Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 10, 2021)
More than a decade after its debut, The Walking Dead continues to stint as a popular horror franchise. It spawned an initial spin-off via 2015’s Fear the Walking Dead, another series that continues to run.
With 2020’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond, we find an additional expansion. Whereas the other two series take place during the initial years of the “zombie apocalypse”, Beyond goes a decade into the future to examine a generation who came of age during this era.
Season One of Beyond consists of 10 episodes spread across three Blu-ray Discs. The plot synopses come from the series’ official website.
Brave: “Iris Bennett (Aliyah Royale) welcomes an enigmatic ally to their community while Hope Bennett (Alexa Mansour) questions the visitor's motives. A message upends the sisters' worldview, forcing them to decide between the safety of their home and the uncertainty of the world beyond.”
Fear began as a prequel to Walking Dead, albeit one that focused on different characters. With Season Four, though, it caught up to the original and ran with a concurrent chronology.
Given its emphasis on the situations years down the road, Beyond gives us an unusual and potentially intriguing perspective. How would the surviving facets of humanity cope with the ongoing aftermath of such a monumental event?
Hopefully subsequent episodes will better exploit the concepts, but “Brave” feels like Young Adult Walking Dead, with a focus on its cliché teen characters. It gets out the appropriate exposition but doesn’t ignite on its own.
The Blaze of Gory: “The group adjusts to the reality of life beyond their community’s walls. Iris attempts to take charge, in spite of Hope's reservations. Felix (Nico Tortorella) and Huck (Annet Mahendru) trail the teens while Felix is forced to confront unwanted memories.”
If I hoped “Gory” would expand past the teen angst melodrama of the pilot, I found only disappointment. The show lacks much real narrative thrust and just seems like the “Empties” themselves: wandering aimlessly without purpose.
The Tyger and the Lamb: “Burdened by their pasts, members of the group adopt opposing strategies for dealing with a massive obstacle. Pressure is put on the group to return home.”
The first two episodes offered dollops of character backstory, and here we learn more about Silas (Hal Cumpston), one of the teen boys who goes with the sisters. In theory, this adds depth to the proceedings, but we get such minor nuggets that the exposition doesn’t go much of anywhere. This leads to another fairly mediocre episode.
The Wrong End of a Telescope: “The group seeks shelter from a storm inside an abandoned high school. While resupplying, they imagine what high school life was once like and encounter new threats both living and dead.”
Perhaps Beyond should be titled Mopey Teens and Zombies, as that tends to be the show’s overriding impression. If the lead adolescents proved more interesting, this might not be so bad, but the narrative leans toward dull characters and lackluster action – so far, at least. Maybe the show picks up eventually, but 40 percent of the way through Season One, it remains a dud.
Madman Across the Water: “While the group works together to cross the Mississippi River, a plot to steer the teens back home hits a snag. A member of the group must overcome past trauma to save the others from an approaching threat.”
Time for more flashbacks, so here we learn about nerdy Elton Ortiz (Nicolas Cantu). I get why the series feels the need to give us background about the characters, but it dollops out this info in a fairly trite manner.
The rest of “Water” doesn’t compensate for these moments. I continue to hope the series will eventually kick into gear, but halfway through S1, it remains pretty blah.
Shadow Puppets: “When an unexpected newcomer reveals information that could help them reach their destination, the group cuts a deal. While some are intrigued by the new arrival, others are suspicious.”
As we enter the second half of S1, that “unexpected newcomer” adds a bit of intrigue to the show – but only a bit, as most of “Puppets” feels stuck in the usual monotony. Well, maybe the “newcomer” will bear fruit in the future – at least he adds a little edge to the dull main roster of characters.
Truth or Dare: “While the group searches for something to advance their quest, one of them recalls their struggles in the early days of the apocalypse. A game of truth or dare brings emotions to the surface.”
Seven shows into S1 and we’re still working through flashbacks to the characters’ younger days? Oy!
At least “Dare” benefits from one full episode of Scott Adsit as Tony, the uncle of Percy (Ted Sutherland), the moody bad boy introduced last time. Best known for his time on 30 Rock, Adsit brings a bit of spark to the proceedings.
But just a bit, mainly because so much of “Dare” still feels like teen melodrama. It drags.
The Sky Is A Graveyard: “A horrific discovery finds the group at crossroads and prompts one of them to revisit past trauma.”
More flashbacks? Yay?
No, not yay. I guess one could argue that “Sky” offers crucial character information that adds substance to the series, but I won’t make that claim.
Instead, I view “Sky” as another sluggish episode that does little more than make the season plod. “Sky” feels like filler that exists mainly to take up time as we work toward the finale.
The Deepest Cut: “A series of setbacks causes a member of the group to reevaluate their role in the mission. Someone makes a surprising discovery. A startling revelation casts everything in a new light.”
With so little time left in S1, I expected “Cut” to amplify the tension. Instead, I got more flashbacks (!) and plodding melodrama. “Cut” acts as a dull push toward the finale.
In This Life: “A divided group struggles to reunite. Others set their sights on the greater good.”
Should one expect explosive events from “Life”? Yeah, sort of – it offers some revelations and whatnot.
Do I care about any of this after nine largely dull episodes? Nope. “Life” feels like a trite, bromide-filled episode that does nothing to relieve the monotony and melodrama of the rest of the season.