Let me explain. First, the “not good” part. The show tried over six episodes to show how a normally functioning civilization would lurch into chaos with the introduction of zombies. It did so through the lens of a blended Los Angeles family. The first problem in watching the show was that any sane viewer wanted to punch family characters not played by Kim Dickens in the face because they were so obtuse/whiny in the face of the living dead.
The bigger structural problem was that the show didn’t have a decent model of the zombie apocalypse. It referenced how things like social media, distrust of the police, and a breakdown of military command and control might be factors. But the show never really took those concepts seriously, or thought through just how they would aid and abet the breakdown of order. It was more like the creative team threw those ideas against the wall and hoped the viewers would connect the dots for them.
The depiction of the military was particularly problematic. The one character who’s introduced as the commander was a cartoonish martinet. The show referenced vague plans for the military to evacuate and kill remaining civilians without explaining why this was going to happen — it just functioned as a plot device. Most significantly, the show had the military treat the fact that anyone who died would reanimate as a zombie as a super-classified secret, when the proper policy would have been to advertise this fact VERY LOUDLY on the emergency broadcast frequencies.
To be fair, the show was not all bad. Kim Dickens made the best of Madison, her underwritten character. The show’s creepiest scenes, by far, centered around how Madison interacted with her neighbors as things got worse. The contrast between her and her children playing Monopoly by candlelight and the occasional sound of violence from the outside was perfect and offered the best hint of how civil society would shrivel up in the face of the living dead. It’s telling that those high points involved almost no dialogue, however. “Fear the Walking Dead” simply lacked the grim consistency that its parent show, “The Walking Dead,” has usually provided.
And this makes me very, very happy. Why? Because, to reiterate a theme, the zombie genre is way too damn pessimistic about humanity and the forces of civilization. Sure, one can sketch how society could possibly break down with the introduction of an undead pathogen. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, there’s a way in which these narratives foster the very societal expectations that increase the likelihood of society breaking down. So — outside of the first half of “Contagion” — it’s heartwarming to know that Hollywood can’t quite crack how to depict the collapse of civilization.
Maybe, just maybe, human flourishing is more resilient than devotees of the living dead appreciate.
With that happy thought, enjoy your weekend!