I always thought the writing on THE WALKING DEAD was terribly inconsistent. Sometimes downright awful. But I love the zombie genre (saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a movie theater at age 9 and it has been burned into my psyche ever since), and if there are some good visceral moments now and again, I find myself drawn back. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the writing on THE WALKING DEAD improved in the last two seasons, it felt more consistent, more organic.
So when I read that there’d be a spinoff series, I hoped that the writers, creators and anyone else involved with the series had evolved in their storytelling sensibilities to offer something interesting, maybe even slightly provocative or, god-forbid, original. Instead, what I found was an hour of the kind of silly character reactions and scenarios I would expect from network TV at its most benign. Why is this?
You cast terrific actors like Kim Dickens and Ruben Blades, and then you give them absolutely nothing to do. You write characters for them that have absolutely no organic inner life. They act in ridiculous ways that defy logic or reason and that only serve to shine a light on what feels like the writers behind the scenes struggling to pull the strings. I had initially hoped that it was only the show’s title that was lacking inspiration and imagination. It seems from AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD pilot that the two are, instead, quite well-matched.
Now the reality is that I’m not a writer on the show so I actually have no idea what takes place in the writers room, but I can tell you that this pilot felt like there was no singular vision steering the ship and the end result was predictable, unconvincing, and fatigued from the very first shot. Even if everyone involved with the show felt that they created something unique, tight and uncompromising, what landed for me was anything but. FEAR THE WALKING DEAD feels devoid of risk, devoid of adventure (adventure only comes with risk and a measure of the unknown), and devoid of genuine human connection. With new shows like USA’s MR. ROBOT at least attempting to have a voice, a vision, to not be afraid to stumble now and again as its creative team organically searches for the life within, it’s that much more painful to see a series like DEAD strip itself bare of the life-force of engaging storytelling in exchange for the tired machinations of what would have already been tepid television fare a decade ago.
Of course, in truth, I would much rather be writing a glowing review or talking to the potential inherent. And I certainly don’t take the time to write about every mediocre-to-bad show I watch, so why this one? I suppose I allowed my expectations to grow sufficiently large so as to feel real disappointment here. I certainly have to take responsibility for that. After all, the show doesn’t exist to fill my expectations. And yet, in the face of so much good television writing and storytelling happening out there now, it’s difficult not to be critical when something has the popularity and backing to theoretically work with some of the best writers and show runners currently in the biz. Except that they’re all probably on those better shows already. But there are a lot of writers in this town. And so very many good ones. I would entertain the idea that perhaps it’s the popularity of the show that has forced its team to second-guess themselves or try to find what elements made the first series a hit. Always a bad recipe for any sequel/spinoff. But of course, I have no idea what’s happening behind the scenes and am simply toying with conjecture to try and explain why this pilot felt so halfhearted and uninspired to me.
Now maybe the series will find its footing and turn into something decent as THE WALKING DEAD eventually did. But for a cable series spinoff of one of the most popular currently-running shows to make its introduction by lowering the bar, is just plain disheartening.
Zombie genre fan or not, I may quite simply not be FEAR THE WALKING DEAD’s audience. As is proven by so much that comes out of Hollywood these days, “good enough” clearly has its audience. And I’m sure they will find much to rave about here.