Brace for 'Fear the Walking Dead' Sunday August 23

ajc.com

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Monday, August 16, 2015

Sometimes,  you can't blame a network for being greedy. With Georgia's own "The Walking Dead" such a massive hit, it was natural for AMC to pull a "CSI"/"Law & Order" move with a spinoff called "Fear the Walking Dead" debuting Sunday.

On the flip side of greedy, you could simply call it a smart business decision.

And since this is all about cross pomotion, AMC is airing a "Talking Dead" special before the spin-off debut focused on a preview of season six of 'The Walking Dead," which returns in October.

Obviously, "Fear the Walking Dead" is not a big gamble. It's similar to AMC's "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul," which has been a success and will be back a second season.

While other recent AMC original efforts such as "Halt & Catch Fire" and "Turn" are drawing tiny fractions of the "Walking Dead" 18 million-plus weekly audience (as in fewer than 1 million live viewers per episode), "Fear the Walking Dead" is virtually guaranteed a large sampling for its first season, which is a mere teaser of six episodes.

Opening overnight audiences of 4 to 6 million would not be out of the question. (UPDATE: Monday August 24, 2015: I was way off. The show opened at an impressive 10.1 million.)

The creative team includes many of the same executive producers as "The Walking Dead" and involves the same world - just 2,175 miles west of Atlanta in Los Angeles. It's the dawn of the apocalypse in 2010, which "The Walking Dead" skipped while Rick Grimes was in a coma. By the time Rick awakened in the opening minutes of the first episode, society was already in shambles.

In this case, the story focuses on a seemingly routine dysfunctional family. There is a divorced guidance counselor with two teens, one who is successful and the other a drug addict. The mom is dating a teacher who is struggling with his own family issues. The drugged-out son sees a zombified friend at a nasty drug house and flees, not sure if he was hallucinating or seeing something crazy. (It's the latter, of course.)

By episode two, society as we know it begins to unravel as rampages expand and the family tries to figure out a way to escape.

Early reviews by TV critics who have seen the first two episodes of "Fear the Walking Dead" have been mixed to positive. Metacritic average is 67 out of 100 from six reviews as of Monday, August 17. In summary, the show starts a bit slow as it tries to develop characters with relatively few zombie attacks in the beginning and people behave with no knowledge of what is about to happen.

Here's a sampling of reviews:

David Hinckley, The New York Daily News: 4 out of 5 stars: "There's just the uneasy sense that something is wrong, which for TV drama purposes means something is right."

Ken Tucker, Yahoo TV: "The first two episodes are beautifully directed by Davidson with serene tension — quietness and confusion are the elements that help create the fear in the show's title."

Melissa Maerz, EW, B-minus: "Given the pre-attack setup, Fear could've devoted more time to character development, making us care about these people before their flesh gets ripped off."

Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter: "The real trick in Fear will be keeping the full weight and extent of the zombie insurrection at bay for some time and focusing on the early days of the outbreak in a way that makes it different but also equally original and entertaining."

Brian Lowry, Variety: "The 90-minute premiere for "Fear the Walking Dead," the eagerly anticipated offshoot of AMC's megahit, initially feels too much like a snore, narrowly following a single, not-terribly-interesting family, and leaning heavily on musical cues to stoke a sense of suspense. A second episode begins to propel the story forward, thankfully, but for starters, anyway, it's more a snack than a feast."

And here's the trailer from Comic Con:

TV PREVIEW

"Fear the Walking Dead," 9 p.m. Sundays, AMC