nick’s; Calvin is very accommodating to them because he is generally concerned (but for a different reason). This is where the show picked up again, as they are driving and try to get off an exit, traffic is backed up and there are a lot of flashing lights so they decide to take an alternate route home. The next day in school there are viral videos a helicopter camera shot at the accident scene from the exit Travis and Madison were trying to use….and what do we see….apparently mortally wounded people attacking the police and rescue workers, despite being shot several times one of them is still attacking (no one is aware of the kill shot yet). Alright kids – half day of school!
We learn Calvin is Nick’s drug dealer when the two meet as a corner diner. Nick wants answers because he thinks the drugs were laced with a hallucinogen. After a brief calming hug session, Calvin takes Nick to “figure it out” with a gun – struggling ensues with Calvin getting shot in the scrum. Scared, Nick calls Mom and Travis. Once they show up, Nick takes them to the site tp explain what happened. What’s this? No body! Backing out of the tunnel, we see a shadowy figure approaching the truck and Travis and Madison go to check it out…it’s zombie Calvin and he is hungry! Nick proceeds to do some damage to zombie Calvin with the truck…. everyone then looks at the carnage with a snarling, mangled Calvin still trying to move. Horrified looks on all faces – end credits.
Am I sold on Fear the Walking Dead? Not quite yet. It has a lot to live up to being billed as the companion piece to our beloved The Walking Dead. Out of the pilot’s 90 minutes, I would say I was interested for 20-30 minutes of it. I will continue to watch and see how the show progresses. I have no major issues with the acting or the director, Adam Davidson, whose credits include everything from True Blood and Fringe to Gray’s Anatomy and Community, did a great job capturing the right tone for the pilot episode. I am looking forward to the next episode to see what is in store now that characters and one story line have been established.
I’ll give this 2.5 out of 5 for now and will reassess after episode 2.