With The Walking Dead being the most popular show on television, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for another network to try to bank on the success. This week, SyFy becomes the second channel to tackle zombies in their new hour-long series Z NATION. The world has been overrun with the undead and a small group of survivors come together to try to find and distribute a cure.
As a TV reviewer, I watch a TON of television. It’s always been hard to pick one favorite show with all of the great content currently running, but for the past year or two, I’ve been able to say that The Walking Dead is first in my book. The reason I, and I believe so many other people, like it is not for the zombies themselves; I myself cannot stand zombie films unless they are comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. No, it’s the complexity of the characters and the deep questions of ethics and morality that make the show so enticing.
Unfortunately, Z NATION doesn’t even attempt to maintain that aspect of The Walking Dead, to the point of having one character say out loud that he hates moral dilemmas in the pilot episode. Instead, the new drama follows the path of most zombie movies. There’s really bad destruction and fast-moving, murderous monsters everywhere. Strangers form in a tribe purely by coincidence, and their purpose is large-scale, possibly world-saving. This makes it even more unrealistic than just have zombies in the program does, and far less enjoyable.
Z NATION is entertaining, I will give it that. Many a scene will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, biting their nails. Lots happens in a short span of time, and a number of individuals die, including one I really did not expect yet, based on the press for the show and the story structure. It’s definitely going to be a gory series with shock-factor scenes, including one involving an infant, and one primarily concerned with pumping the adrenaline of both the characters and the audience.
Z NATION just doesn’t have depth. The plot is extremely simple to understand and so are the characters. Motivations are stated out-right, and there really isn’t anything that sets it apart from films in the genre. Being on a television budget, it can’t reach the special effects levels of a theatrical release, so it’ll always be destined to be inferior, making one think twice before sitting down to watch it.
There is also a lot of cheese. One of the main players, Citizen Z (DJ Qualls, Legit), is in a government base somewhere with access to radio and computer equipment. For much of the pilot, he’s concerned with making contact with Lieutenant Mark Hammond (Harold Perrineau, Lost), who is charged with the important task of protecting the one man who seems immune to zombie bites, Murphy (Keith Allan, Rise of the Zombies). This makes sense, giving Citizen Z an important purpose. But suddenly, at the end of the hour, he slips on some sunglasses and goes into radio disc jockey-mode. Isn’t that taking things a little too lightly? And doesn’t he have any co-workers left to put a stop to the nonsense?
Other than these three, the rest of the players seem like zombie chow. Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott, Southland) is a typical leading man, so maybe he’ll stick around for a bit. But there is little to distinguish the other supporting players, and given the structure of Z NATION, it seems likely a number of them will be killed off in the coming weeks. One or two may become fan favorites, but most will probably wind up dead.
Thus, Z NATION is not a great show. In a crowded television landscape, and with a much better product on AMC, I don’t know why this series would gain a big following, but I guess we’ll see when Z NATION premieres this Friday at 10 p.m. ET on SyFy.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.