Making prequels is always a tricky business. If you’re not careful you end up with a show like Enterprise (later Star Trek Enterprise) which repeatedly resorted to squeezing new events and characters into spaces which never previously existed.
Other shows play around with established continuity in order to retain much-loved characters, a good example is First of the Summer Wine which features a young version of Seymour even though the characters clearly meet him for the first time in parent show, Last of the Summer Wine.
Big screen prequels are equally risky.
The inevitability that the third Star Wars prequel would end by placing the principal characters in the locations and circumstances in which the audience found them in the original trilogy meant its finale lacked any sense of drama.
An already lacklustre series of films ended on the dampest of all squibs.
With Fear The Walking Dead writers Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson seem to have been aware of the potential pitfalls and have side-stepped them by setting the show at the very beginning of the Zombie uprising and in a location far removed from that featured in The Walking Dead.
In doing so, they’ve given themselves a clean canvass on which to tell new stories and so avoid the audience knowing what’s coming just round the corner.
And by focussing on new characters, they’ve avoided the dual terrors of actors trying to pretend they’re younger than they were when audiences first encountered them and new performers trying to adopt the mannerisms and looks of an already much-loved cast.
While The Walking Dead takes place in a world in which the walkers have already eliminated normal society, Fear is notably domestic and ordinary in tone. At least initially.
In place of Andrew Lincoln & co, Fear centres on High school teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) – who shares custody of his son with ex-wife Liaza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) – and Travis’ fiancée Madison Clark (Kim Dickens).
Madison has two children – ambitious high-achiever Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and high school drop out Nick (Frank Dillane), whose drug problem helps set up our first glimpse at the zombies.
Much of the above two paragraphs could be the description of a new crime drama or even soap, and it’s this initial ordinariness which shows the genius of Kirkman and Erickson’s writing.
We know that ultimately the domestic side of the plot won’t matter but the show’s world is so familiar and its characters so rounded that it’s impossible not to be drawn into their troubles and inter-family politics.
Episode one’s transition from identifiable real-world domesticity into creepy horror was so deftly and gradually handled that it’s almost imperceptible both to viewer and character and the use of familiar character types and domestic background ensures the show is accessible to all audiences including those less familiar, or even completely unaware, of the parent series.
Clever and careful pacing means the story’s big reveals come at sensible and digestible interludes before the episode’s conclusion in which Madison, Travis and Nick encounter their first fully-fledged zombie and get a sense of how much their world is changing around them.
With five more episodes left of the first series and a further 15 episodes to come next year, audiences look set to be in for some thrilling and increasingly dark viewing, and the (wisely) unspecified gap between the two shows means there’s plenty of room for Fear to explore the zombies’ rise without trampling over the start of the parent series.
Fear The Walking Dead is available on AMC from BT and is free to BT TV customers and Sky views who subscribe to the BT Sports Pack.
Post sponsored by BT