“Fear the Walking Dead” is an example of something that’s rare in television, but very common in film: The unnecessary spin-off in order to milk a successful franchise. “The Walking Dead” is the highest-rated scripted show on television, so it’s only natural for AMC to try to bring that audience back for more of the year. However, the first episode of the show did nothing to suggest that AMC put any effort into making it. While there were some effective zombie moments, the show fails to create any create any characters or stories of interest. Essentially, “TWD” is a show that will only appeal to the most rabid of “TWD” fans.

“Fear the Walking Dead” takes place in Los Angeles, right at the start of the zombie apocalypse. The show isn’t interested in what caused the disease to enter the population — it centers around a family in Los Angeles who happens to be around as the world slowly makes a turn for the worse. It’s bizarre how little the pilot actually focuses on the apocalypse itself. Outside of an opening and closing attack, zombies are only seen in news reports and mentioned by people saying vague things along the lines of “something terrible is going to happen.” The show’s world-building has very little urgency, relying on the audience’s knowledge of and interest in the upcoming apocalypse and bleeding the show of any real dramatic tension.

But “Fear” ’s greatest fault is its lack of multidimensional characters. None of the four members of the core family pop in any meaningful way, because the show does little to develop them past the broadest of characterization. Take Madison (Kim Dickens, “Treme”), an inner-city guidance counselor and mother of two, for example. Her role in the episode is primarily to encourage her students (in a way that doesn’t break from the typical portrayal of an inner-city educator) and to criticize her drug-addicted son, Nick (Frank Dillane, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”). She’s not given any real development beyond those simple characteristics, which is a shame because Dickens is a fine actress when she’s given an actual character to work with, instead of a caricature.

However, the most egregious case of paper-thin characterization is the character the pilot spends the most time on: Nick. In every single scene, the pilot beats the viewer with the fact that he’s a deadbeat junkie, and never gives him any other defining qualities. By spending this much time on this bland of a character, the episode loses momentum.

Really the only thing the series has going for it is its opening, which features a zombie. Director Adam Davidson (“Community”) is new to the franchise with this pilot, but he has a good grasp of “Walking Dead” ’s visual style and how to create effective scares. The opening creates a palpable amount of tension from Nick’s slow walk, using the dilapidated nature of the setting (a church) in each shot to create the scene’s eerie aesthetic. It’s a good piece of horror filmmaking, and the only part of the episode worth remembering.

Despite all its problems, “Fear the Walking Dead” ’s quality will likely have no bearing on its success. The pilot premiered to 10.1 million viewers, making “Fear” highest rated premiere in basic cable history. “The Walking Dead” devotees will likely find enough zombie action to keep watching, but the weak characterization will presumably bore viewers looking for TV with a little substance to chew on.

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