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Fear Itself: Family Man, The (2008)

Fear Itself: The Family Man reviewReviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Collin Ferguson, Clifton Collins, Jr., Josie Davis

Directed by Ronny Yu


Is three episodes enough to deem a series failed? Maybe for regular shows, but anthologies are just too hit or miss. But man, “Family Man” was one of the thinnest premises I think I’ve ever seen stretched out to fill in an hour run time and if they don’t get better soon, we may have to write this one off.

Yu’s entry into the series tells of a dedicated husband and father named Dennis (Ferguson) who, on the way into the office one Sunday afternoon, gets into a car accident. He dies, and his spirit soon meets up with another dead guy, Brautigan (Collins), who explains their situation, even showing him their dead bodies on the operating tables. Well, that sucks for sure, but it gets worse when Dennis comes back to life and realizes he’s in Brautigan’s body; and Brautigan is a wanted serial killer known as The Family Man.

If this were a “Tales From the Crypt” episode, that’s where the episode would end. A nice ironic twist, cut to the Cryptkeeper’s trademark punning. But, because it’s a new age of anthology, that’s just the beginning. The rest of the episode consists of Dennis-as-Brautigan sitting in jail, being harassed by his captors, and Brautigan-as-Dennis attempting to live a “normal” life with the beautiful wife and kids.

And it just goes on and on. Nothing really happens for a good chunk of the run time, so yet again we have what could’ve been an interesting premise stretched to its limits. I will admit that when shit finally does start happening, it does so pretty quickly, and the ending of the episode does have that trademark “Tales From the Crypt”/EC Comics irony, but it’s just not worth the time it takes to get there. Plus you can see it coming from a mile away.

There’s a weird moment at the beginning, when Dennis-as-Brautigan is brought back to his jail cell after meeting his attorney, where they implied that Brautigan might be impervious to pain, a nightstick to the head having no noticeable effect on him. I was really hoping they’d go somewhere with that, especially since the cop who hit him had made it a point to mention that Brautigan had been stabbed and shot and kept coming back only moments before. Sadly, though, it was just a weird moment and nothing more, and other than a spiritual body swap, the episode’s all based in reality.

The only real positive of the whole episode is Ferguson, who turns in a very natural performance as Dennis/Brautigan. He’s got a wit about him, a way of speaking that makes him very believable, both when he’s being “normal” and when his darker side comes through.

Conversely, Clifton Collins, Jr. is just terrible as Brautigan/Dennis. Terrible. He has the same surprised look on his face for the show’s entire run time, it seems, and can’t seem to say anything more than “I’m innocent!” Even when Dennis/Brautigan is taunting him, he can’t do much other than look more and more surprised, his eyes widening to the point you’re sure they’ll pop out of his head.

With a paper thin plot, twists that a child could see coming, and one terrible actor in a sea of good ones, “Family Man” is the second disappointment in a row for Fear Itself. Some would say third, but I still hold that “The Sacrifice” has been the best one so far; at least it was entertaining and had a cool monster. Next week John Landis gets a shot with “In Sickness and Health”, so my fingers are most assuredly crossed that the worst is past us.

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1 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Fear Itself in the Dread Central forums!

Johnny Butane

  • xfoley8

    Gotta side with those who liked this episode best of the first 3. Collins was not nearly a bad as he was made out to be. If I were to fault his performance at all, it would be that he seemed too cold in the fight scene at the end and took to the violence too easily- yes, he was defending his family, but the horror of the situation still would have affected him more if he was a non-violent man to start with.

    Spoilers: That said, I thought the ending was good, and not that predictable at all. I was expecting that the killer would somehow do one more body swap and end up in the little girl (and I thought that would be cheesy)- I wasn’t even thinking that the poor guy would get blamed again for the killings by his own daughter (which is a completely logical ending to the story). Mean streak, indeed- his wife and son are dead and his daughter is so traumatized he’ll likely never be able to make her understand what happened. I thought that the ep built a nice sense of dread and suspense over the hour, too- I wouldn’t say nothing happened- this wasn’t a story where lots of people needed to die throughout. The killer seemed to want a normal life, but just wasn’t capable of it (reminded me a lot of The Stepfather in that way). The dinner scene was particularly effective and nerve-wracking. My wife was really upset by it.

  • Johnny Butane

    They showed a quicky trailer for “Skin & Bones”, Larry Fessenden’s episode, at Weekend of Horrors, and it looked VERY cool. So I’m hoping…

  • Sirand

    It’s “Vice Versa” with serial killers!

    Heh, in all seriousness it was a decent episode with one mean streak of an ending.

    • Morgan Elektra

      “It’s “Vice Versa” with serial killers!”

      I just got more enjoyment out of reading that line than I have out of all 3 episodes so far.

  • Hunter1006

    I thought that this episode was decent, but I still liked last week’s the best, I think.

  • Conrad Straker

    They can’t be “scab” writers if they live in Canada, can they? That was the whole strategy for the executive producers: Work around the WGA strike by hiring Canadian writers outside of the Guild.

    • Messiahman

      The Canadian Writer’s Guild supported the WGA, so the shady Canadian writers who came in to write for FEAR ITSELF were indeed scabs of the worst sort. Any writers coming in during the strike are rightfully considered scabs… and it’s extremely unlikely that these folks will ever write for anything again. No one will hire them due to their behavior during the strike. Which is fine by me, frankly. Fuck `em.

      • Conrad Straker

        Ah, excellent. Thanks for clearing that up. Didn’t know that…

  • Messiahman

    Evil Alien — Mick Garris isn’t involved whatsoever with FEAR ITSELF anymore. He walked away when NBC brought in scab writers during the strike. He’s not happy with how the show turned out at all, but none of this is his doing. His name is only on the credits due to his early involvement.

    The folks running the show are a bunch of nameless NBC suits.

  • Uncle Creepy

    The crazy thing? I liked this episode too! LOL And I hated the first two. Oh well, to each their own!

  • Evil Alien

    it had so many marks of an X-Files episode except for the superior writing. if you’re reading this MG, please, slow down, take a deep breath, stop rushing things. you have 40+ minutes which is plenty of time to tell a tale but stop trying so hard and stop trying to sell the show off for more than it is. the opening warning seems stupid when, as many have pointed out, a single episode of CSI contains more gore and grit than all episodes of FI so far. again, please slow down and do the horror fans good. thanks.

  • Morgan Elektra

    It was definitely light years better than last week. This one at least tried to have a unique look, for a second (the encounter between the two at the hospital when they’re dying). But it was still pretty lame.

    The stories behind all these episodes are so weak. If that continues, which I’m sure it will, watching these Thursday night is going to become like going to the doctor for shots.

  • The Woman In Black

    Well, I didn’t think it was that bad. Ferguson was great, and Collins was passable considering the situation his character was in. It was probably my favorite of the series so far — light years better than last week.

  • Chainsaw

    This show is suffering from what MoH suffered from. Great directors who are directing terrible scripts. Fear Itself truly shows weakness that the original suffered from, and it’s being magnified by being neutered for NBC of gore and sex.

    What’s worse is that it’s still probably being seen by more people than MoH was because it’s on free TV. I have no faith that any of the stories are going to get better, not even the In Sickness And In Health ep.

  • G.D.

    Clifton Collins is AWFUL. I’ve only seen him in a couple movies and he’s ALWAYs awful. This one is the most disappointing of the episodes left. I had no idea it was by Ronny Yu and it was not at all what I expected. Ferguson was good, most of the acting was good but Collins? Jesus.

    Good point on the Tales from the Crypt remark, because I think this could really have worked as a TftC episode, half the length and some dark humour added in and it definitely could have worked.