Sunday, March 29, 2015
5 Hopes for the 'Walking Dead' Spinoff
"The Walking Dead" ends its fifth season on March 29, but fans won't have long to wait for the companion series, aka Fear the Walking Dead. AMC is airing the first six episodes in late summer, presumably as a lead-in to the mother series' Season 6 premiere in October. Intel is slowly shuffling out about the spinoff, with the producers emphasizing how different the companion series will be from the main show. This will probably be a hit for AMC whether hardcore Dead-heads like it or not, but we really want to like it. So here are five hopes we have for Zombie Round 2.
The main show, which is tied to Robert Kirkman's comic book, started with small-town sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes waking up in a Georgia hospital a couple of months after the zombie apocalypse began. We've followed him in Georgia for five season and just hit a small community in Virginia. The focus of the main show is very limited, and Kirkman said if he had any regrets it was having the show hit the CDC in Season 1, which was the only time we got any perspective on the world. We don't know how the outbreak began or any of the details of how it spread. Now is that time for that perspective. The spinoff is meant to be a prequel, but only at first, showing us the start of the apocalypse then catching up to Rick's timeline (without ever showing Rick or the current group). The CDC may be shown as talking heads, but it would also be good to see what's happening around the world, not just get details in speeches. On the main show, Jenner said something about France getting closest to a cure. How close, and what does that even mean, or look like? And how did everyone become infected, so that they turn at death, even if not bitten? Take a step back and give us the big picture of how the world ended.
The spinoff pilot was shot in Los Angeles, which isn't exactly new ground for television, and if we just follow another small group of people based in one location it may feel like a retread of what we've been watching for the past five seasons on the main show. Why not follow multiple locations, either concurrently with the L.A. group or starting with L.A. then moving on to a series of new locations, with a different cast and place in the world each season? Show us snow walkers in Canada, rainforest walkers in the Amazon, or -- heck -- just leave the coast of California on a boat and see how far the characters make it. T-Dog always wanted to go to the coast on the main show, let's see how someone fares. AMC isn't just going to write a blank check, but if they're already in L.A. they can use soundstages and at least pretend to show us the world.
The main show has been criticized at times (looking at you, Season 2!) for its slow patches. We're fans of the deep character moments, but if they're going to go ahead and launch a second show they might as well cater to the fans' craving for more action. Think Season 5 premiere, not Season 4 premiere. Keep it moving. And since this is the start of the outbreak, we're expecting a lot more deaths. Not the occasional heartfelt death with an accompanying song from Beth, but massive bombing-of-Atlanta casualties. We need to see how the population thinned to the extent that it became survival of the fittest/luckiest.
Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens are leading the spinoff cast, and they seem to both play educators with children -- teenagers. That could be bad -- like Dana Brody from "Homeland" bad -- with the added irritation that they're L.A. teens. No offense to L.A., but shows like "90210" and "The O.C." have already given us enough from that world. Plus, the spinoff character descriptions suggest some moody kids are ahead, with words like "rebellious teenage son," "angriest kid in town," and "screwed up" thrown in. It's worrisome. Executive producer David Alpert talked about the spinoff at SXSW, saying (via The Daily Beast), "...we're going to invest ourselves in these characters that are nuanced, detailed, and honestly really f--ked up and having these awful experiences between themselves, and trying to find a way, as a lot of us do. You have an ex-wife, you have an ex-husband, and you're trying to find out, 'How do I pick up the kids from school?' and just when you think you can barely hold on, zombies start coming." OK, but please make the people we're stuck with more likable than they currently sound. A zombie spinoff should be an escape for the audience, not torture. Don't make us root for the walkers.
The main show is now in a world where humans are bigger threats than walkers, but hopefully the spinoff avoids the big bad route. Human conflict will surely be a main focus, but there's no need for standoffs with group leader "villains" like The Governor at Woodbury, Gareth at Terminus, Dawn at Grady, or (eventually) Negan of The Saviors. That said, if they want to show how a regular person could become like The Governor over time, through the chaos and tragedy of the outbreak, that's different. We haven't seen that yet on the main show, we just keep meeting existing group leaders and (sometimes) hear their backstories in speeches. Show how they got to that point or don't show them here at all. However this plays out, AMC has invested in at least two seasons - -the six-episode mini season in 2015 and another season of whatever length in 2016. If we could add another hope, it's that the second season is longer and covers more of the long summer zombie wasteland where the main show leaves off. (Consider a May-October run, AMC!)