Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vox on Sunday's zombies and vampires

It's in between the summer and fall TV seasons.  Shows like "Falling Skies," "Defiance," "The Last Ship," "Wayward Pines," and other summer TV fare have finished their seasons and the regular season TV shows haven't started up for the fall.  Fortunately, two shows that both depict a science-fiction undead apocalypse are filling the void on Sunday nights, "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Strain."  For Entertainment Sunday, I'm sharing what Vox has to say about tonight's collapse-and-decline-related shows.

I start with the beginning of the zombie apocalypse in Fear the Walking Dead season 1, episode 2: The show moves as slowly as its zombies — and it works.
This is the way the world ends — with a bang and a whimper.

Most stories of the apocalypse skip us quickly past the early stages, where the worst could have been averted. There's good reason for this. The really interesting stuff usually involves how the characters survive, or what happens when society begins to rebuild.

Because it's a TV show, though, Fear the Walking Dead is taking its time. In my early review of the season, I called this a "slow-pocalypse," and "So Close, Yet So Far," the show's second episode, underlines this approach.

The episode has its bigger sequences — especially a protest against police treatment of a homeless man (who was, presumably, a turned zombie) — but it's mostly a very quiet episode about people realizing the world is going to hell all around them.

Still, the signs of imminent collapse are many.
One can see the signs of collapse all throughout this Sneak Peek: Episode 103: Fear the Walking Dead: The Dog.

That's as bad as I imagined Atlanta looking in the early days of the outbreak, when Rick was still in a coma and the action skipped ahead a month.

As for episode 2, it helped the viewers that they know what's coming and what to look for.  As for the characters, the poor souls have no clue other than Nick the addicted son, who was the first of the group to see a walker.  The second time he encountered one, he knew what to do, running it over repeatedly.  As my wife said, "Rick Grimes would be proud."  We have to watch the rest as they catch on.

Speaking of which, the following clip from AMC shows how Nick is still the savviest of the family, followed by his mom, who killed her own walker in episode 2: Sneak Peek: The Clarks: Episode 103: Fear the Walking Dead: The Dog.

Follow over the jump for Vox's review of last week's episode of "The Strain," which even they compare with "Fear the Walking Dead."

On the other side of the country, the vampire apocalypse is taking place.

FX's vampire drama The Strain embraced the stupid and became much better.
The first season and a half really suffered from the sense that even as a massive vampire plague was breaking out, New York City continued on, business as usual. The nadir of this might have been a subplot in which several newly introduced characters attempted to make a food delivery from their restaurant, even though they kinda sorta knew that vampires were everywhere. Compare this with, say, Fear the Walking Dead, where the uneasy sense of the apocalypse breaking out is everywhere, and you'll see just how jarring it could be.

The problem The Strain had was in conveying just how little time had passed over the course of the series. The first season only covered something like six days, but to viewers, who had watched it over 13 weeks, it felt much longer. Conveying the passage of time is a constant struggle in TV, and it's not a problem The Strain really solved.

Fortunately, and for whatever reason, the vampire apocalypse is finally upon us. New York City has mostly shut down. Travel to DC is almost completely over with. Other cities are beginning to fall. It took a little while, but the vampires are in control, and our heroes feel like they're fighting a losing battle.

The latest episode concluded with a brave band of Brooklynites fighting off a vampire invasion by firing endlessly upon a chainlink fence, then battling said vampires in the streets, before the timely intervention of some UV lights. It was everything the show does well — completely ludicrous plotting, slightly cheap production values, and a goofy sense of self-assurance. And that's to say nothing of the scene where Samantha Mathis (Samantha Mathis!) drove around rallying the good people of Red Hook to her cause by shouting inspirational words through a speaker mounted to a car.

Things are finally falling apart in earnest, and they're getting stupider by the minute. And when you're The Strain, that's a good thing.
My wife and I had trouble getting into "The Strain," as shown by how long it would sit on our DVR.  We'd watch "Fear the Walking Dead" immediately.  In contrast, we fell a couple of weeks behind on "The Strain."  That stopped a couple of episodes ago.  Exactly when Vox said the show "embraced the stupid," we found the show more interesting.

There is one thing that's common to both shows, as the "Fear the Walking Dead" review points out.
One of the problems with zombie apocalypse stories is that it's inherently hard to believe that such shambling, slow-moving beasts could overrun the world so quickly, even if their bite creates more of their kind. Surely the military or someone would mobilize and easily handle the problem within a few days of its appearance? Right?

Fear, then, posits the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse as a kind of feedback loop we see often in human life - people don't talk to each other, assumptions are made, and everybody decides the worst-case scenario is happening. They operate from that position and only make things worse. I don't know how far Fear is going to pursue this idea (I haven't seen past this episode), but that's a nifty notion, if the show can pull it off. Zombies didn't cause the zombie apocalypse. People did.
That's a good point.  If the vampires win in "The Strain," it will also be true, although the people in "The Strain" are getting smarter about the threat even as the show embraces its silliness.

Speaking of silly, "Z Nation" returned last Friday.  That deserves a post of its own--later.


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    1. Not about holidays, tv shows, or undead. Deleted.