Review is for the PILOT Episode, aired 08/23/15
Sometimes my screenplay cliche' radar is running full blast when I choose to watch a show or movie. I can't control it because it's a matter of happenstance. Unfortunately for Fear the Walking Dead, the prequel/spin-off of the wildly successful AMC hit The Walking Dead, my motors were running full blast.
There's only so many things a story can do after generations of novels, books, character arcs, plays, movies, shows, and Shakespeare in the Park renditions, so you expect there to be certain commonplace motifs or subtle narrative winks that derive from things you've seen before. You expect them. But, when they're done well, you forgive them and sometimes hardly notice them.
In the case of Fear the Walking Dead, I started watching it with the intent of putting myself in the shoes of at least a couple of the main characters in order to fully delve myself into the atmosphere of a zombie-viral outbreak. I wanted to see which character I would latch onto first, and by the end it was not who I would expect.
After the first scene, and knowing full-well how The Walking Dead has progressed as a multi-season narrative, I had hopes that the show would break out of familiar grounds. It did not. I couldn't help but notice the immediate use of the "broken family" bit that is so overused in dramas: The angsty, disrespectful teenagers, the step dad trying to earn the love of the kids, the woman that totally blows off the man's story of HIS ACTUALLY SEEING blood and guts in the place that her son ALSO saw blood and guts, only to finally see the blood and guts herself and repeat the man's exact reaction that he told her one scene before. Even the interracial teenage relationship felt less genuine and more rebellious, given the daughter's nature of talking back, disrespecting, and defying her parents.
Two cliches actually pissed me off more than a little because they were so obvious from the moment they presented themselves. First was the "setting and time of day of a grisly discovery" cliche. When Cliff Curtis (playing the step dad character) learns from the druggy step son of the grisly murders that occurred at a dilapidated druggy hangout shanty house near Downtown Los Angeles, he decides to investigate. But, even though learning of said events during the early parts of the day, he decides to go during the night, armed with a small flashlight and a madman's immunity to real-life fear and anxiety (even when a man hiding from the horrors jumps out from behind a door, Cliff hardly looks shocked for more than three seconds).
The second cliche was, as the late Roger Ebert coined, the use of the BADF ("The Brother Always Dies First") rule. The moment they introduced us to three key black characters, I knew at least one of them would be dead by the end of episode one. And lo-and-behold, I was correct. The previews for the follow-up episodes, as well as a scene involving a no-response text, make us assume that the other two black characters will not make it shortly into this season.
What I thought the show DID do very well (and this is all based on whether this is the direction the show is taking) is hint at the notion of establishing who the purported "Patient Zero" is. Many subtle hints that weren't as "in your face" as other story aspects were given with a possible effective intent at payoff. The drugged-out son, the one character I eventually did fin myself rooting for more than any other character in the show, has displayed all the necessary actions to claim that he is the carrier of the virus that (as we learn in the second season of The Walking Dead) will eventually mutate and become born inside of every living human.
For a show called FEAR the Walking Dead, there was very little of characters being afraid in the show. Why, please God tell me WHY, when people see something that is completely out of the ordinary (almost supernaturally-horrifying), they just stand there and watch as it creeps up to them, trying to turn them into raw breakfast? Even though the Dead series takes place in the real world, the characters know what zombies are. Night of the Living Dead and all of its Hollywood derivatives exist in this world. So when a man slowly hobbles up to you, arm bones broken and sticking through his skin, and with blood pouring down his face and chest with eyes as white as the characters that survived the first episode, WHY THE HELL wouldn't you immediately jump in your car and drive the fuck away from the scene, without the ability to form complete sentences without either stammering or screaming nonsensical questions involving the words "What the FUCK WAS THAT!?"
And are we so desensitized to violence that a classroom full of kids and teachers can watch news helicopter footage of police opening fire on a human being without once reacting with shock or dismay by what they just saw? If that was the intent of the show-makers to display some fourth-wall-breaking attempt at cluing us in on how we've all become zoned-out to the gruesome nature of zombie shows, well then they've succeeded. But I highly doubt they thought that much into it. They were too busy cutting-and-pasting their screenplay together from used parts of Romero scripts.
I'm giving the show three more episodes to hook me, or show me that it actually has a unique purpose for existing other than cashing in on the name of its big brother.