The curse of the second season. Many a show has fallen victim to the uphill battle of retaining interested viewers after a successful first season. If viewership decreases significantly cancellation is an imminent possibility. Some shows are lucky, gaining another season pickup before critical reviews flood in, but the sweet spot of both viewership, fan appreciation, and network approval is a hard one to maintain.
One show currently vying for that sweet spot is AMC's Fear The Walking Dead. As the show heads into the second half of its second season this Sunday (August 21), it does so with the safety net of having already been renewed for Season 3. But the first half of this season also left off with steadily declining viewership numbers and a great deal of criticism that it simply isn't living up to the original series.
Granted, FTWD's numbers are still plenty high compared to other shows and decent enough numbers to compel AMC to keep it going. However, the show's watchers can't help but find it lacking, especially when compared to The Walking Dead. So can Fear The Walking Dead emerge from its second season slump to stand on its own, heralded as a good show among fans, critics and its competition?
Maybe the show will never have Abraham Ford and his amazing one-liners but that doesn't mean Fear the Walking Dead can't achieve its own distinction. Based on the parallels between both second seasons of the two zombie action series and drawing on The Walking Dead's steps to recovery in its third season, here are a few lessons FTWD can implement in its third season (or even sooner) to find its way to the sweet spot.
1. Location, Location, Location
The obvious downfall to TWD's second season was that it planted its characters in one boring spot and barely moved them. Hershel's farm, while quaint, made for a tedious watch while Rick and the others searched high and low for Sophia. FTWD similarly spent far too much time in the first half of its second season on a boat. When it finally gave its characters a place to go it was to a similarly tame location, Celia's Mexican compound.
One of the reasons people were interested in watching FTWD, aside from a previous love for all things walker-related, was that it was based in LA. Not only did it showcase the beginning of the epidemic, but it was urban whereas TWD is decidedly southern rural. The contrast was appealing.
Season 3 of TWD saw Rick and company eight months after they left Hershel's farm coming across a prison, a place that would provide them safety but was a challenge in and of itself due to the prisoners living in it. The location was part of the action. Similarly, FTWD needs to utilize its location — which is Mexico at large right now — to instigate story. I'd suggest our characters make their way to a Mexican city, exploring the different culture while gaining back some of the urban intrigue they abandoned far too quickly in the first season.
2. Strategic Scattering
In Season 3 of The Walking Dead Rick and his group are living the vagabond life until they decide to take on the prison. Andrea was separated from the group in the chaos at Hershel's farm at the end of the second season and her detachment from the group allows for the introduction of Michonne and later the Governor and the people of Woodbury. Mid-season Maggie and Glenn are kidnapped by Merle, inciting Rick and others to venture out to save them.
At any given point enough of the group are together as to form a sort of core, a home base. That remains pivotal in motivating the characters, their loyalty and concern for each other. It's the group's desire to give each other something stable in a chaotic world that draws fans in compelling them to continue caring season after season.
FTWD is about to return Sunday with most of its characters scattered. They already had a smaller group overall, but now Madison, Strand, Ofelia, and Alicia are in a pickup headed who knows where, Salazar may be dead while Nick has decided to do his own thing, and Travis is off shepherding his sociopathic son, Chris. There's too much scattering. Other than Madison's squad, the rest of the characters have chosen to go elsewhere, which makes for less motivation on anyone's part to go looking for them.
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If FTWD doesn't get more strategic with how it splits up its ensemble, it's going to start to feel like four different shows contained in one. Incoherence is not something the show needs right now to keep viewers interested.
3. A Master Villain
By far the best thing Season 3 of The Walking Dead did to boost its intrigue factor was finally bring in a big bad baddie in the form of The Governor. Giving our characters a foe to unite against gave the show some much-needed purpose beyond simple survival, an element that could only take them so far. Granted, TWD has the distinct advantage of being based on established comic books. So introducing The Governor was an easy decision based on plot lines available to them, but couldn't have been timed better.
FTWD, as of yet, has no such baddie. Celia was a potential major villain, considering her influence at the compound and her crazy ideology concerning walkers, but her presence on the show was brief, ending in the mid-season finale. It would be especially hard to unite the current characters of the show against a singular foe when they're all so scattered at the moment. So here's hoping the separation is brief and we see them all together again with a joined sense of purpose.
Right now, the threat levels of FTWD just don't seem to compare to TWD. The walkers are as foreboding as ever — with the added fun of being a bit fresher — but they aren't all that terrifying as far as sustained fear. More of a go-to jump-scare. FTWD needs to latch on to the more sustainable threat of its predecessor, which is to say the sincere amount of craziness the zombie apocalypse brings out in people. Celia gave us a glimpse, but a focused and strategic foe would go a long way in luring in viewers for Fear The Walking Dead.
After six seasons, The Walking Dead has found its footing and remained the top viewed show on television in its time slot. There are plenty more lessons where these came from for Fear The Walking Dead to employ, but the parallels in each show's second season really stress the significance of lessons learned in The Walking Dead's third season.
Even if FTWD is a filler show for viewers waiting for TWD to return, with so obvious an example of what the walker world done right looks like, it seems plenty reasonable to make a few demands of FTWD's showrunners. We'll find out Sunday if they've come to the same conclusions we have, or if Season 3 is where they (pun intended) bite the proverbial dust.
Will you be tuning in for the return of Fear The Walking Dead or have you lost interest?