THE SHOW | AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead (Sundays at 9/8c, premiering Aug. 23)
THE CAST | Kim Dickens (Deadwood), Cliff Curtis (Gang Related), Frank Dillane (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and Rubén Blades (Do the Right Thing).
THE SET-UP | Set in Los Angeles in the early days of the zombie outbreak with which The Walking Dead has made us so familiar, Fear focuses on the dysfunctional family that single mom Madison Clark (Dickens), a high school guidance counselor, and divorced dad Travis Manawa (Curtis), an English teacher, are desperately trying — and spectacularly failing — to blend.
THE FIRST IMPRESSION | The 90-minute pilot starts gorily strong, with Maddie’s heroin-addicted firstborn, Nick (an outstanding Dillane), coming face to face with his — and the series’ — first walker. (Though, of course, the zombies aren’t called that yet.) Then, unfortunately, it stumbles a bit, first by portraying Maddie’s daughter and Travis’ son as such insufferable brats that the junkie starts to look like the golden child, then by introducing Tobias, the oldest-looking teenager since Dylan McKay graduated from West Beverly.
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Luckily, Dickens (who, for my money, stole Gone Girl) can’t help but be likable, and Curtis is allowed to play Travis as self-aware enough to know when his unrelenting sweetness has made his fiancée — and us! — gag. And, even if the kids are jerks, it’s still pretty damn poignant to watch this group try to make sense of the apocalypse that they haven’t a clue is upon them.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | Considering how monstrously successful The Walking Dead is, Fear is guaranteed a ginormous sampling. (I mean, duh.) And considering how effective the premiere’s two big set pieces are — not to mention how compelling a presence Dillane is — it’s a pretty safe bet that the drama will at least take a big bite out of its competition.
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