Zombieland pilot spoiler-free review
Jake checks out Amazon's Zombieland sitcom pilot and finds it a confident start that keeps the original's sense of humour intact...
Last week saw the launch of the much mooted TV adaptation of horror comedy Zombieland. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have long talked about a possible TV series spun out of their whip-smart apocalyptic comedy and now it's come in the form of one of eight comedy pilots being piloted by internet shopping dominant Amazon as they move into original productions.
The 2009 film, originally pitched as a TV show funnily enough, was a whip-smart, quirky take on genre tropes noted for the chemistry between its leads Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg. So how does this proposed series compare without them? Written by both Reese and Wernick along with Eli Craig (writer of the excellent Tucker and Dale vs Evil), the offbeat humour is kept intact. It starts as it means to go on with an excellent opening scene showing the first few moments of the outbreak. Kirk Ward steps into Woody Harrelson's 'Tallahasee' role with aplomb before Tyler Ross provides the voiceover and introduces the rest of the cast, Wichita (Maiara Walsh) and Little Rock (Izabela Vidovic).
The rest of this pilot episode is about establishing the scenario and tone. Set after the events of the movie, it expands on the universe, focusing on the group's attempts to find other survivors, and the darkly comic pratfalls that befall those unlucky souls. The characters are well-defined, more so than a certain other TV series featuring the undead, even if they are perhaps a bit generic for a sitcom. But the dialogue bounces well enough between them to keep you onside. Visually, it's surprisingly close to the film, the undead hordes looking effective as well as rather silly. And it's just as playful showing you “the rules” as well as keeping count with how often Tallahasse refers to an anatomical term.
This is a confident start and whets the appetite for a further series well. The dynamic between the characters feels natural within a sitcom and the road movie-like nature lends itself well to an episodic format. But as with all sitcoms, it feels like it needs a couple of episodes more to really build on the characters and develop their quirks. So while this episode is enjoyable, it's frustratingly too early to say whether or not this could be something special. And on the evidence so far, there's much to like but not enough to love. Kirk Ward's take on Tallahassee is a highlight but that could be because he's onscreen the most. Tyler Ross is likeable as the everyman Columbus, but doesn't have much to get his teeth into, aside from a rather hairy zombie encounter. Maira Walsh as Wichita just doesn't have the same laconic dryness that Emma Stone pulled off beautifully. And as such, feels more of a prop to keep Columbus motivated.
But overall, this is a good start for Amazon. Taking a different approach to Netflix by commissioning pilots and listening to feedback, it's down to the audience on whether or not Zombieland goes to a series. There's a lot more that can be explored here, and possible future episodes could see this taking on a very interesting direction. See the difference between season one and two of Parks and Recreation as they changed what didn't work, brought out characters' quirks etc. If Zombieland is to rise from limbo, there's every chance it could come back as a quicker and leaner series. And that's the one I really want to watch!
Zombieland is available to stream for free now, on Lovefilm in the UK and on Amazon Instant video in the US.
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