If I had to pick a current television show about zombies to watch, I’d go with Syfy’s Z Nation.
That doesn’t mean I think that it’s better than The Walking Dead. I just think it’s more clearly a zombie show and less clearly a show about, you know, people, mankind, and our relationships.
This is the most backwards compliment to The Walking Dead I have ever given, and yet I stand by it. The second episode, “Fracking Zombies,” gave us a sense of how each installment is going to follow, and I’m not sure overall how successful their storytelling gambit will be. That said, it’s early days yet.
We’ve got three essential storylines. The gang of kooks trying to get Murphy and his magic blood to California, “Sunshine” and her secret past, and all the non-action happening in North Star. Seriously. It’s non-action. The dude spent literally 3/4 of the entire episode crying about whether or not he would be able to shoot a zombie dog. Not since 24 had it’s strange, terrible, subplot of Kim nearly being eaten by a cougar has television asked us to make such an absurd leap.
The gang hit a snag (because it’s a T.V. show) when it came to driving Murphy to California. For one thing, no gas, for another…they had no idea if anyone is even alive in California to receive this overbearing package. Add to this zombies quietly marching into a gas tank at the refinery they are hoping to loot, and Murphy’s PTSD terror around all “puppies and kittens” and I’ve got a migraine just watching let alone trying to save the dude. The Instagram-quality filter slapped onto the thing is doing the show no favors either.
The show, thus far, is at its best when it sticks to what it does well: Slaying zombies and delivering fast-paced quirky quips. So far the attempts to move the story of the band of followers travelling together forward seem forced. This is in part because the dialogue is so wooden I’ve got splinters (so wooden its reduced me to puns) and in part because there simply isn’t enough time on a mission-based show to stop and reveal actual insights. It’s a video game, a fun shooter — let it be that or don’t. You can’t go halfway with either option.
The zombie killing is where Z Nation really shines. It’s full of cartoon gore, cartoon violence, and contagiously giddy gross-outs moments. Which is great! They’ve set up a stage where the zombies are slow moving, easy to evade, and even easier to kill. That’s great. Now they need to use what they’ve got working so well to give us a reason to care about the survivors actually getting out with their brains intact.