The reviews of the first two episodes are in, and Fear the Walking Dead has a somewhat mixed reception. Although any show can likely be given more than two episodes to find its footing, critics are currently divided on whether the show is a slow burn or just plain boring, whether it's a character-focused drama or a tepidly written soap opera, and whether it's a pale imitation of The Walking Dead or an improvement on it. But all the critics agree on one thing: fans will watch it regardless, because that's the way the world works.
Not much actually happens
The 90-minute premiere for Fear the Walking Dead... 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... The introduction ambles along too leisurely – dare one say zombie-like? – with a fair amount of fabricated tension but precious little that actually quickens the pulse... A second episode begins to propel the story forward, thankfully, but for starters, anyway, it's more a snack than a feast.
The issue that's evident in the first two episodes that AMC made available to critics... is that not a lot of carnage happens. In fact, actual zombies... are few and far between in the first two hours, which makes Fear much more of a traditional drama until the spread of the unknown virus really takes hold. Which is to say that the 90-minute first episode and the hour-long second episode are, while not actually boring, certainly less magnetic than the original.
It will probably remain to be seen whether this is a flaw or a strength, but future episodes promise to kill off all semblance of order at a breakneck speed, and catch up to the timeline of The Walking Dead in no time:
The story isn't designed realistically or even for maximum horror. Instead, "Fear the Walking Dead" seems only concerned with speeding through the downfall of humanity so this series can look more like its predecessor.
What you do get is the sense that something huge, sprawling, and nightmarish is on the horizon, and it's starting from this pinpoint place of one otherwise unremarkable family... The final minute [of the pilot] suggests this show isn't going to wait too long before it gets insane and (what looks to be) very scary.
There's no denying that Fear is a character-driven show, although critics disagree about whether the characters are compelling enough to replace good old-fashioned zombie carnage:
While most people will point out the difference in scope – being that "Fear" takes place in an overpopulated Los Angeles, as opposed to the barren fields of Georgia – the biggest change is that "Fear" focuses on characters and family, while "Walking Dead" put way too much emphasis on the zombies and how cool the KNB-created undead effects would be.
Sure, we've seen the zombie apocalypse imagined onscreen many, many times before. But in Dead, we're experiencing it alongside characters that've had time to develop; we actually like them, for the most part, and we've seen them battling everyday chaos. This only makes us more eager to see how they'll react to mobs of hungry undead ... and whether or not they'll be able to survive.
As yet the characters still seem a little malnourished, particularly compared with the original, which niftily wedded a horror motif to an ongoing, evolving soap opera where no one is completely safe... Erickson, Kirkman and company have a long way to go in terms of conjuring anything approaching that sort of emotional investment in these characters.
Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens star as a couple who are working to integrate their blended family, and they're each more than equipped to quickly establish the stakes of this world and get the viewer invested in their familial relationships. Without giving too much away, there's already a fair bit of drama unfolding in their lives when the reanimated monsters make their presence known.
As fans will recall, this is a world where the term zombie has never existed. So when they begin to rise, and the living to fall, the characters are left bereft of direction and without context for the phenomena. This is where the bulk of the – surprisingly effective – tension is derived from. "Don't go into the basement!" is a familiar horror trope. We have more information than the characters. We know what awaits them in if they descend those stairs. "Fear the Walking Dead" has a great time playing with our understanding of the "rules" of these creatures. We see all, while the characters are entirely out of their depth.
[The] viewers know more than the characters in Fear, so watching them be all-too-nonchalant when they should be running for their lives is fun and scary. Erickson and company do a fine job of getting at that dangerous naivete - where people allow the newly infected (and "turned" but not rotting) zombies to get right up on them. It stresses out Walking Dead fans who know what's coming, while also making sense for the characters in Fear.
Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis give standout performances
Although some critics contend that they don't have much to work with:
The new series is led by the superior Kim Dickens, who is a stronger actor and has a more realized character than anyone in the first three seasons of "The Walking Dead" (sans Jon Bernthal's portrayal of 'Shane').
Looking elsewhere for points of interest, Dickens and Curtis are largely wasted opportunities. Both have enough charisma, presence and talent to carry a show, but neither are given a lot to work with here.
Even if it's creatively bereft, AMC was probably smart to commit to two seasons, as the rabid Walking Dead love is guaranteed to carry the show very far in the ratings:
These early episodes promise more scares and deeper plots only by their connection to "The Walking Dead," rather than providing any glimpse at lurking potential. Yet fans of the original series probably won't care. Even if they find it too slow, predictable or boring, Kirkman's follow-up still feels very much like its predecessor, and that's probably enough to keep fans of the franchise happy.