The Walking Dead arrived on AMC at the perfect time to take advantage of pop culture’s zombie obsession, rapidly moving to the very top of the Nielsen ratings and defying expectations for even the most mainstream of gory shows aired on cable. Five seasons in, it continues to capture fan interest on social media and attract a huge viewership. It’s no surprise that the ratings-starved AMC, having lost its cash cow Breaking Bad in 2013 and its original critical darling Mad Men in May, would want a solid bet for its future, and so the network commissioned two seasons of the spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead.
Unlike the Georgia-set mothership show, Fear the Walking Dead takes place in Los Angeles at the dawn of the outbreak, parallel with the opening minutes of The Walking Dead pilot. It will look at the zombie outbreak from the perspective of people who don’t fully understand it yet, as opposed to the hardened veterans on The Walking Dead.
AMC debuted a new thirty-second teaser clip today. Like last week’s brief teaser, it doesn't feature any zombies. Instead, it shows a conversation between the show’s protagonist, guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens) and one of her students, who seems to know much more about the impending outbreak than she does. “The authorities will tell us,” Madison assures him, though the audience knows she’s very, very wrong.
Coupled with last week’s ominous preview, the footage AMC has showed so far suggests a show centered on suspense and anticipation rather than just gore or zombie kills. The Walking Dead is so popular that complaining about AMC’s decision to spin it off is beside the point. The question now is whether Fear the Walking Dead will be satisfying enough on its own terms that the original’s fans will gain something from it and people who have never seen The Walking Dead will be able to enjoy it on its own merits. With a family focus, different setting and sturdy cast including the reliably excellent Dickens and Cliff Curtis, the show looks (at least on the surface) like more than just another zombie hour.
That said, it’s hard to ignore that this show exists entirely for reasons of corporate confidence and financial security. Only a small number of the show's fans were crying out for a spinoff. But Better Call Saul proved that a spinoff of a beloved show can stand on its own and justify its existence as more than a simple retread. These aren’t the most potent origins for a piece of visual art, but Fear the Walking Dead might make for a fine summer distraction.
Fear the Walking Dead debuts on AMC with six hour-long episodes in August 2015.