I genuinely like Fear the Walking Dead in its current incarnation. In fact, with the exception of the weak and preposterous Filthy Lady arc in the back half of season four, Fear has been a solid zombie series since season three and the ranch arc. That said, Fear not only got off to a very rocky start, but it blew up its original premise within six episodes. The series was designed to be a prequel to The Walking Dead set in Los Angeles during the period in which Rick was in a coma and most of the world’s population was being decimated by the zombie virus. There was a kernel of a good idea in that premise, but there was too much The Walking Dead DNA in the series: It needed to advance beyond the initial outbreak so it could settle into the kind of character drama/soap opera with zombies that The Walking Dead is.
Black Summer, which premiered on Netflix last week, is the show that Fear the Walking Dead originally should have been. Interestingly, it’s actually built on the same premise and also works as a kind of spin-off prequel to the SyFy network’s Z Nation (no knowledge of Z Nation is required to view Black Summer). While Z Nation begins three years into the zombie apocalypse, Black Summer — set in the same universe (but with completely different characters) and produced by the same production company, Asylum — returns to the summer six weeks into the apocalypse when 95 percent of the population was decimated by zombies.
If you’re a fan of the zombie subgenre, Black Summer should be right in your wheelhouse. It’s a bleak, fast-paced action drama heavy on the action and light on the personal drama. It’s not about building relationships or creating a better future. It’s about survival, and not about survival until next year, or even next month. It’s about surviving the day, or even the hour. It follows about ten characters (none of whom viewers should get attached to) who are trying to travel about ten miles through zombie infested streets to get to a stadium, where they believe there is safety. The ostensible lead is Rose, played by a nearly unrecognizable Jaime King (Hart of Dixie, Sin City) who misses the military caravan that takes her daughter to the stadium because her husband is infected.
The action is fast and furious, beginning seconds into the first episode,. The zombies are not the dumb, slow-moving variety from The Walking Dead, who would follow a cat off a bridge. These zombies are fast-moving, feral monsters, basically heat-seeking missiles with teeth. Much of the first season of Black Summer is pure chaos (filmed with handheld cameras), as characters spend most of their time running or hiding from zombies, who are too wild and quick to be put down with a knife to the skull or an easy shot to the head.
It’s an intense, and at times, terrifying series, and because of the danger these fast-moving, rabid zombies pose — and because of how quickly humans turn into zombies — if one person is killed in a crowd of people, that entire crowd can be reduced to a horde of deadly zombies within minutes. It’s thrilling, and heart-pounding, but unlike Fear (and to the credit of the AMC series), it’s not exactly built for the long haul. There aren’t character storylines that can be continued into second, third, or fourth seasons (in part, because almost everyone dies). However, should Netflix decide to renew the Black Summer, it would work well as an anthology series, following a different set of characters each season as they fend off zombie attackers during the initial outbreak.
As it stands, however, the quick-paced eight episode season is probably the most pure zombie fun since Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Black Summer is currently steaming on Netflix.