No one will ever mistake Fear the Walking Dead for a network sitcom, but the zombie drama will continue to mold its tonal approach in a more light-hearted direction for Season 5 this summer. The series was arguably lacking enough chuckle-worthy moments in its first seasons, but Season 4's revised mix of characters unexpectedly allowed for more levity with wry humor, sometimes of the gallows variety.
When CinemaBlend and a few other outlets visited the set of Fear the Walking Dead during Season 5's production, some of the actors talked excitedly about how the upcoming episodes will keep shifting the tone in new ways. Note: more laughter doesn't mean zero horror and mayhem, but it does mean there's a more noticeable balance.
Here's what each Fear the Walking Dead star told us.
Jenna Elfman (June)
A veteran of comedy series such as Dharma and Greg and 1600 Penn, Jenna Elfman is just one of several current Fear the Walking Dead stars to be more widely known for making people laugh. Though her character was hyper-intense through most of Season 4 as she guarded her true identity from others, June will be more relaxed and hopeful in Season 5 with John Dorie by her side.
Here, Jenna Elfman talks about how Season 5 will expand on lightening the tone at times.
There's gonna be more of that. It really has a new tone. It's great. Have you ever seen people in crisis? They start cracking jokes. One time, years ago, I was at the emergency room. I had some random...I don't even know what it was. No one even knows what it was. But I was in intensive care for like 24 hours. It was this random thing, and I was cracking jokes. And I later thought about it, because as an actor, I'm always wanting to understand human behavior. I was like, 'Why was I cracking so many jokes?' I was really putting myself back in that headspace, and for me, it was a self-monitoring diagnostic tool. So it was like, 'Am I good, or am I not good?' Because if I lose my humor, then something's very, very wrong with me, like I'm really ill. And if I can still find my humor, I'm okay. I think having it in this show, and people who have that ability is great. Garrett [Dillahunt and I], you know, we've done comedy. I think bringing some of that levity is healthy, and it also helps tell the story of the pathos more, too. You have to have something to compare it to.
If you spend all day running around, killing zombies and trying to save other people, one's emotions are going to be heightened. So if weirdly timed jokes aren't bubbling over from the pressure, then people might start to crack. This environment is not one in which unstable minds are the most optimal.
I personally prescribe to the notion of laughter being a highly successful medicine in times of crisis. And Jenna Elfman clearly has the same approach. She continued:
Find those moments where you catch your breath for a moment and find the absurdity. Life's crazy even without the apocalypse. People are crazy, and life is crazy. So then the apocalypse is just like...'What?!?' So it's finding those moments where you [take a deep breath], and then you're in it again. I feel like if it's just all [tension], it's like arthritis. [Laughs} Just bone on bone with no gel in between. I think it's more pleasurable to watch, and I think you can connect as a human being when you watch something that's got all the dynamics of humanity.
Elfman went on to say that it would be something of a lie against humanity to portray these kinds of situations on TV without showing the more humane moments of levity. So long as Season 5 doesn't start killing off main characters right away, fans might find more reasons to smile, too.
Lennie James (Morgan)
In contrast to the endless warmth in actor Lennie Jones' smile, Morgan Jones has at times been one of the most solemn survivors of the post-apocalypse, flipping between manic and passive phases. Morgan's been on a calm streak for Fear the Walking Dead, thankfully, and Jones echoed Jenna Elfman's thoughts about how the show's humor and other tonal shifts are reflective of real life.
In all seriousness, I think it's a mark of the way the boys, Andrew and Ian, have challenged themselves. Because it is part of life. It is the thing you do, regardless of how bad it is. You know what I mean? If someone comes up and you stub your toe, your first instinct when they go, 'Are you all right?' is to go, 'No, it's fine, it's absolutely fine,' even though it might be killing you. We're always looking for a different perspective on the world that we're in, and I think the thing we've really tried to work on is that it's not gags for gags' sake, and that it has to come out of the real tension of this world.
To be sure, Lennie James did start off deadpanning that co-stars Mo Collins and Daryl "Chill" Mitchell don't make him laugh, and that working with them is a nightmare. That's obviously not the reality of the situation, evidenced best by James' hearty laughs.
Reflecting on Season 4, Lennie James talks about former co-star Aaron Stanford's stint standing out as a way the show excelled at altering the tone with a new situation.
I thought that, in the last season with Aaron playing Jim, I thought he particularly hit the tone really well of creating humor out of fear and tension, and out of the fact that he was constantly petrified. I also thought that his character was a real credit to the boys as writers, because to create a newbie in this world – to create someone who's not been outside the walls – that's a hell of a thing to do, and they did it really well.
Lots of other new situations are coming to Season 5, with the first episode featuring a plane crash. (Yes, Fear star and Lost vet Maggie Grace is well aware that her characters are not always lucky with flying.) So Morgan & Co. will need to keep their spirits up in order to learn more about the people they're trying to help, because there will be complications.
Colman Domingo (Strand)
Fear the Walking Dead's Victor Strand has long been a favorite among fans for his humorously caustic attitude, and star Colman Domingo says that isn't going away in Season 5. However, the show's tonal changes will indeed have an effect on Strand. Here's how Domingo explained the increase in mirth.
I think that it's because we're focused on 'What are we living for?' You know? You gotta have some humor and some humanity, and some lightheartedness. Strand has always had a dark sense of humor, and I think it's even brightening his humor as well. He's acerbic as usual, as he will be, but I think he's finding a bit more light. Because I think we were in the darkness the previous season, with so much loss, so it naturally follows that we have to have some humor.
Maybe we shouldn't expect Strand to develop any vaudeville routines in Fear the Walking Dead Season 5, but viewers might see him shedding some of the layers he'd built up over the years as a form of protection. He might just become the most vulnerable version of Strand we've seen yet.
Colman Domingo got back behind the camera for a Season 5 episode that he said was meant to embrace the full spectrum of human moments.
There's an episode that I directed as well, and I really tried to show all these human moments. Of love, of laughter, of sisterhood, brotherhood. Those things that, it may not even be on the page, but you want to pull out, because that's what we're living for. You want to remind people that we're not just surviving. That's not the point, not just to survive. What are you surviving for?
Fans will have to wait and see what Colman Domingo has in store with the episode he helmed, but we can expect it to come a little deeper into Season 5. Before then, viewers will get to meet a few new characters, including one played by Legacies vet Karen David.