Pilot Review: Fear the Walking Dead

I finally watched Fear the Walking Dead.

First of all, why is the show searchable and listed on Hulu if no episodes are available to view?  Not cool, Hulu.  Not cool.  Episode One is available to watch for free on amc.com but you need to watch Matthew McConaughey spout poetical about the environment and “taking care of yourself” with the same Lincoln car commercial about a dozen times throughout the course of the episode.  It took so long to wade through the commercials, I actually fell asleep about 40 minutes through the episode.

Last night, I decided to forget it and simply pay $1.99 on Amazon so I could scrub forward and not have to deal with commercials.  So I will admit that I watched this in two parts.

The plot starts with a young addict named Nick (Frank Dillane). (A bit of trivia: Frank Dillane who appeared as young Voldemort, seeker of Horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and noted son of Stephen Dillane, who plays Stannis Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones).  Anyway, young Nick wakes up in an old church, disoriented and strung out on drugs.  He searches for his friend/girlfriend? Gloria who was presumably shooting up with him the night before but somehow wandered off in the middle of the night.  He stumbles through the church, searching for Gloria.  He finally rounds a corner and witnesses Gloria bent over, undead and chowing away at a corpse.  Cue Nick frightened and running away and, of course, getting hit by a car.  Immediately, a crowd gathers and concerned citizens dial 911 we pan back and get an aerial shot of Nick laying in the middle of the street.  I can only assume this is meant to be a callback to the first scene in the Walking Dead, where Rick gets shot and we pan back as he is laying in the middle of a field.

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Nick and Rick.  Hey, even their names rhyme!

We are introduced to Nick’s mom, Madison (Kim Dickens of Gone Girl and Lost), a guidance counselor and her recently moved-in beau Travis (Cliff Curtis), and Madison’s daughter Alicia (Alycia Carey).  Madison appears to be great at her job (and by great, I mean Tami Taylor great).  We see some creepy stuff as one of her students rambles on about the end of the world mumbo jumbo.  Madison thinks he’s just upset, but of course WE know what’s going on, because come on, this is a show about zombies.  And just like Rick woke up in the hospital, Nick wakes up in a hospital!

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Unfortunately, this is where the comparisons stop. 

Nick rambles on about Gloria eating other people, but of course this sounds like nonsense to Madison and Travis, who naturally blame his erratic behavior on drugs.  Travis goes to the church to investigate.  This was probably the most interesting part of the show–the church as a location was simply CREEPY, especially when Travis catches a glimpse of blood and guts smeared on the church floor.  He is sufficiently freaked out and leaves the church.  Travis eventually brings Madison back to the church scene of the crime so she can see for herself exactly what Nick has been up to (Moms, you know). Nick eventually escapes the hospital, and Travis and Madison are left trying to figure out where Nick disappeared to.  They witness an accident, bottlenecked traffic and some sort of incident on the highway with ambulances, cop cars and even a helicopter circling above, but it’s unclear what exactly happened. Only the next day do we see a viral video of the incident–the disturbing image of the undead attacking EMTs on the highway the night before.

The only thing I couldn’t figure out is why neither Travis nor Madison bothered to contact the police right away after they stumble across what obviously is a some kind of crime scene.  No, first they try to track down Nick’s dealer friend Cal, who claims to not know where Nick is.  Nick also tries to track down Cal, searching for answers for what might have been in the drugs and if he was hallucinating the horror he had just seen.  Cal drives him to the L.A. spillway, ostensibly to “help him,” but may have other motives and there is a final showdown.

What I liked:

L.A. – I enjoy the setting of L.A.  It’s refreshing to see a familiar urban landscape, after years of Georgia farms and forests on the main series.  Of course, there’s the dramatic irony that we know L.A. is going to get DESTROYED fairly soon, but it’s interesting to see people attempt to go about their normal lives when we the audience know the real threat is looming and society is on the verge of crumbling.  I might hang around to see Malibu beach zombies.

The church – Interesting location and sufficiently scary in terms of mood, use of light and shadow.  I thought most of the scenes shot in the church were effective.

What I didn’t like:

The Spillway — I thought the last 15 minutes was fairly predictable.  I thought it was laughable that they decided to film the last sequence in the infamous L.A. spillway.  Seriously, how many TV shows and movies have been filmed here?  (Italian Job, Grease, Fast and the Furious, Iron Man 2, The Core, and even some of my fave TV shows 24, and Alias, to name a few).  It’s a personal thing for me, but when filming locations are utterly recognizable, it often takes me out of the reality that the show is trying to achieve.

Breaking its own rules — One of the disadvantages for this show, is that the audience already knows what’s going on.  We’re not approaching this story as novices.  We know that the dead are rising and are watching that origin unfold.  However, it almost felt like the show couldn’t decide whether to play to that dramatic irony or to play to the mystery.  There were moments that the mystery was there — Madison talking with her disturbed student, unsettling shots of strangers from afar walking through a park, Madison approaching the principal from behind were some general, unsettling fake-out moments.  But there were some moments where the show seemed to be winking at the audience and playing to the dramatic irony (high school student randomly muttering, “Kill shot”).  But what are the rules here? It took The Walking Dead characters months to figure out headshots were kill shots.  How does this random teenager know about kill shots, assuming zombie lore doesn’t exist within this universe?

Fear the Walking Dead is inviting in the comparison, but when you compare it to the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, there is simply no contest (Wait, even the NAMES are similar?? Rick/Nick, Carl/Cal, Lori/Gloria… what the heck, AMC?? All we need is Shane/Zane?). There are so many iconic moments in The Walking Dead pilot — the kid with the bunny slippers, the hospital scene, Morgan with his sniper rifle, the bicycle zombie, Rick on horseback, zombies swarming the tank–that in comparison there is simply nothing memorable about Fear the Walking Dead. 

I might get around to watching the rest of the series, but it’s definitely one I’m not going to make time for.

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4 thoughts on “Pilot Review: Fear the Walking Dead

  1. I don’t think I’m as hard on it as you are, I didn’t even notice the name similarities.

    I assumed that Travis didn’t call the cops, because he was trying to keep police attention off of Nick. But yeah.

    I kind of liked that so much of it was dealt with via the POV of a drug addict, who of course would be understanding what was happening in an alternate way than rational people.

    Thanks for the review, and thumbs up on your observations about the names, and the scene similarities.

    • As much as I can be hard on the series The Walking Dead as well, I really do love that first season, so my expectations are going to be higher for this pilot. I guess I was hoping for at least one iconic, memorable moment similar to my experience with Season One, Episode One of the TWD. To your point, I do think the POV of a drug addict is an interesting premise. Certainly a foil for Rick the Sheriff. Instead of an alpha male protagonist that everyone instantly trusts, we have a (beta male?-potential-anti-hero) whom everyone instantly distrusts. Good point!

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