Film and TV

We Have Nothing to Fear But Mediocrity

Sometimes a television show comes along that just seems to name itself. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes, not so much. The new anthology series Fear Itself?

Yeah, the latter.

Fear Itself is an anthology show, which means of course that its quality will vary from episode to episode more dramatically than other shows. Based on the premiere episode, this is a tender mercy.

That first episode, which aired last week (it continues Thursdays at 9PM on NBC), was called “Sacrifice”. It’s all too appropriate a name, since it seems like a sort of unprepared maiden fed to the hungry maw of a viewing audience, especially a heretofore underserved horror-fan faction. It was Mick Garris who adapted this to TV, from a short story by Del Howison. Since Garris is also the executive producer of the series, it makes sense too that his would be the first one up, the lamb to the slaughter, as it were. But did it have to be so common a breed, so docile a specimen?

This lamb has no teeth. And given that it’s a vampire story, that saying something. The weakness of the series overall may be the confines of time; given only an hour to develop a story, it’s tougher to make us care about the characters to which these supposedly horrific things are happening. And because of that lack of concern for the characters, the horror amounts to nothing more than the theoretical. Yes, I can agree that a woman sewing a man’s lips shut is a scary idea. Yes, being fed to a monster is dreadful. Yes, vampires bad. But since I don’t care about the characters to whom these things happen, the story never rises above the anecdotal. I’m more frightened by the local news than this supposed “horror” series.

And that’s too bad, because horror is in general an undiscovered country in television—or at least a place forgotten. Sure, there was Tales from the Darkside back in the '80s, and The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits back in the '60s, but those were short bursts of sometimes pretty effective horror story in an otherwise pretty innocent and friendly TV landscape. Given the comparable graphic nature of dramas on even network TV today (thank you, CSI), you’d think that actually having a point to the gore would be a natural.

But unless Fear Itself gets much better very soon, it’s going to lose the audience that’s been yearning for just such a thing for a long time. And to a network executive, being snubbed by your core audience is perhaps the most fearsome thing of all. -- Teague Bohlen