Sunday, August 28, 2016

'The Strain' vs. 'Fear the Walking Dead' from CNN and Vox

I concluded yesterday's U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan candidates for 2016 by telling my readers "Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment entry, which is about the return of "The Strain."  It's the Vampire Apocalypse!"  I'm keeping that promise with CNN Money's 'The Strain' is more contagious than 'Fear the Walking Dead'.

Brian Lowry reviews FX's 'The Strain' and AMC's 'Fear the Walking Dead.'
For a print review, read 'Fear the Walking Dead,' 'The Strain' take similar concepts in different directions at

I shouldn't be surprised that CNN compared "The Strain" to "Fear the Walking Dead."  I did it last year in Vox on Sunday's zombies and vampires.  I even compared "The Strain" to "The Walking Dead" in Vox on vampires and zombies.  I'm just surprised that the review was so negative.  Then again, "Fear the Walking Dead," like "The Walking Dead," has aspirations of being a serious drama, while "The Strain" makes no pretentions about what it is, so it goes for action over introspection.  Last Sunday's "Fear the Walking Dead" did just the opposite, and I appreciated it.

Since the last two comparisions of the two franchises involved Vox, I'll repeat it this year.  Follow over the jump for the excerpt.

Unlike CNN, Vox thinks fairly highly of the second season so far, as exemplified by the headline: How shooting in Mexico is making Fear the Walking Dead a better TV show.
The series has always struggled with the question of how to be different enough from The Walking Dead. After all, they both feature zombies, and the number of stories one can tell with zombies is necessarily limited. Thus, the major difference would always have to be setting, and Baja has provided a much sharper contrast to the Atlanta environs of The Walking Dead than Vancouver did.

“The benefit we have is just by geographically being further away and in a different locale,” Erickson says, pointing to Fear the Walking Dead’s use of water and desert in particular. There are cultural reasons, too. “I'm also intrigued by the idea of the show becoming progressively more bilingual,” he says.

Plus, Mexico has become a part of the story of the series — for better or worse. At times, the arc of season two leans a little too heavily on the kind of vague mysticism that American storytellers too often ascribe to any predominantly nonwhite nation. Without totally spoiling what’s to come, the second half of the season involves something of a Mexican zombie death cult.

But most of the rest of the time, just shooting in Mexico has helped resolve Fear the Walking Dead’s past aimlessness and given the show a new purpose. Not everything the writers have tried has worked — a brief visit to Baja’s vineyards offered up most of the show’s worst storytelling tendencies — but simply putting the characters in this new setting has revealed new facets of their personalities.

And on a show where the most frequent complaint has been, “But I don’t care about anyone!” that has been a good thing indeed.
I agree.

As for that introspective episode when the series returned last week, Vox had something to say about it, too.
The show’s midseason premiere traded heavily in the crushing loneliness of the immediate post-apocalypse. Almost entirely a solo hour for Nick, a recovering addict who’s found himself witnessing the apparent end of the world, the episode simultaneously flashed back to when he learned of his father’s death. For once, the show’s efforts to marry personal and global apocalypses felt as if they’d paid off.
But let’s go back to Nick for a second, as he exemplifies how the Mexico shift has helped the show. When Fear the Walking Dead began, he was easily the character viewers groused about most. And it was easy to see why: He had a selfish tendency to make everything revolve around him — not without reason — even though the world was collapsing.

In some ways, that’s an apt metaphor for the show itself. I mostly enjoy Fear the Walking Dead, but seemingly everybody else in my life deems it nonessential, without a clear sense of either itself or what viewers will find important. I can’t blame them. The show wants to be a family drama, about a splintered group of people finding themselves after the apocalypse, but the reality is that the zombies tend to outweigh everything else.

However, the longer Fear the Walking Dead spends in Mexico, the more the country itself seems to seep into the show’s bones. And I don’t mean that in the sense of, say, easy mystical bullshit, but more in the sense that Fear the Walking Dead increasingly seems to realize that it’s the only show filming in Mexico, which gives it added incentive to set itself apart by embracing as much of the country as it can squeeze into its frames — no matter how clumsily.
I'm looking forward to seeing how both shows play out this season.  I hope my readers are, too.

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