Nothing to ‘Fear’?

'Dead' spinoff must avoid original's flaws

The first spinoff from AMC’s wildly popular “Walking Dead” series debuts this weekend, so why are horror fans a tad nervous?

“Fear the Walking Dead” serves up a 90-minute introduction to the series, which is set prior to the events shown in “The Walking Dead.” The series stars Kim Dickens (“Sons of Anarchy”), Cliff Curtis (“Live Free or Die Hard”) and Frank Dillane (“Sense8”) in a tale beginning in the earliest days of the zombie apocalypse.

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Spinoffs are often viewed with suspicion, and rightly so. More often than not, they’re motivated by economics over storytelling necessities. What makes some “Walking Dead” fans uneasy is that the original show is far from perfect. Yes, technological improvements give the series an edge over past horror entries. And viewers never know when a favorite character might become zombie food, giving the show a palpable tension every week.

Still, much like other beloved programming, viewers have a bone or two to pick with the series. So let’s hope “Fear” doesn’t walk in the original show’s footprints.

  • Avoid the farm: “Dead’s” second season was set primarily around a farmhouse owned by the avuncular Hershel (Scott Wilson). The location felt secure at first but quickly dragged the story down. We’re already looking at the apocalypse. Why make the visuals even more stunted by keeping the action centered in such an unspectacular place? By the time the farm caught fire, viewers were more than eager to turn the page on the season, if not the show itself.
  • Forget the filler episodes: It typically happens once or twice a season. An episode comes along that slows the story’s pace to a crawl, while we focus on a character or two’s plight. We don’t need an onslaught of zombie attacks to keep our interest. We want quality writing and plots that weave the larger themes together. These “filler” episodes do neither. At a time when a TV season is much less than the standard 20-plus episode run, every 60-minute span counts.
  • Stay consistent: People change, and that’s certainly true if you’re stuck trying to stay alive in a world overrun by zombies. Still, the character evolutions we’ve seen on “The Walking Dead” strain the fan base’s fidelity to the show. Just take Rick Grimes, who seems to morph into a new character every half-dozen episodes. Andrew Lincoln is doing all he can to keep the character believable, but he shouldn’t have to work so hard to make that happen.
  • Pick up the pace: Yes, “Walking Dead” digs deeper into how society evolves in the wake of catastrophe than viewers might expect. It’s a satisfying way to approach the zombie genre, which too often delights in comical kills or deeply cynical resolutions. That still doesn’t excuse the pokey pace that bogs down too many installments. We’re talking about a horror franchise, not “Masterpiece Theater.”
  • Know when it’s time to go: The best programs don’t drag on for an additional season or three just because the network needs the ratings boost. Think “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” for two shows that went out on top (even if BB did make us wait a whole year for its final truncated season). “Walking Dead” already is showing its age, mostly by repeating concepts that felt more forceful the first time around. Yes, we see how humans are often as bad as the undead. Now let’s move on from there.

“Fear the Walking Dead” premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern Aug. 23 on AMC.

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