It’s rare that I disagree with Lileks, but let’s face facts: The teenagers are not the weak link on this show.
The 1st part of "Fear the Walking Dead" ep2 is really scratching that itch I had to see a teen-focused zombie breakdown
— James Lileks (@Lileks) August 31, 2015
The junkie son is irritating but he’s the only character with any energy. The daughter is an audience surrogate as the apocalypse unfolds, the one who seems to know the least about what’s happening and is learning things as we do. She’s also a tragic figure — smart, pretty, steady boyfriend, bright future at a top school, and it’s all about to turn to ash. She’s the only person we’ve met, I think, who seems to have something meaningful to lose as society collapses — which brings us to mom and dad. The dad figure is so generic that, two episodes in, I’m already mystified as to why they haven’t sacrificed him. He’s the Jeb Bush of FTWD, a guy whose blandness makes Rick Grimes seem like Donald Trump by comparison. Drop out already. As for mom, apart from a perfunctory sob or two in the bathroom scene last night, I don’t think we’ve seen a discernible emotion yet. When the zombie principal came at her, she seemed to take it mostly in stride. We’re on day one of the apocalypse here and a reanimated cadaver who used to be her friend and colleague of many years is lurching towards her, yet there’s not a shred of real fear, confusion, or even sympathy. I feel like the two parents were somehow plucked from a family sitcom where they were playing straight men to a cute kid or a robot or a puppet or something and inexplicably dropped into this show to lead the suburban insurgency against the End Times. Why?
The most hopeful element of last night’s show was the riot scene, an obvious riff on the police protests across the U.S. over the past year. If you give me a minute I can probably think of examples from “The Walking Dead,” but offhand this is the first time I can recall one of AMC’s zombie series overtly incorporating social commentary. The closest they usually come to that in TWD is Rick’s endless wrestling with authority and responsibility amid chaos, whether he should be a civilizing force or embrace anarchy in the name of survival. Last night was different — and surprisingly, it seemed to take a pro-police bent. The protesters were left screeching at the LAPD for shooting an unarmed man to death but the viewer knows what the protesters don’t, that an unarmed man in these circumstances can still be lethally dangerous. The cops were in the right. It felt like a nod at Ferguson, although the producers would deny that strenuously, no doubt. (The scene of the cop loading water into the trunk of his squad car tried to “balance the scales” a bit, I think, by suggesting that the cops were prepared to protect themselves but not the public. Clearly the authorities in this show know much more than the public does about the magnitude of the problem and they’re keeping it quiet.) The fact that they were willing to broach this subject in what’s supposed to be a mindlessly pulpy horror show is an encouraging sign that this one will aspire to more than just “Lord of the Flies in the woods.” George Romero, who’s always enlisted the zombie genre as social commentary in his pet (left-wing) causes, would be proud of the effort if not the outcome.
The least hopeful element of the episode was how phony the riot scene felt onscreen, though. Did anyone believe that was a real riot? Did the protesters sound like real people? When the punk girl zombie walked up on one cop and got blown away right in the middle of the protest, another “innocent” unarmed person murdered in cold blood to all appearances, that should have been the cue for violent mayhem to erupt — screaming, protesters tackling cops, guns going off, windows being smashed, tear gas choking everyone, zombies stumbling into the fracas and biting people, the whole shebang. Instead we got a few shots of people running and knocking over a mailbox. Meh. The whole thing looked cheap and unrealistic. I realize an authentic-seeming riot costs money to film but that’s the obligation you accept when you promise to show your viewers what the apocalypse looks like. That was their big opportunity to dazzle us at the start of the series and they whiffed. Also, instead of taking care to make the riot compelling, they used it more or less as backdrop for the far, far, far less interesting plot point of Bland Dad finding his Bland Son in the crowd and running off with him to find safety in the barber shop just as the exciting stuff was beginning to happen outside on the street. Instead of a “cops versus protesters versus zombies” Thunderdome, we got Bland Dad begging Ruben Blades for shelter for a few hours. Zzzzzz.
Imagine a solid hour of this show devoted to nothing but the police trying to restore order to a city that’s right on the cusp of a full-blown zombie outbreak but not quite there yet. You could have done that with a zombie anthology series. Instead we’re stuck with the incredible adventures of the two sitcom parents and their attractive but troubled kids. Hope things turn around next week. Exit question via Business Insider: We’ve met three black characters so far, and not one lasted as far as the end of episode two? Good lord.