Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Fear the Walking Dead each week in a series of letters, just as they’ve done for The Walking Dead.
I want to open this week’s review by looking at a character I don’t think we’ve even mentioned yet. Griselda Salazar.
She’s just had her foot crushed underneath fallen scaffolding during the riots while fleeing from her home and business, which she can assume is now nothing but ashes. If she doesn’t see a doctor soon, she’ll need some Dale-style amputation. The hospitals are closed because dead patients have attacked the doctors, who’ve turned into zombies themselves. She’s seen one of those zombie docs gunned down by the military. Those walking dead have made it out to the suburbs where she’s now stuck with no access to medical help and no real plan. Her response to her daughter’s concern?
“Your father and I have been in worse situations. And we’re still alive.”
I want to nominate Griselda as this group’s badass so far.
We’ve talked a lot about how this show is going to differentiate itself from The Walking Dead once the apocalypse takes full hold. The biggest answer to that question might be found in the lives of the people who survive. With one third of the characters being immigrants from El Salvador and another third a blend of Hispanic and Maori, we’re getting a different kind of L.A. story than we typically see on TV.
Ruebén Blades has been great so far as Daniel Salazar, a man determined to take care of his wife and daughter without undue help, as he’s done so far. Griselda’s comment makes it seem like it wasn’t an easy road to having his own barbershop in downtown L.A. and providing a good education for his daughter. Like his wife, he takes this new catastrophe in stride, seizing the moment when needed, as when Travis tries to reason with his undead neighbor.
It’s a good thing, because Travis and Madison aren’t quite the power couple yet when it comes to surviving the end of the world. Madison chooses a happy game of Monopoly over letting her daughter know what the hell is going on. But at least she’s figured out that mashing in the brains of the undead is necessary. Travis’ pacifism is noble until your dead neighbor eats your dog. At that point, it’s time to teach your kid how to shoot a gun.
I’m still not completely sold on the show as a whole. We didn’t really have artful cinematography of the first two episodes. We didn’t see a whole lot new when it came to zombie encounters. And while we got to know the characters a little better, they don’t yet have me totally on their side. I mean, they didn’t even really mourn the dog—who apparently didn’t have a name. I guess the “don’t name an animal if you’re going to kill it” rule applies to farms and TV shows.
How about you? Are you any more engaged with this group of survivors now that they’re stuck in suburbia with tanks in the neighborhood?
Like you, I’m still stuck in the purgatory of sorta kinda caring about these people. You’re dead right in that Daniel and Griselda were the stars of this episode, and I’d be willing to bet that their backstory includes the Salvadoran Civil War, and that they may be former members of the FMLN. My guess? They’re war refugees, and the difficulties didn’t stop when they left the country, but continued right on through the attempts to cross the border into the US illegally, and early days of poverty in the U.S. I like these people, and I’m glad they’re on board.
They feel real, which is more than I can say for the rest of our gang. The only one I really like is Nick, who I’m pretty sure will be able to keep himself high for the entire zombie apocalypse—he seems super handy when it comes to tracking down drugs. Though I do worry about his limp, which makes it hard to distinguish him from a zombie. I’m afraid one of the government troops is going to accidentally put him down because he’s gimpy.
Everyone else? I could take them or leave them. Alicia actively annoys me because she seems to be the one that’s always wandering off, and then falling into a trance when she should be focusing on the things that are trying to eat her. Travis is no Rick Grimes, his son just seems like a male version of Alicia, sullen and incompetent, and I don’t really know what to think of his ex-wife. Madison is the best of the rest, but that’s mainly because of Kim Dickens, and not because the character is anything special yet.
My biggest frustration, though, is the world itself. I was hoping the new show would clarify how slow-moving zombies could ever take over the world, but now the situation just seems more comical than ever. Maybe it’s silly to look for realism, but if that’s the case, it’s also silly for FTWD to attempt realism in a way that is so utterly unconvincing. Did the zombies learn to start fires and pick the lock on cockpit doors? Are they able to incite riots? The more I watch, the more I realize how smart The Walking Dead was to start in the middle, and leave the question of how the hell the zombies ever triumphed in the first place unanswered. The way they executed the story, it didn’t really matter. But the way FTWD is executing the story, it matters a lot, and the so-called ‘explanation’ has been awful.
And yeah, we’re learning a few lessons—always kill a walker, “good” people die first, etc. But we’ve already learned those lessons, and it was more fun the first time around! We’re going to start sounding redundant, because we brought it up after episode two, but the ultimate question here is, what’s new? Why should we watch a second zombie show? What’s the novelty? And the answer, so far, is zippo zilch nada. A half-hearted attempt at deeper artistry, a less-than-mediocre depiction of society’s collapse, and new characters with one possible icon in Daniel and nobody else who even approaches Daryl, Rick, or Michonne.
I’m being such a Debbie Downer right, so let me double down(er): My main emotion now is relief that this first season is only six episodes long.
Too much? Not enough? I just can’t shake the feeling that while The Walking Dead hit the ground running and managed to survive a few lulls based on the strength of its storytelling, FTWD may never recover from this slow start, even if we have a few moments of brilliance later on.
Talk me out of it, Josh, I beg you.
I wish Fear the Walking Dead had given me more ammo to talk you out of your zombie funk, but I realize that I get more excited by the The Walking Dead promos during the commercial breaks than anything happening on screen. If I’m pressed to find reasons to be optimistic, here they are:
1. The Salazar family could potentially have a more interesting backstory than anyone in Rick’s gang.
2. Kim Dickens is possibly the best actor the franchise has hired so far.
3. There’s still time for the show to dive deeper into how the army loses the war to contain the virus. If a visit to the CDC didn’t give us the answers in TWD, though, I doubt we’re going to find them in Los Angeles.
4. Nick’s struggles to stay clean during the apocalypse remind me of Charlie on Lost. Could be an interesting story line.
5. It’s still much better than The Strain.
For now, I’m happy to keep watching and hope for the best. I appreciated the dilemma facing Madison—whether she should put her sweet neighbor out of her misery. She should have trusted her instincts instead of Travis, and I don’t think she’ll make that mistake again. The different families are going to have to learn to trust each other, and the internal family dynamics could be interesting as pressure mounts. It’s far from a great show, but it’s not bad either. At some point, we’re going to have to stop talking about “potential,” though.
So I leave you the job to fix it. If you were the show runner, what would you do to make this more compelling?
You basically just offered me the position of head football coach at Notre Dame. On the surface, it’s pretty illustrious, but when you actually look at the situation, you realize that fan expectations are insanely high based on past history, and the tools just aren’t there to bring the program back to national prominence in a consistent way. At least not this season.
Then again, I can’t turn it down. So what would I do to fix things? First off, I’d make a concerted effort to respect the viewers by actually showing more than random flashes of the zombie uprising. Rather than confining our main characters to a barbershop and a residential house, occasionally cutting away to shots of helicopters and riots and an isolated zombie or two, I’d actually sit my writers down, come up with an explanation that satisfies us, and then execute it on screen. (Right now, my suspicion is that we have no idea how it all came about precisely because the writers don’t either—most of their efforts seemed geared toward dodging the question, rather than answering it.) That’s the biggest failure of this show, and until it’s fixed, we can’t expect anybody to be on board. I’m not saying FTWD should look like a documentary, but we at least need to try.
Second, and here’s a radical idea: Use The Walking Dead to promote the show, albeit in subtle ways. What if we saw a cameo from the kid at Madison’s school this season, years down the line, as a badass zombie-killing loner? What if we spotted Daniel Salazar along the way? It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, but it would be a neat crossover tactic that might stimulate interest in the FTWD, and serve as a reminder that yes, this is the same universe.
Third, we need to do something about these characters. The entire Walking Dead franchise has problems with kids—they’re always annoying and sullen—and nothing changed in this installment. As far as I’m concerned, the characters of Alicia and Chris may as well have been labeled “Female version of Carl” and “Hispanic version of Carl” on the original screenplay. How about giving them non-stereotypical personalities? Is every writer on this show over 60? Next, we have to bring out the badass in Travis fast, rather than dragging it out over ten episodes as they hammer home the point that kindness doesn’t work in the new world. We get it—we saw it happen with Rick Grimes, and we don’t need a refresher.
Fourth, if none of that works, aliens should come down and stage a big, fun musical every week, and we’ll change the show’s title to “Glee: Aliens.”
That’s my panic button, Josh: Singing extraterrestrials. My serious concern as the new showrunner is that I’m facing an unwinnable uphill battle. The zombie novelty is well gone, and I have to work extra hard to reach Walking Dead levels of interest. I’m not sure I can do it. I may need Daryl, Josh. I MAY NEED DARYL. As my new executive producer, please make it happen.
Until next week,
Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.