'Fear the Walking Dead': Drama Adrift


Escaping the Los Angeles zombie invasion by hopping on a yacht — it’s such an L.A. thing to do, don’t you think? That’s the plan in the second-season premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, premiering Sunday on AMC. The shift off-shore puts more of the drama on the shoulders of wealthy bully-commander Strand (Colman Domingo), who gets to say “It’s my boat” at least three times in the opening hour.

When the series first premiered, I liked it for its emphasis on something other than The Walking Dead’s constant zombie-killing and its game of “Who in the cast will die next?” In Kim Dickens, Ruben Blades, Cliff Curtis, and Domingo, the show had strong actors who could pull off a lot of the melodramatic dread without being excessively histrionic about it.

But as the short six-episode season went on, Fear got bogged down in the kind of ethical and moral debates that always weigh on its more popular predecessor, The Walking Dead. And now putting the small cast on a big white boat on a sea scattered with the occasional floating undead-creature — well, it might remind viewers less of Moby Dick or the Nicole Kidman thriller Dead Calm, and more like one of the weakest Alfred Hitchcock movies, Lifeboat, or a pretentious version of that cute puzzle-piece, murder-on-a-yacht movie, The Last of Sheila, co-written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins in 1973.

Not that the dialogue on Fear is Sondheim-quality stuff; it’s more on the level of this: “I don’t care. The whole world is I-don’t-care now.” When one character asks, “What am I doing here?” another responds, “You mean here on this boat, or here existentially?” Oh, lordy, please don’t invite discussions of existentialism — the show is tedious enough as it is. From what I could make out of the poorly lit, sometimes blurry first episode, zombies do manage to navigate water somehow, but like everything else in the Dead franchise, the hows and the whys are dragged out for future episodes unto eternity.

As always, I’m glad that talented people like Dickens and Blades are getting good paychecks that will presumably fund more challenging work down the line. And Fear certainly benefits from the more prominent role played by Domingo — his Strand, likable to viewers for the very prickliness and sarcasm that makes him a trial for the rest of his crew — is the only character who moves the narrative ahead.

But with an hour that spends much of its time focusing on people chatting about what they’re doing now and what they should be doing in upcoming scenes, Fear The Walking Dead is in danger of putting Chris Hardwick out of business: This whole episode of Fear is itself like a slightly soggier version of Talking Dead.

Fear The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC.