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September 23, 2014

Fear Itself -- An early look

by Jason Hughes, posted Jun 4th 2008 5:23PM
Fear ItselfFrom The Twilight Zone to Amazing Stories, anthologies have always tried to find a home on television. But where once they were embraced and even lauded, now they struggle to find viewers and usually only eke out a season or so. Last summer brought us Masters of Science Fiction, which itself was a variation on the pay cable Masters of Horror, which proved the more successful of the pair. Horror has always had a special place in our hearts.

And so it is not tremendously surprising that NBC is back in the game, this time with Fear Itself, an hour-long horror anthology. The series premieres Thursday, June 5 at 10pm ET, and I'm going to tell you now to try not to judge it by the first episode. I got a chance to preview the first three episodes, and for me it got better with each installment. Maybe it's a bias against the fairly typical "monster of the week" storytelling that has weakened episodes of such otherwise good shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville and Supernatural.

I've always enjoyed those horror and sci-fi stories that reached a little beyond the shock factor or the hack and slash mentality. "Sacrifice," which introduces the show to the audience, falls into the latter category in a way that concerns me for the show's retention rate. Either the second episode, "Spooked" or the excellent third, "Family Man," would have been a much better way to introduce the potential of the series. Both of those latter two stories featured some twists on the genre and a much more cerebral experience. The horror was as much internal as it was external for our protagonists. Point blank: the stories were just better.

So why start with a fairly surface level "monster of the week" episode? Well, if I recall correctly Masters of Horror on Showtime did something similar with the deer-woman-monster-weirdness of their pilot installment. The only thing that correlates between the two is the promise of sex in the episode and the hotness factor of the female leads. I'd like to think that television executives aren't so shallow as to think that we need to see Mircea Monroe's voluptuous cleavage in order to want to keep watching the series, but this is television and America we're talking about. Ass and boobs are what it's all about, right? Throw in some guts, gore and at least one ugly vampire and we're all happy.

The second episode features Eric Roberts and Lost's Cynthia Watros in a unique angle on a haunted house story. It was nice seeing Watros back at it on the small screen, as I thought both she and Hurley's character got the big shaft when they booted her off the island via a quick murder (I don't care what they say it was because of her troubles with the local law). This one read and felt more like a typical horror short story. The effects of the hauntings were very well done and they did an excellent job of establishing the proper mood and tone throughout. Roberts grew into his character by the end.

But as much as I thought "Spooked" was an improvement over "Sacrifice," I was blown away by just how damned good "Family Man" was. It was a treat seeing Eureka's Colin Ferguson really put through the emotional wringer in this one. As it was written by Daniel Knauf, who created one of the most under-appreciated shows in the history of television, Carnivale (I still want to know how it ends, dammit!), I had a lot of high-hopes that it would be filled with his trademark mysteries, twists and turns and he really delivered. I don't even want to say too much about it except to tell you that even in the rough cut that I received, this was far and away one of the strongest installments of any of the recent anthology series; a wonderful idea wonderfully executed.

Anthology series are a tough sell during a typical summer season, but if NBC is willing to truly think about a summer slate of non-reality original programming, I could see Fear Itself as an excellent addition to that family. They can catch all the television actors during hiatuses to film various installments, thus giving fans of those shows an opportunity to see their favorite TV stars during the summer, and it can help those stars, like the aforementioned Hurley (Jorge Garcia) try to avoid becoming hopelessly typecast as their beloved recurring characters; Ferguson certainly stepped well out of his role as Sheriff Carter.

I'd like to think this has a real chance of making it the whole run, but summer audiences can be so fickle and still seem resistant to original scripted programming. Maybe post-strike America is a different viewing beast. Maybe going so long without scripted programming during the regular season has made us more anxious to consider trying something new. And with anthology series you don't have to worry about the plug being pulled before you get any resolution on any storylines, unless your cat is playing behind the entertainment center and accidentally pulls the plug. What the hell are you doing back there, anyway?

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lovelain

i'm not really interested in any of the other episodes, but i can't wait for Family Man! on the carnivalehbo yahoo group, mr. knauf gave us a heads up for his episode, which he said he thought fans of carnivale would especially enjoy. i found out a few days ago that colin ferguson is starring in it, which makes it doubley-cool since eureka is also one of my favorite shows. this is gonna be awesome!

June 10 2008 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joanna

I forgot all about this. Since my shows are off, I stopped watching network tv. I just watched the first episode online. I thought it was great! It had some good jumps and a fair amount of gore for network tv. I will definitely catch it next week.

June 07 2008 at 1:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pamela priebe

Yes I plan to watch the show! In fact it comes on in
about an hour!!

June 05 2008 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cynthia

I'm a huge fan of shows such as Supernatural and I want to watch this, but frankly I'm a little concerned. How gory are these episodes? I like a good ghost story but I'm not interested in watching Texas Chainsaw done for TV.

June 05 2008 at 4:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cynthia's comment
Jason Hughes

It's much closer to Supernatural than Texas Chainsaw in the gore factor; I don't think we're ready for broadcast networks to go that far! But there is blood and visible wounds and the like. I didn't find it too gory, but I guess you'll have to check your threshold.

June 05 2008 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alicia

I am not a huge fan of the horror genre.... but I can't wait for this. I will definatly wait it out though past this first episode, if it blows.

June 05 2008 at 9:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gudlyf

I caught these early as well. I thought 'Spooked' was the weakest of the three, 'Family Man' the best. However, none of them blew me a way. As I said to Jason before, I'm a sucker for any of these anthologies, so even a bad one is a good one.

'Family Man' was weird in that I didn't understand how he miraculously survived seemingly without a scratch. (No spoilers there, really.)

June 04 2008 at 4:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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