I’m not huge into zombie media. The classic monster type is at the top of ‘things that freak me out.’ Give me vampires or demons or any of horror’s other plethora of creatures, but please please please, not the zombies! Which is why The Walking Dead was such a surprise for me. I started watching it because so many people were talking about it and since I can never seem to get into sports, I need a conversation starter of some kind. So I downed the first episode and the second and then seasons. It’s not a perfect show, but there’s something I love about The Walking Dead that brings me back most weeks. So when AMC announced that they were doing a spin-off called Fear the Walking Dead, I–like so many other fans–was completely psyched. More stories in this world? And it’d fill those empty months between TWD episodes? Awesome!
Unfortunately, like so many other spin-offs and recent creations, Fear the Walking Dead isn’t living up to the hopes and dreams. I gave it the benefit of the doubt for a whole season. Zombies aren’t the reason I’m into these shows, so I didn’t care that we barely saw them during the first season (though one of my friend’s consistent complaints was that we weren’t seeing enough of the undead). The show built up and built up these characters, some I cared about, some I didn’t, but hey, they’d have to spend some time doing that, right? Unlike TWD, there’s no precedent for the Fear cast. No comics to fall back on and bring out loads of information, just brand new people for the writers to explore. The show fell a little flat, but that’s not uncommon, especially in such a short season of a brand new show.
But then, at the beginning of the second episode of season 2, Fear gave us the perfect analogy of what’s really wrong with their show. If you haven’t seen it (and don’t mind being spoiled), that episode starts with two children playing in the sand. They’re happy and content playing in the perfect day sunshine. Zombies lumber up the beach towards them. Oh no! The children are in danger! Except, hold on, the zombies are blocked off by a well constructed fence. The element of danger we as the audience feels completely dissipates. As the episode drags on, the main cast encounters this little family and we get more exposition about how the world is now. We get treated to the same argument we’ll be seeing the rest of the season it seems–Strand does not want anyone else on his boat and while the others grumble about it, they don’t seem quite willing to do anything (I say this not having seen the episode on 5/1).
So the problem is that we have a complete lack of tension. The characters manage to have all of these perfect save moments–when Strand and Nick were escaping from the facility and everyone happened to come together at the same door, one of them even having the needed key card! Ofelia has an infection and oh look, Nick managed to find the right drugs! The sources of conflict should be many with the world setting alone, but the families were protected first by the military and then by the boat they have now (and oh man, when it broke down, Travis managed to fix it in a day!) Instead of giving these characters experiences which they’ll draw on in the future, that will harden them into the necessary group of survivors that it takes to make it in this world, the group is little better than the Hilltop or Alexandria from TWD. They’ve got a slight ability in this world, but really, this seems much more like a group that would get torn down to about half before running into Rick’s group and eking out a life, maybe only one or two of them surviving until season 6. Of course they shouldn’t be perfect badasses from the get-go, but it seems like they’re being treated with kid gloves by the writers. We never worry about this core group because on the rare chance they encounter something, they dodge it almost perfectly.
The other should-be source of tension would be the interpersonal relationships of the main group. Strand has his secrets and keeps reminding everyone that the boat is his so his say is final, but the other characters only seem to have minor frustrations with this. Sure, Travis, Maddie, and Daniel have a couple of conversations, but I’m almost surprised that episode from 5/1 had previews saying that conflict was going to come to a head. Daniel spends a lot of time telling Ofelia that Maddie and her family are only going to look out for themselves, but he seems to be saber rattling. In fact, Maddie and the other members of her family only ever seem to try and bring more people into their survivors unit, so I don’t understand Daniel’s continued paranoia about them. They’re eight people and the yacht isn’t that large, why haven’t they gotten on each other’s nerves more? Alicia and Nick are getting along fine, Nick has wormed his way into ‘acceptable’ with everyone on board (except maybe Daniel who trusts only his daughter), Chris roams however he wants with no one caring. Strand isn’t quite Shane from TWD and Maddie isn’t quite Dale. It feels like the creators spent a lot of time making an ideal zombie survival group without giving them the personalities that would butt heads.
Basically, what we’ve got so far is just a great and long lesson in what a project looks like without that tension to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. This is what happens when it’s too much exposition and not enough action. (They even managed to drive to Strand’s house without incident at the end of last season, come on!) At this point, my interest in the show has waned. Maybe I’ll pick it back up when the whole season’s available for a quick watch, you know, if I need some low-key background noise.