Thursday, September 17, 2015
Z Nation Season 1
Z Nation is a zombie show in an apocalypse situation. Although there are inevitable similarities to The Walking Dead, it treads very different territory with a completely different attitude. It starts in an outbreak situation with inmates being experimented on to create a vaccine for the Z1N1 virus. One actually works, but the recipient gets mauled by zombies right afterwards. Fast forward three years and society has collapsed. A hodgepodge group of survivors commits to transport the immune man, Murphy, to a CDC facility in California. The other part of the group is Citizen Z, a sole survivor in Arctic's Northern Lights NSA listening post. He uses his high-tech equipment to tap into cameras everywhere to help the group. They start in New York and slowly but surely making their way to California and encounter friends, depraved groups, and lots of zombies along the way.
The show is made by The Asylum production company, responsible for films like Sharknado, so the tone is sometimes cheesy and silly plus the effects at times are not good quality. The humor is nice because people aren't all serious all the time. The tone also sets it apart from other movies and shows that have similar situations. Some scenes are so ridiculous I can't help but laugh. A few of such scenes include a zunami (zombie tsunami), a zombie bear I could have photoshopped better, a horrible looking zombie baby, Viagra zombies, and a tornado that everyone improbably survives. Also, so many of the villains are over the top caricatures who should be tying a girl to some railroad tracks. I don't always like these parts, but it is nice to have a less than serious show in an apocalypse situation. I simply roll my eyes at the bad parts and keep enjoying the good parts. Another part of the cheesiness is the over the top gore of zombie killing, which meshes well with the horror-comedy vibe.
Z Nation has a lot going for it: an interesting premise and especially the intriguing, well developed characters. I didn't expect to even like any of the characters because movies like Sharknado are all about being really cheesy and fun with not much substance underneath it. These characters are all different and interesting in their own right. My favorite is Murphy, the zombie immune curmudgeon. His mental and physical state changes throughout the course of the season. He starts out as an asshole and that part doesn't really change. However, as the season goes on, he becomes more zombie like and does things that range from morally questionable to downright evil. About mid-season, zombies don't register him as human and near the end of the season, he discovers his zombie immune state comes with some interesting powers. I love that such a gray character who does some awful things might actually save the world. The season is one of self discovery for him and he has to decide what to do with his new found power. Roberta Warren was surprising. Her relationship with Tom first reminded me of Mal and Zoe from Firefly, but it organically evolved into a romantic relationship. After he died, she hurt and made some bad decisions, but she successfully took his place as badass, no-nonsense leader. Addy is my last favorite character, accomplished zombie slayer and tortured by suppressed memories of the first zombie day. She gets a different character arc from the others and works through her debilitating trauma.
The episodes get better as they go along. The first few episodes have absolutely painful dialog, but the writers get to know the characters and actors better as it goes along. Some of the episodes are typical zombie apocalypse fare (cannibals, weirdos, running out of supplies, etc.). Others are much different if a bit over the top. The group encounters radioactive zombies, nuclear bombs, zombie worshippers, a society of misandrist women, a Russian astronaut, and of course Murphy. Episode 8 is where I really needed to see the next episode. In the previous episodes, characters were a little uneven or the cheesiness was too great. In one particular episode, Doc somehow avoids being crushed by a giant flaming zombie and in the few minutes the group actually think he's dead, no one even seems to care. Moments like that made it hard to watch, but I'm glad I kept with it. I do like that unlike the Walking Dead, sometimes people just die with no buildup. It's just a split second decision or mistake that takes someone's life. The Walking Dead builds up the character more to make it hurt the audience more, but if the characters are competently written and not forgotten in the background for most of the seasons, this shouldn't be an issue.
Z Nation is a bit of a mess, but it's fun, different from the zombie shows out there, and has some of the most interesting characters. The second season has just started and it's literally explosive beginning had me on the edge of my seat. I hope the show continues to get better and better and amasses a faithful audience. I was first interested in it because Rhiannon Frater, author of the As the World Dies series, wrote about it every week and now is involved with a podcast that comments on each episode. Z Nation season 1 is available on Netflix and season 2 airs on Friday nights on SyFy channel.
My rating: 7/10