Last night, AMC presented us with the Walking Dead’s prequel-companion series, Fear the Walking Dead. First off, it was so much fun live-tweeting again. I’ve missed our Sunday nights together. That being said, jokes and commentary on Twitter should not have been the highlight of my evening. Yikes! Anyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with TWD. I am completely emotionally invested in the story and characters. It takes a lot to do that to me. That’s why it hurts my heart to write this blog. Sigh. Okay, let’s do this.
For those of you who haven’t watched the pilot episode yet, or who just want to be up to speed on what went down, Click Here for a spoiler-filled recap.
Typically, my process on a Sunday night is to watch the Walking Dead with some live-tweeting. I also jot down notes as we go along. Then, we watch the Talking Dead. Then, I re-watch the episode, taking even more notes. I sleep on it. In the morning, I pour a hot cuppa and watch the episode a third time, take a few photos, do a little research for references. Then I post a review. I like to make sure that I have gotten as much out of each episode as I can before committing my thoughts to the web. My goal was to apply the same technique with Fear. I watched the 90-minute premiere episode and was in bed asleep within 30-minutes of it ending. This doesn’t bode well.
Let’s start with the story. Actually…there’s not much I can tell you that you haven’t already seen in the promos. I think that right out of the gate that was my biggest problem with Fear. When TWD premiered, if you were a fan of the comics, you had an idea of what to expect. If you hadn’t read the comics, you were going into it blind. They showed very little in the ads leading up to the premiere and left much to the imagination, even within the episode itself. The scenario was new to us. The characters were new to us. As Rick, alone like the viewer at home, encountered each new living person, that person was new to us as well. We had to form our own opinions of whom we could and couldn’t trust. With Fear, they handed that to you on a platter.
For months now, we’ve known that this is a show based on a blended yet broken family. We’ve been told their occupations. We know the personality traits of their moody kids. There was no opportunity for questions. No chance for sleuthing anyone’s background or how their life experience will help or hinder survival. We had to accept the at face value. We’ve been told to like and to trust them. It’s the apocalypse, moreover, it’s Los Angeles; I trust no one.
AMC is laboring under the assumption that if they hand us something with the name TWD on it, or even just their network brand, that we the people will embrace it, no questions asked. That isn’t how things are done. We’ve been burned before. The last time someone tried to do that to us, we ended up with the Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binx. Save for Disney/Marvel Studios, no one can hand me something associated with a brand and just expect me to accept it as good. That has to be earned. AMC should have used the same marketing approach that they took with Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad. For months, we knew it was coming. But, we knew little about it. We knew it featured a BrBa character. We saw slick promos that teased us, but gave away nada about the plot or which direction they were taking things in. End result? We’re hooked on Saul. With Fear, on the other hand, AMC aired full scenes–important scenes–in the promos. End result? What should have terrified me simply playing off my base fears, bored me. Been there, done that. Less is more, people. We already know too much, and we have little emotional investment in these vacant characters. Make us care!!
One way that Fear was consistent with TWD was in its blatant references to the visuals from the film 28 Days Later. The film was released a full year prior to the printing of the first issue of TWD comics series. The entire opening sequences of both issue #1 and the pilot episode of TWD are an homage to Cillian Murphy waking from his coma in the hospital to find that he is alone in a world gone mad (Do NOT call this a zombie film. It is NOT a zombie film. We will fight.) Fear opened with a sequence in an abandoned church-turned-crack house, that was entirely reminiscent of Murphy’s first encounter with the infected. The only difference is, in 28 Days Later, the church scene was actually scary. There were also some nods to Shaun of the Dead (driving past a mysterious figure in the park) and World War Z (motorcycle whizzes by your stopped vehicle as you sit confused in traffic asking “can you see anything?”) Those types of references I don’t mind necessarily, but the ones from 28 Days Later irk me, for some reason.
I enjoy when series throw little ‘signs’ in the background for fans to, hopefully, notice and obsess on. If not for those tidbits, I’d have nothing to blog on week after week during TWD season. But, the need to throw literal signs at the audience makes me feel as though someone felt the need to dumb things down for a new audience. Much like when Steven Moffat took over Doctor Who. Previously during the Doctors’ series, little clues were mentioned in each episode that tied together to what would happen in the season finale (Torchwood, Bad Wolf, Harold Saxon, the sound of drums, the bees disappearing). But, by the time the 11th Doctor was introduced, those subtle clues were a lot less subtle; Aside from the blatantly obvious giant crack in the wall that concluded every episode, we were also given an opening credit scene with a voice-over by Amy Pond explaining the Doctor and the Tardis. Explaining them! What even?! So, you can imagine my disdain when the pilot episode of Fear was full of ‘signs’ such as the one in the hospital parking lot “Slow Down“, the van at the beach “Awaken“, or the graffiti at the final LA River site of all the skeletons rising. Add to that the school lesson we had to sit through that discusses Jack London’s To Build a Fire and its Naturalist man vs. nature themes. This is starting to scream Shaun of the Dead (remember the various ‘messages’ early in the film, including the snippets of sound bytes during Shaun’s blind channel-surfing?)
Speaking of which, we know that the comics began in 2003. The television series, TWD, began in 2010. For shits and giggles, let’s assume that the world fell apart in 2010, given that those are the visual references most fans have come to recognize. This is also why many fans used to tease about Shane’s brand new wheels in season 2, a vehicle that would not have been manufactured yet in 2010. So, that would mean that the tech we see in Fear would consist solely of what had been invented up to that point. You know I watched that episode like a hawk, looking for anything newer than an iphone 4. That being said, even though this apocalypse is new to all of these people, pop culture prior to 2010 should still have existed. And, even though they were fictions, having grown up on films like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Evil Dead, Return of the Dead, even Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, I can assure you, if I saw a dead person coming at me, my first instinct would be to try for a head shot. And, if sci-fi/horror stories were all wrong, I’d find out quick, right? But at least I would have tried. How many times did Nick have to ‘kill’ Cal before he thought to run over his head? Rule #2: Double Tap. In the words of Daryl Dixon, “Don’t y’all know nothing?”
Now, take all of my nitpicking and couple it with the 90-minutes of disdain that I read on Twitter from fans during the show, and you’d think that I would be ready to write Fear off completely. Well, if I weren’t a fangirl at heart, that might be true. But, I’m one of those fans who is a completionist; I must finish something once I’ve started it. I have endured many a series, years past its prime, simply because I have to see it through til the end (the X-Files, Lost, ER, Falling Skies, Doctor Who…sigh…) It’s only been in recent years that I have established any limits for myself and ultimately my DVR. I give a show 3 episodes (and I am unforgiving about it now). If you haven’t hooked me by the end of episode 3, you’re season pass is deleted. I reserve the right to go back and binge watch a few years later if friends tell me I’m missing out. Otherwise, you’re gone. Shows that have gotten the 3-ep ax from me include Constantine, Arrow (I know…), Flash (trust me…I know…), The Last Ship, How To Get Away With Murder, and others. My time is valuable to me. I don’t have to like something just because the network tells me to, or just because it is mainstream to like it. Some shows just don’t resonate with me, and I am okay with that. They might later on, but for now, not so much. If I can’t get through an episode without staring at my Facebook app, or having to rewind to find out what someone said, then clearly it isn’t holding my attention.
I love dystopian and apocalyptic stories. I love zombie culture, always have. I love the claustrophobic idea of being trapped in a major metropolis during the ‘outbreak’. I love the idea that the zombies will be newer, fresher–which means less squishy and harder to kill. Plus, they should retain some muscle memory, reminiscent of some walkers from seasons 1 and 2 of TWD. They may be faster, as well. All elements that should terrify me. And, perhaps they will.
I think AMC forcibly set everyone’s expectations too high, rather than letting us form our own opinions. But, I am willing to to stick it out. Normally, you would have until the end of episode 3, however, given that this season is a micro one, I am willing to give Fear a stay of execution until the season finale. I am going to remain optimistic that the writers who have given me so much to invest in with TWD, know what they are doing. Fear was renewed for a season 2 before ever being shown to the public. That takes balls. Perhaps the network has seen something that we, as fans, have not seen yet. I struggle to imagine where the show is going to go, given that it currently takes place 6-8wks before Rick wakes from his coma. Once that time gap has been filled, how will Fear differ from what we have seen? What will prevent it from merely becoming TWD: West Coast. How many more CSI cities do they need? How many TWD cities do they need? Fans already know the outcome. We know about walkers and how to kill them. We know that we are all infected. It isn’t scary anymore. So, if not for the actual fear, what will make us stick with Fear?
Make us care, AMC. Make us care.