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TV Picks: 'Fear the Walking Dead,' 'Show Me a Hero'

TV Picks: 'Fear the Walking Dead,' 'Show Me a Hero'
Winona Ryder and Oscar Isaac appear in a scene from "Show Me a Hero." (Paul Schiraldi / HBO)

"Fear the Walking Dead." The zombie apocalypse has officially gone franchise with this spinoff of AMC's wildly popular "The Walking Dead." Set in Los Angeles during the early days of the pandemic, it tracks an already overwhelmed family as it comes to realize something's Very, Very Wrong.

When young junkie Nick (Frank Dillane) claims to have witnessed a zombie attack, his mother, Madison (Kim Dickens), a guidance counselor, and her fiance, Travis (Cliff Curtis), an English teacher at the same high school, write it off as delusion -- they are too concerned with getting him sober and balancing a variety of work/family issues to pay much attention to the "weird flu" that has decimated their school or the crazy amount of police activity around the city. Until, you know, they're not.

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Though "Fear the Walking Dead" doesn't seem capable of dealing with the onset of the zombie apocalypse any more than "The Walking Dead" did, it does have a high curiosity factor, a built-in audience and a very strong cast. Watching Los Angeles not notice the zombies rise is a bit trying during the first episode, but Madison, Travis and what appears to be their band of survivors are interesting enough to make you wonder not just who will become Daryl, but if perhaps they might have a better system of survival than wandering the forests of the South. AMC, Sundays, 9 p.m.

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"Show Me a Hero." And now for something completely different. Let the zombies lurch, the hackers plot and the comedians take down documentaries. David Simon has created a ripped-from-the-headlines drama that does not involve blood, guts, corruption or lust. And it's even on HBO. Instead, the six-part miniseries dramatizes the desegregation of Yonkers, N.Y., in the late 1980s that was prompted by a lawsuit demanding that the city provide low-income housing or face contempt-of-court charges.

Not a brothel to be found, at least not in the early episodes. Instead, the intense and increasingly effective low-churn drama unfolds in city council sessions, judges' chambers, lawyers' offices and, of course, diners. Most of the action is confined to conversation, angry constituent scenes, and the increasing anguish and frustration of its leading man, Yonkers Mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac).

Amid the noise and haste of summer television, it is something that can be easily overlooked, or dismissed as a civics lesson, but both things would be a mistake. You have to pay attention to "Show Me a Hero," and you have to allow it to draw you into its own world. Once there, you might be surprised to find a world you already know -- real people with ambivalent feelings and conflicting ambitions, who change in increments rather than epiphanies, facing real problems that have no encoded solution. For all our debate over the function of Big Government, we often ignore the drama of any mayor's office outside of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Yonkers is not a big place, but a big thing happened there and the people who experience it are just as interesting and important as any high-stakes, high-drama epic. It just takes a minute for your eyes to adjust. HBO, Sundays, 8 p.m.

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"Mr. Robot." The most narratively and tonally ambitious show USA has ever done closes its first season, and after the last two episodes, God only knows what will happen next. Certainly, it will be difficult to look at the main character the same way again.

So many questions, so little time and even I, with my firm belief that if it has appeared on national television it cannot be "spoiled," dare not say much more. If you haven't watched the show, catch up. If you do, well, the hack that Eliot (Rami Malik) built is about to start the real digital revolution, if he doesn't have a breakdown/change of heart/overdose.

Part "V," part "Fight Club," "Mr. Robot" deals with an assortment of socio-political themes -- the division between rich and poor, the rise of the techno class, the value of revenge -- while sustaining a steady heartbeat of more personal concerns. What is a friend? How do we endure loss? What are the boundaries of love? Some of the twists have been obvious, others less so, but even the rollercoaster you see is fun to ride. USA, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.

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