J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead: the Zombie Prequel

Unlike Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes, Travis Manawa and his family did not sleep through the zombie uprising, but they still never saw it coming. Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects the zombie apocalypse. LA traffic and attitudes only makes the problem of undead hordes worse in Fear the Walking Dead—the Complete First Season (trailer here), the AMC Walking Dead prequel series now available on DVD and BluRay.

As far as viewers know, Nick Clark is the first person to see zombies and live to tell the tale. Unfortunately, as a heroin junkie who ran into traffic, nobody will give his warnings much credence, not even Clark himself. Frankly, his widowed mother Madison Clark and sister Alicia are rather glad to have him in the hospital, where he can presumably be watched for his own good. However, this is an unusually busy day for emergency services, allowing him to slip out.

Clark and her high school teacher boyfriend Travis Manawa will try to track him down, but the city seems to be crazier than usually. There have been a rash of police shootings in which the bodies are absolutely riddled with bullets. Like a budding Tarantino, Manawa’s son Chris is eager to protest the cops’ presumed excessive force. Naturally he takes to the streets to protest at a rather inopportune time. Manawa and Clark will try to round up their respective kids and ex-wives, in hopes they can ride out the unrest somewhere in the desert, until in a case of classic good news-bad news, the military imposes martial law.

Although the initial episodes are also rather sparing in their depictions of zombies, the first season of Fear is considerably grabbier than year one of the mother franchise. Of course, having Cliff Curtis (of Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors) to anchor the series helps tremendously. While Manawa starts out likeably square and straight-arrow, Curtis believably takes him to some dark places as the first season progresses. He also develops some believable chemistry with Kim Dickens’ Clark. Ruben Blades adds further heft as Daniel Salazar, an El Salvadoran barber who reluctantly offers the Manawas shelter during a riot.

So far, the younger generation is not keeping up its end as well, but poor Frank Dillane is sort of stuck playing annoying junkie behavior as the needs-to-be-killed-off Nick Mason. Alycia Debnam-Carey also shows some promise and poise as Alicia Mason, but Lorenzo James Henrie’s personality-free Chris Manawa could get eaten by zombies and viewers would barely notice. Unfortunately, the always reliable Sandrine Holt’s talents are largely wasted on Dr. Exner, who hardly gets any character development until it is too late, but Colman Domingo (who helped rock Passing Strange) pretty much steals the show when he appears in the late episodes as Nick Clark’s mysterious protector, Victor Strand. He is reason enough to comeback for a second season.

Season one of Fear also ends more decisively than the first season of the original Walking Dead. It reaches an emotional crescendo for the main characters totally in keeping with what fans expect. Needless to say, not everyone will return for season two. Leaving viewers primed for more, Fear the Walking Dead—the Complete First Season is good zombie television (but it still cannot compare to the George Romero movies that so clearly inspired its world). Recommended for zombie fans, it releases today on DVD and BluRay, from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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