Zombie Spin-Off Finds Its Mojo

Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) share an agonizing realization on the season finale of Fear the Walking Dead

Never underestimate the power of zombies in large numbers.

Some 2,000 hungry zombies made mincemeat of a military outpost when Fear the Walking Dead completed its introductory mini-season Oct. 4. It was a fast-moving, slam-bang finale to a six-episode run.

Accustomed to the heavy-duty action of Fear’s older sibling, The Walking Dead, I was disappointed at the pace of the spin-off when it debuted Aug. 23 on AMC. I knew that the new series was set at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, but I thought it was unfolding waaay too slowly.

Still, I am a big fan of The Walking Dead and zombies in general, so I stuck with Fear. That was the right decision.

By the third episode, I was hooked on AMC’s consistently excellent character development and storytelling. I had found the patience to accept the rate at which the characters were transitioning and adapting to their new nightmare reality.

AMC has an amazing ability to find talented casts for its programs. Stir in powerful drama, and the network has an infallible recipe for success.

True to its parent series, Fear has suffered some key character losses, enhancing the reality of a fantastic premise. The series has also picked up a new character who promises to play a major role when the 15-episode second season returns in 2016.

When it does, I’ll be watching.

Walking Dead Spin-Off Makes Shambling Start

A good zombie is a slow zombie. I don’t think the traditional zombie’s inability to break into a gallop should be mirrored in a zombie show, but that seemed to be the case when Fear the Walking Dead premiered Aug. 23 on AMC.

ftwdfamilyThe plodding focus for most of the pilot is a badly blending family with all of the accompanying issues, including the additional complication of drug addiction. I understand the need for fleshing out the main characters, but I think a little too much time was spent here on that process. More family background details could have been distributed in the next few episodes to move the plot along a little more quickly in the pilot.

Zombies get very little screen time. The Zombie Screen Actors Union should be filing a grievance.

I knew the plot was going back to the beginning of the apocalypse in Los Angeles, and I expected a slow build. Instantly caring about new characters has never happened for me, although this bunch might pose a long-term challenge.

To illustrate how normal society gradually comes to realize what’s happening and begin to cope with it, they might have chosen a better focus than a family with all sorts of extraneous built-in drama. I wasn’t expecting Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver. Neither was I expecting the Osbournes.

As  the premiere is scripted, the LA residents know something is going on; but they don’t know what. The authorities are keeping a lid on the situation – mostly because they are pretty clueless themselves.

Police officers are emptying their sidearms into the bodies of these no-goodniks, but the cops are totally at a loss as to why the perps don’t stay down until they’re shot in the head. Must be drugs, they conclude.

Therein lies my primary complaint about Fear the Walking Dead, a complaint that also applies to the show’s parent series, The Walking Dead. People never recognize a zombie when they see one.

Here’s how I think a first police encounter with a zombie should go. The cop shoots the advancing zombie. This is justified because the zombie’s face is decorated by the blood of its last snack, plus the moans and snapping jaws indicate something might not be quite right with this guy. The zombie ignores the additional ventilation to his body and continues heading toward the officer.

The officer thinks “what the hell?” pauses for a split-second, then has an instant epiphany. “Holy shit! Zombie!” He then shoots the zombie in the head. Immediate problem resolved.

In a city like LA, where life imitates art daily, how can anyone possibly not recognize a zombie the instant it stumbles into view? Has nobody seen George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or any of the subsequent zombie flicks that hit the screens prior to the premier of The Walking Dead on Halloween only 5 years ago? The people of both series should not be facing a steep zombie learning curve.

The culprit here is the “alternate reality,” an oxymoron for “anything goes,” created by Robert Kirkman, the comic book guy behind both shows. The sum and substance of The Walking Dead is the gritty reality in which the characters adapt to and survive in a deadly environment (no pun intended). By choosing a world in which no previous references to zombies exist, Kirkman does a disservice to Romero and all the others upon whose shoulders he has built his stories.

Zombies are arguably among the most nonsensical monsters ever conceived, but I find them immeasurably more entertaining than romanticized vampires and werewolves. Kirkman should have allowed prior knowledge of zombies into his worlds. Even as one who has enjoyed living dead hi-jinks for decades, I would have a hard time overcoming my disbelief should I see one approaching me in real life. Gradual acceptance could have worked for Kirkman’s characters.

The characters’ lack of zombie education in both The Walking Dead and the spin-off is just a pet peeve of mine. Despite this glaring omission, I would never miss an episode of the original series, and I will quite probably love its offspring — eventually.

HelI, I expect I’ll even love the next Kirkman spin-off, Beware of the Invisible Flying Dead.

Like I said. Anything goes.