It’s been a while since we had a fix of The Walking Dead. Last we saw Rick & Gang, they were in the Alexandria Safe Zone, where Rick had killed Porchdick, and Morgan had finally showed up after escaping from those weird guys carving Ws into the heads of zombies. It was like watching a train wreck, you couldn’t turn away…
So with this spinoff, it was kinda cool to see this fresh new show set in the same universe. All of these characters are clean and without baggage. No ties to that awkward time in Season 2 when Beth/Rick/Dale/Lori did singing/farming/moralizing/sexytime with a campfire/a shovel/his mouth/Shane/.
My favorite part of the pilot episode (which was quite solid) was the setting. Rather than starting in the midst of the apocalypse like TWD, FTWD starts in normal everyday Los Angeles. This is made clear in a very effective opening scene that shows a pretty typical zombie moment with druggie Nick waking up to look for his girlfriend in a creepy drug den set in a church. As the audience, we all know exactly what is going to happen when we hear the screams as he goes to investigate, and the whole thing proceeds along the predictable lines until Nick flees outside and gets hit by a car because – SURPRISE – society hasn’t fallen yet. It was a very nice statement that FTWD is about how society falls and makes it different than just another story from the TWD-universe.
The other thing I generally liked were the characters. TWD is full of annoying folks like Rick, but I generally liked all the characters from the Pilot of FTWD. Perhaps the son (Nick) is a little annoying, but both mother (Madison, who I remember as Sawyer’s con artist girlfriend from LOST) and step-dad (Travis) were pretty solid and cool. The daughter, Alica, seemed like a nice contrast to Nick and I even liked her boyfriend. It all lined up pretty well. I’m into watching this family try to survive over the next few weeks as the shit hits the fan.
It wasn’t all perfect though.
1. The episode played around a little too much with the “OMG! THIS is when the zombie will attack!” Witness: the kid with his head down on his desk in class, the slumped over principal, the patient in the next bed over, the shaky-cam images of people in the park who MIGHT be shambling a little too much, Travis’ investigation of the church, etc. [Where the hell were the church zombies, btw?] Too many fake outs.
2. It also took a while to actually associate names with characters other than Nick. My notes just refer to Madison as “Mom” and Travis as “Boyfriend”. I had to look up all their names on Wikipedia. And we only knew about Nick’s name because we spent most of the episode searching for him all over town, which was a little overdone.
3. I also wrote “this is taking too long” in my notes several times. Given that the episode was 90 minutes, it got a little dull and lacked urgency. It’s almost like they had a normal episode’s worth of story and stretched it over 90 minutes to squeeze in a few more commercial breaks.
4. And Travis is a hell of a lot more compelling and charismatic than any high school english teacher I ever had.
The episode accomplished its basic goals by establishing a different identity from Rick's TWD and giving us a reason to care about the characters who will feature in this short, 6-episode season. The challenge moving forward will be to create an entertaining show because the novelty of the setting (mid-apocalypse, fall-of-society) has an expiration date.