Fear the Walking Dead – Pilot Review

After months of anticipation, Walking Dead fans were able to rejoice. The spin-off show, “Fear the Walking Dead” premiered on AMC. Unless you spoiled the Pilot for yourself, and possibly the season, the only thing you and I both knew was the fact that this new show is a prequel.  We’re told at some point the show will “catch up” with the first show, and that it will be canon.

What do we know so far?

Nick Clark, drug addict, is calling out a name, Gloria, in an abandoned church. To his dismay, he finds  Gloria, who is practicing her newly discovered cannibal skills. She’s a zombie.

Nick Clark, Courtesy of amc.com.
Nick Clark. Courtesy of amc.com.

Freaked out, Nick runs for his life. He escapes the confines of the building and runs out into a street, which doesn’t look busy. At this point, Nick looks like he’s in a desolate area. Suddenly, the kid is hit by a speeding vehicle. The camera tilts up and it’s revealed that the now damaged Nick is in a busy city filled with a ton of seemingly healthy people. In Walking Dead fashion, Nick wakes up in a hospital, questioned by authorities and loved ones.

We’re slowly – and I mean slowly – introduced to Nick’s family. His mother, Madison Clark, a full-time high school guidance counselor, soon-to-be step-father Travis Manawa, a high school English teacher, and sister Alicia Clark. Their relationships are easy to sum up.

Madison Clark just doesn’t believe what anyone has to say. She blames mental behavior and addictions on anxiety, or things people “see.” Thing is, in the real world, this woman would be considered the worst guidance counselor in guidance counselor history. A young boy enters school the same day, carrying a knife. Madison confiscates the weapon to keep him from expulsion. When asked why this boy was carrying a weapon on him, he explains that there are five states where an infection is taking place, and that it’s only a matter of time before their city reaches similar fate.

Madison Clark, courtesy of amc.com.
Madison Clark. Courtesy of amc.com.

Annoyingly, she assures this kid that everything is completely alright. I’m not sure if this next bit was meant to ensue a large amount of laughter from me and the audience I was with, but she claims, “that the government has everything under control” and “would tell us…” if it weren’t the case. There was a tad bit of paraphrasing there. Either Madison is dystopia’s next great comedian or her fate will be somewhat similar to Rick’s wife. What was her name again?

Alicia Clark is mild in tone. She has a boyfriend, Matt, who vanishes without a trace after a few scenes of monotonous conversation. Alicia is hard on Nick, but loving. She comforts him at bedside. She’s in a high school class at some point, watching a video of police shooting at a body that keeps reanimating, until the corpse meets death with a bullet to the noggin. As one of her friend’s mentioned, it was a “kill shot.”

Alicia Clark, courtesy of amc.com.
Alicia Clark. Courtesy of amc.com.

Travis Manawa is the type of person who is willing to listen to people. He’s probably a better counselor than his fiancée. He’s open, willing, and ready to speak to people about their feelings. His ex-wife, Liza Ortiz, talks to him over the phone like it’s no big deal. Their relationship seems to be alright even though they’re no longer married. They might be practicing strong communication skills for Chris Manwa, their son. Chris is less understanding and resents his dad. He won’t give him the light of day. It’s a struggle to speak over the phone.

Travis Manawa, courtesy of amc.com.
Travis Manawa. Courtesy of amc.com.

Travis’ intentions are genuine. He wants to know the truth about what Nick saw, which no one seems to believe. Nick explains that he saw Gloria swallow the guts of another addict, and that’s enough for Travis to explore the abandoned church.

Exploring the church, Travis finds a puddle of blood. Later, Madison and Travis are in a car, on a highway, waiting to get off at an exit. The exit is congested with traffic and police cars. Travis decides to drive away and – enter viral video of a walker getting blasted seen in class by Alicia. If you watched live, you could use “Shazam,” an audio listening app, to load the video on your mobile device.

The season isn’t full of walkers, and shall probably remain so. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the early phases of the infection spreading everywhere. If you’re following “The Walking Dead,” then you know how the virus is spreading. The odd thing is why the creators decided to pick Los Angeles.  If there was exposition telling the audience that the virus started in five other areas already, why not just build from the ground up? I don’t see this show as the precursor to another show, but rather a some-what early side story. It’s close to what AMC told us the show was would be about, but off by an inch.

Skipping ahead, Nick contacts his mom and Travis when things go south on his journey. Here’s the part that grinds my gears. Nick is trying to explain to them that someone is dead. The dead person is gone. The dead person shows up – dead. The walker approaches them and somehow,  Ms. Clark is in disbelief. Let me remind you. Everyone else around her isn’t oblivious anymore.

To Madison Clark’s credit, things are out of the ordinary, and the word “zombie,” doesn’t exist in this universe. Yet even with that in mind, if the concept of a zombie didn’t exist in our universe, if you saw a decrepit glow-eyed ghoul approaching you drenched in gore, and still walking after getting knocked down several times, you’re basic instincts are going to recognize something is wrong. Religion exists in the universe, right? There’s a church. The concept of demons follow. Might one think it’s at least a demon, or is that too far-fetched even when you’re witnessing demon-like behavior?

For Ms. Clark, absolutely.

The stares we keep seeing, courtesy of amc.com.
The faces never change. Courtesy of amc.com.

It’s not her fault though. It’s the fault of the script. The people involved decided to make Madison the most naïve person in town, which is offensive, considering how she’s an important member of society.

Maybe it’s a clever way of trying to tell that anyone can get a degree in anything they want, bearing the weight of student loans.

If Nick’s the guy we’re meant to root for, the “Rick,” of the show, then we’re going to need to see him make some tough choices. The reason Rick works in the alternate show is because he met tough choices minute one. Rick overcame infection several times in the first moments of the Pilot – mostly alone. Nick has people by his side, but selects to be alone.

All-in-all the show has some potential, especially if the promise of catching up to Rick’s timeline proves true. They don’t have a cross-over, but it would be interesting to witness how people in an infected west coast live in contrast to those living in an infected lower east coast.

Manawa and Clarks. Courtesy of amc.com
Manawa and Clarks. Courtesy of amc.com

WRAP-UP

The Fear the Walking Dead Pilot episode isn’t a bad semi-prequel story line, but it’s feeling unnecessary. The hour and a half cable presentation could have easily been cut in half. The people behind the show were worried too much about over-establishing characters so that the audience could have something to care about. The acting isn’t what’s taking a toll on us, but the funky script writing is.

Proceed with caution – zombies ahead.

7/10

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Courtesy of amc.com

Daniel Mihailescu
danjamllc@gmail.com