CBS adds another freaky show to its summer lineup with ZOO. Like the network’s Under the Dome, ZOO is based on a novel by a best-selling author that has been expanded into a series that can run for multiple seasons. Taking place on a global scale, this program finds a small group of people investigating animal attacks as they become more and more frequent around the world, other creatures deciding it’s time to take man out of the food chain.
Our hero is Jackson Oz (James Wolk, Mad Men, The Crazy Ones), a scientist who seeks to protect animals. One might think that gives him a pass when the four-legged kind turn, but it does not. Jackson has a best friend, Abraham (Nonzo Anozie, Game of Thrones, Dracula), who is from the area of Africa they are currently in, and soon Jackson meets up with Chloe (Nora Arnezeder, Mozart in the Jungle), the French damsel in distress.
Obviously, being in Africa, the big-animal-to-human-ratio is a bit skewed, so it seems a good continent to start in. Lions feature prominently, and the setting is well-used to create tension. A sequence in high grass is particularly intense. I do look forward to seeing non-felines enter the fray, though, as in both major settings, cats rule the first hour.
The other principal ZOO cast members are in the United States (where else?). Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly, House of Cards, The Whispers) is a journalist, hot on the trail of a crooked company that may or may not be connected to what’s happening. She comes across Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke, Revolution, Twilight), who studies diseases in animals, so seems a good source to use. Whether or not they will come into Jackson’s orbit remains to be seen, but it’s a pretty safe assumption that they will.
There’s obviously a level of creepiness to the premise. It is sort of science fiction, but it takes place in the modern world of today, not in some far-off future. While the events do not seem very plausible, there’s always the chance that it could happen, all of the elements making up the scariness already existing in the world, and by the end of the first hour, you’ll never look at house cats the same way again.
But it lacks any real urgency or high stakes. The ensemble, while made up of some very good actors, is lame, the characters not deep or interesting or memorable enough to really make an audience invest much emotion in the story. Instead, as in Under the Dome, talented people are wasted on a plot that just doesn’t seem to translate well on screen, at least in this case. An attempt to show Jamie putting everything on the line for her integrity or Jackson’s daddy problems do not serve to deepen as they should, coming across as trite and been-done-to-death.
Much of the pilot of ZOO feels like a novel brought to life a bit too faithfully. While not everything in the show is in the book, which only contains two of the five main players, the way events unfold, talked about more than shown, more plot-driven than character-driven, it’s hard to care when the added element of peeking inside the characters’ heads is taken away. This structure may work in the written world, but not as well in the TV version, which lacks inner dialogue.
Honestly, the closest thing I can compare ZOO to is The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The lackluster sequel to a terrific motion picture concentrates more on action than it should, and while the effects are decent, the plot holes and characters doing stupid things makes it less than realistic. ZOO suffers from the same sort of issues, and with a fresh Jurassic Park in theaters already getting good reviews, this may not be the time for an inferior product, even among those who crave this kind of adventure, to attract a following.
ZOO premieres Tuesday, June 30th at 9 p.m. ET.