Now here we go. The early reviews of “FEAR ITSELF” all indicated that the show failed to kick off until episode three. The early reviews were right. FAMILY MAN, written by “CARNIVALE” creator and scribe Daniel Knauf, has an excellent script tailored specifically for the rise and fall pacing of network television. Ronny Yu, of all people, has a steady, refrained vision for how to ground the unbelievable premise to terra firma.
Colin Ferguson plays Dennis Mahoney, a church going family man who leaves his body following a car crash and wakes up in the bullet ridden, handcuffed body of Brautigan (Clifton Collins Jr.), a serial killer with jollies for picking off whole families. Yes, it is a FREAKY FRIDAY, VICE-VERSA scenario, but with a serial killer, but Knauf is a smart man with a tapped pulse on building tension. Brautigan, the switched man we’re pulling for, is stuck in jail, beaten on a regular basis by his guards, treated like scum by his public defender and to top it all off, visited regularly by the newly emancipated killer currently occupying his life.
The script is one of the most kinetic that either “FEAR ITSELF” or “MASTERS OF HORROR” have been privy to, but what really sells it are the performances of Collins Jr. and Ferguson. The latter is most easily recognizeable for his fish out of water comedy role as the lead on Sci-Fi’s minor hit “EUREKA”, so to see him play dark is a real treat. There are a few moments where he connects that are pure actor/role kismet; particularily a speech he gives his new wife that could only come from the obsessed mind of a child killer. And then there is Clifton Collins Jr., a character actor best known for the regretful malice of the death sentenced Perry Smith in CAPOTE. He seems to feed off of other actors. I’d say that his scenes with Colin Ferguson are just as fascinating as those with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the aforementioned Oscar bait.
FAMILY MAN is the first episode of the series to successfully maintain any semblance of horror (not to mention the fun to be found in Anthology Television). There is a persistant push and pull, a relatable sense of consequence brought all the way to the episode’s satisfying conclussion. Finally “FEAR ITSELF” justifies, well, itself as an entertaining hour of TV horror worthy of repeat viewings. The material this go around is a working marriage of content and format. We can only hope that any following episodes take note.