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Television

The First Season of 'Fear the Walking Dead' Hits the Ground Running

The first season of Fear the Walking Dead is not without its "Oh, c'mon!" moments, but it's a largely realistic look at how people would react to a gradual apocalypse.


Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season: Special Edition

Distributor: Anchor Bay
Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane
TV show: Fear the Walking Dead
Network: AMC
US release date: 2016-03-22
Website

The Walking Dead's success can be attributed to the fact that it's not just a show about zombies: It's a show about people trying to survive when the world as they knew it has gone to hell. What happens when you can't call 911 if someone threatens you? When you're alone and run across someone you don't know on a back road in Georgia, how do you figure out if you can trust them, since they could easily kill you and suffer no consequences?

Those questions and similar ones about navigating the apocalypse have propelled the series to greater heights as viewers have become emotionally invested in a cast of characters, many of whom could die at any time. However, since the show skipped the early "Let's watch everything fall apart" aspect of the story, AMC ordered up six episodes of Fear the Walking Dead to cover that territory.

Fear the Walking Dead's creators, who hail from the sister series, wisely decided to avoid the rural territory covered by The Walking Dead and instead focused on a blended family in Los Angeles. Madison, the mom, is a high school guidance counselor with two kids. Her son Nick is a drug addict and her daughter Alicia is trying to deal with the issues most teenagers face. Madison lives with her boyfriend, Travis, who has a son, Chris, from his previous marriage. Her first husband died, and Travis's ex-wife Liza has custody of Chris.

The first episode opens with Nick rousing himself from a heroin-induced haze in an abandoned church, only to find a couple dead people and his friend Gloria chowing down on one of the corpses. He runs from the scene in a most vivid portrayal of terror and is hit by a car. In the hospital, Madison and Travis chalk up his ravings to his drug addiction, as do the police officers who stop by. At the very least, you'd think the officers might want to check out the church, since people on drugs often do bad things and there might be some truth to Nick's story, but they decline to do so and Travis takes it upon himself to investigate. He does so late at night, of course, and finds evidence to back up Nick's story.

Madison remains doubtful, but when she, Travis, and Nick encounter one of Nick's druggie friends who has become a zombie, they realize something is going on. When Chris joins a protest against police shootings (they've been shooting zombified civilians, but most people don't understand that), the situation turns deadly and Madison and Travis try to help him. The three get stuck in the ensuing riot and find refuge in a barbershop owned by the Salazar family, who live in the back rooms.

Over the course of the next five episodes, the situation becomes increasingly dire. Madison, Travis, and Nick make their way back home with the Salazar family, who were forced to abandon the barbershop, and the larger group watches as the neighbors try to continue with their normal lives, washing cars, holding birthday parties for their kids, and so forth. Media reports say the outbreak is simply a disease that will be contained soon, but eventually the military intervenes and fences off the neighborhood.

It's soon clear, though, that the military can't be fully trusted, and the season builds toward a climax as the large group tries to escape and find refuge somewhere. The sixth episode ends as they follow the lead of an enigmatic man named Strand, who owns a beachfront mansion. He says he has a yacht anchored offshore and all of them will be able to take refuge there, but it's not clear if he is truly going to help them.

Overall, this first season of Fear the Walking Dead does a good job of hitting the ground running and depicting a realistic portrayal of how people probably would react to an apocalypse that they don't realize is tearing down their relatively safe and comfortable world. The characters are interesting and multi-dimensional, with surprising secrets to be revealed, particularly from the Salazar family's father.

However, there are moments that can make it difficult to suspend disbelief, such as the aforementioned behaviors by the police and Travis. There's also a conspicuous lack of news media before the military arrives and shuts down most communications. For example, a kid at Madison's school talks about outbreaks in other states, and Alicia watches a video of someone being bitten by a zombie on her smartphone, but given the kind of technology we have today, you'd think that the Internet and news media would be overflowing with videos and pictures from all over the world. It would quickly become very clear that something truly horrific is happening, but the series ignores that reality so its characters can be unsure about the situation for a while. It's not a decision that completely derails the show, but it does lead to a few "Oh, c'mon!" moments.

This two-disc Blu-ray Special Edition set features a good quantity of bonus features, although the eight included featurettes are pretty cursory in nature. They feature the cast and crew talking about various aspects of the show, such as shooting locations, without much insight into what really makes the story tick. They spend a lot of time rehashing what you already know from having watched the show, such as a character's motivation for acting a certain way, but there are some nice behind-the-scenes moments that dig into how some of the effects were created.

The episodes also have commentary tracks that are worthwhile listens for fans of the show. A couple cast members show up, but the commentaries mostly feature some of the producers and writers talking about the nuts and bolts of the series.

A widescreen version of the first episode and a few deleted scenes round out this set.

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