Monday, 24 August 2015

Not Quite Review Corner: Walk Away (Fear the Walking Dead)

I didn't bother to see the whole thing, which is why this isn't a review. I got bored halfway through, when I realized that there was nothing on screen that I wanted to see.

Things I liked: one of the main settings is an LA public school. The US' crumbling school system has been a metaphor for disaster and mayhem since the 1990s. It's become iconic, and will probably stay that way regardless of how wonderful, or not so wonderful, the school system actually is. Making two teachers main characters is very symbolic; the people who are trying, and failing, to hold the school together will also be trying, and probably failing, to keep it together during the zombie apocalypse.

Nobody says anything. Really, why would you? Even if you've seen dead people walking, talking about it will get you nothing but a strait jacket and some calming medication. Strait jackets are notoriously problematic when trying to run away from zombies; the longer you stay out of one, the better it is for you.

 The acting is decent throughout, with some standout performances from the two leads. The bigger problem here isn't the performances, but the writing. None of the characters are really fleshed out, and many of them are just stock characters pulled out of central casting. Plus, since we're seeing all this from one family's perspective, we don't really get the city-wide feel this kind of television deserves. It almost needs to take a cue from all those old disaster movies, with their casts of thousands. Allowing the unfolding drama to be seen from different, unrelated perspectives would have made for much better television, and it's something that television could get away with much more easily than a movie length project. I didn't go so far as to see Ofelia and her family, which might have made a difference to me. But then, it seems as if we never meet them until the apocalypse is already well under way, which means we'll never see it unfold from their perspective,

Which brings me on to some of my dislikes. The show opens with Nick Clark, the drug addict son of one of the main characters, waking up after a binge to find that all of his friends are dead, and worse. My first thought: if habitual drug abuse is this good for you, I'm amazed more people don't take up heroin. The man's buffed, never seems to have missed a meal in his life, hair perfectly coiffed, skin unblemished - apart from one artful smudge of dirt on his cheek - and evenly tanned. I don't think we even see any track marks or scarring, though as mentioned I give up a the halfway point, so perhaps there's a reveal later.

This is emblematic of the show as a whole. It has good ideas, but never really executes any of them. Maybe it's lack of will, maybe it's pressure from above, but it's never as scary as it could be, nor as gripping. Going back to the dialogue: there's nothing here that hasn't been said a thousand times before, in a thousand thousand different made for TV movies. There isn't a single cast member who has anything interesting to say. The star-crossed lovers Alicia Clark and her boyfriend nameless zombie chow are a case in point: you've seen these two in any number of Hallmark specials. The only interesting relationship on screen is between the two first episode leads, Madison and Travis, and there just isn't enough there to keep me watching.

It feels remarkably slow moving. I suspect part of this is down to it being part of the Walking Dead continuity. We all know what's going to happen, and with that element of suspense gone, all we can do is wait for the rest of the characters to catch up. It's not interesting watching boring people spend an hour figuring out something you already knew about from the first minute of screen time. It's perfectly reasonable for them not to believe, or suspect, that zombies are lurking in the shadows, but because we already know that zombies are the whole point of the series, we get frustrated by their continued disbelief.

The zombie effects are good, and in some instances even imaginative. However - and again, this may be due to it being part of the Walking Dead continuity - we've been beaten over the head with excellent zombie effects for years now. It doesn't matter that they're a little more gooey and fresh than we're used to from the main series. They're still just zombies, and we have seen zombies. God, have we seen zombies. The makers needed something evocative to make them interesting again, and while the early, well-executed scene in the church almost filled that need, it was too short.

To sum up: Fear the Walking Dead is an interesting concept, but it doesn't fulfill its early promise. There needs to be something else here of interest besides the zombies, and there really isn't. 

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