Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead S1E1 Pilot Review (Spoilers!): A Strong Start

What makes a good television pilot? If I could unlock that secret I would be producing television and not sitting on my couch writing a blog. One thing I think is crucial is cast chemistry, and quickly establishing a connection with the audience. If the audience doesn’t quickly identify with the characters in the show, it’s hard to launch the story. If you liked tonight’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead it is probably because you felt a connection with the characters. I bought in. I liked the blended family dynamic and all the struggles that comes with it. The decent into the apocalypse should be a slow one. The measured burn of the show shouldn’t have been a surprise and was a strong opening effort.
The opening scene was well done. We see Nick Clark (Frank Dillane or young Johnny Depp) awake from a drug crazed slumber. He looks for his girlfriend and discovers her eating someone. The slow tension and build of the scene set the hook for the next hour. We get introduced to the rest of the family and learn, when they arrive at the hospital, they are a blended family. The cops are interviewing Nick and his Mom, Madison, stops them. She kicks them out of the room, and I think this is an important aspect of the show early on. No one believes Nick, naturally, and he isn’t exactly sure if he was hallucinating or saw his girlfriend being a cannibal.
The next part of the show is slow. We don’t see another walker until almost the hour mark. I’m ok with this, it was good character development. We see Travis trying to be a good step-dad, and how well he does as a teacher. A great scene involved a young student, Tobias, and Madison. He brought a knife to school, and she pulled him into her office. Tobias didn’t bring the knife to school because he was worried about bullies. He brought the knife because he was plugged in and knew something strange was happening. It makes sense to have someone who believes the weird reports and is being prepared. I like that it was a smart kid (nerd) who is taking the precaution. It falls nicely into the scientist who isn’t believed trope.
The one character who didn’t get a bunch of screen time was the sister Alicia. We got a few scenes of her wanting to break away from her crazy family. A couple of scenes with her boyfriend, and then one at the beach wondering why he didn’t show up. At first I thought this was going to be the first token African American death on the show, and maybe it was and just not shown yet.  Alicia is probably the thinnest character of the pilot.  Though I was reading some hate for Madison already as well.  
Reading some reactions on twitter while watching the show, people were questioning why Travis (step-dad) would go back to the church. I didn’t have an issue with this. I don’t think he believed Nick saw a girl eating someone. Travis thought Nick was hallucinating and he wanted to try and find someone else at the church who could put Nick’s mind at ease. It didn’t turn out that way, when he found a huge pile of blood and guts. Should he have called the cops? Yep, he should have. Why didn’t he? He doesn’t want to get Nick in trouble. Madison has an issue with the cops, and wants to protect Nick from them. Hence the scene at the start of the show kicking them out of the hospital room. This is also why she and Travis go back to the church looking for Nick after he leaves the hospital. They want to protect him and don’t want him getting into trouble. This is at least why I justified them going back to the church to investigate.
The last half hour of the episode picked up a bit. Nick called his dealer, which was also an old friend.  Madison and Travis are seen visiting him to see if Nick had made contact. Calvin, the dealer/friend, got back to Nick. Calvin was worried Nick would out his drug dealing to his parents. He drove Nick out to a remote place to kill him. This is one part of the show which didn’t really jive with me. I don’t quite believe Nick would have overpowered Calvin. Nick is able to shoot Calvin and then call his parents. When they come back to the scene, Calvin is of course is gone.
This part of the episode throws me for a loop. We don’t find out until the end of the second season of The Walking Dead that everyone is infected regardless of being bitten. I’m surprised everyone is already infected with the virus at the start of the epidemic. Maybe Calvin had been bitten, but doubtful. I had thought people who died a natural death would not come back to life until much later in the show. This small part of mythology and the fact Nick overpowered Calvin are two of my small gripes.
The next is where did zombie Calvin come from? They drove down where he was walking. They should have seen him while they were to the shooting scene. It would have made more since for him to stumble out from somewhere while they were investigating. It was still a great sequence even with this minor zombie placement quibble. The terror of hitting Calvin again and again with the truck and him still moving was fantastic. They are going to have to learn quick how to kill the walkers to survive. We are also left wondering if Madison was bitten or not. I am guessing not, but who knows with the way these shows work. I wish AMC was allowed to use explicit dialogue, because this scene screamed for it. Instead of a MY GOD, an O F*** was needed.
It was a strong start to the first season of Fear the Walking Dead. I enjoyed all the characters, and they seem to be fairly complex. They also all had good chemistry together. I believed they were a blended family struggling through mundane 21st century life.  It should make for a fun ride as the world crumbles around them. After tonight I am extremely looking forward to the next five weeks, and then onto the main course of season six of The Walking Dead.
What did you all think? Too slow? Too many cliché horror tropes? (One other issue I had.  The Principle listening in to other teachers and his slow turn. No reason to play ominous music to think he was a walker) Comment and let me know.
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