“Fear the Walking Dead” is about family.
Well, it’s also about flesh-eating zombies and the end of the world, but really it’s about family. A severely dysfunctional family. A severely dysfunctional family running from flesh-eating zombies and the end of the world.
Wait, that’s pretty much what “The Walking Dead” is about.
Yeah, so? What are you implying? That there’s such a thing as zombie overkill? Don’t be silly.
Actually, zombie overkill isn’t an immediate problem with “Fear the Walking Dead,” the much-anticipated spin-off of “The Walking Dead.” The twist here — which seems destined to be short-lived — is that the zombie apocalypse is just taking baby steps as the show begins. It’s the same zombie apocalypse that’s going on in “The Walking Dead,” but whereas that show started after the zombies had taken over, this show starts as they’re just popping up.
Which is a big risk. Fans of “The Walking Dead” — which is arguably the most popular narrative show on television — are used to seeing dozens of zombies slaughtered every episode in various gruesome manners. Zombies march through the series as if on parade.
In “Fear the Walking Dead,” at least in the first couple of episodes, zombies are as rare as intellectuals at a Trump rally. Which does serve to make them a bit scarier, since nobody knows what they are or what to do with them. Still, gore-hounds may be disappointed.
For now, they’ll have to settle for the severely dysfunctional family. That would belong to Madison Clark (ever-dependable Kim Dickens from “Deadwood,” “Gone Girl” and much more). A high school counselor in Los Angeles, she’s mother to wasted junkie Nick (Frank Dillane) and spoiled brat Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and lives with English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis).
Travis has his own sullen offspring in the form of rebellious Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) and a grumpy ex-wife name Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). So this is really a two-dysfunctional-families-in-one situation.
Nick is the first to encounter the budding zombie situation (there’s still no clear explanation as to how the phenomenon starts, and the opening episode leaves a huge question hanging). He gets so freaked out he promptly runs out in the street and gets hit by a car. Which puts him in a hospital and reunites him with his family.
Nick figures he must have been hallucinating because of bad drugs. But then a video surfaces online of cops repeatedly shooting a guy who just won’t go down … until he takes one to the head. Still, no one says the word zombie. Have these people never been to a movie?
By the end of the premiere episode, Madison and Travis realize something weird is definitely up. But you try wrangling spoiled teens and ex-wives and heading for the hills when L.A. is descending into chaos. Tough chore. Especially when the guy next door just turned into a flesh-eater. And let’s not even talk about the traffic.
The slow burn approach actually works nicely, assuming you can calm your appetite for immediate destruction. But it’s hard to see how “Fear the Walking Dead” will ultimately be much different from “The Walking Dead”: A makeshift family of survivors will be on the run from a plague of zombies, except this time it will be in California. Maybe these zombies will surf.
Still, the bet here is simple: You can’t have too much of a bad thing. Coming soon: “The Real Zombie Housewives of Seattle.”
‘Fear the Walking Dead’
9 p.m. Sunday