Reviews: Fear The Walking Dead - Pilot

We're a little late to the game, but here's Mike's review of the first episode of Fear the Walking Dead

"Would you look at the size of that thing?"
AMC has become a destination for some of the highest quality and most popular shows not only on basic cable but all of television.  The last two years have seen the end of juggernauts Breaking Bad and Mad Men with no viable newcomer to step up and take their place.  Enter Fear The Walking Dead.  AMC is betting big on this spin off of The Walking Dead--one of TV's top-rated shows overall--hoping that the show's huge audience will follow and bring AMC its next breakout hit.  Judging by the pilot, they just might have something here, but it'll need to get there fast.

Fear The Walking Dead is a wholly original story connected only to the show and comics by their creator Robert Kirkman.  Where the original series is about post-apocalyptic survival, this series is set in Los Angeles at the onset of the so-called "zombie apocalypse".  Which means that if you came to FTWD seeking more zombie-killing action, you're not going to find it here.  But what you will find is more of what TWD was supposed to be in the first place.

The chief complaint about TWD (and so far, its spinoff) is episodes heavy on exposition and character development and light on blood and guts.  But this was always the point of TWD; "The Walking Dead" were the survivors, aware of the fate that awaited them but fighting to remain human another day.  The viewer is supposed to become invested in these characters, to care about them, making their inevitable death all the more impactful.  The characters in FTWD aren't hardened survivalists, they're just normal folks unsure of what they're dealing with.  Much of the first episode's drama deals with a young heroin addict struggling to make sense of the atrocities he's witnessed, not to mention convincing anyone else that what he saw was real.  Previews for future episodes showed the aftermath of a world discovering that it could be coming to an end.

"It's fun hanging out down here.
Nothing bad ever happens."
The major flaw with the FTWD pilot was pacing.  In an attempt to make the show an "event", the pilot's run time was expanded to 90 minutes over the usual 60.  This was a questionable decision, as not only would the show's premiere have been a major event anyway (it attracted the single largest audience of a cable television premiere in history), the exposition-heavy first episode told a story in 90 minutes that there's no reason it couldn’t have told in 60.  We're starting to get to know these characters but they're still not being given much to do until the end of the episode.  This raises the stakes for the second episode: either give viewers who feel burned by slow-moving stretches of TWD a reason to stick around or risk losing a large share of your potential future audience. 

Plenty of exciting stuff appears to be ahead for those who stick with Fear The Walking Dead, but it'd be wise not to make the viewers wait too long to see them.  There's a lot of potential for the show provided it can deliver on its promises.  Once it can convince viewers that like TWD, the slow-moving episodes are just bridges to exciting things to come, it should have no problems keeping a large audience coming back.  But Fear the Walking Dead had better run, not walk.

-Mike Stec

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