The Zombieland movie was originally supposed to be a series, but according to IMDB was “heavily revised to become a feature film.” In fact, the line from the film about the “Zombie Kill of the Week” was a carry-over from that original pilot script. What resulted was a funny and unique movie that implemented catchy rules for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. And no one can forget—Twinkies are worth searching the world for.
The Zombieland series is now offered on Amazon.com in their lineup of original series. Amazon is clearly trying to be a match for worthier competitors Hulu and Netflix. After watching this episode, well…imagine you’re eating a roast beef sandwich, okay. And it’s really dry. And then you realize, it’s not roast beef, it’s baloney. That half-hearted “meh” feeling is what I got from this pilot.
The show kicks off with office workers sharing small talk. The man describes, at length, his problems getting coffee at a Starbucks as the female worker listens sympathetically. The camera angles switch between single shots showing both workers individually, and a wide shot showing both of them with their back to a large glass window. As the man is detailing his horror that he grabbed the wrong drink, the one with whole milk (only relevant because he’s lactose intolerant and for a cheap pants-ruining joke), the background suddenly comes alive with a man fighting off a zombie attacker. Then more people and zombies are in the background, duking it out, as these office drones detail their day. It’s actually not a bad intro. It’s been said enough that zombies are metaphors that represent modern fears, and these two office workers and their first world problems were a good contrast to that. Not rip-roaringly funny, of course, but there’s a fun moment in the background when a zombie is trying to get at someone in a car, and a passing truck slices the zombie in half.
Then we’re introduced to our main characters, Tallahasse (Kirk Ward), Columbus (Tyler Ross), Wichita (Maiara Walsh), and Little Rock (Izabela Vidovic). The same characters were originally played by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin, respectively. For the show, they added Detroit, a friendly ex-Onstar operator who guides the crew from survivor to survivor, trying to add to their group. Now you’re probably wondering, “Why the town names?” Well, as Columbus puts it, the characters use the name of the town they’re from instead of their real names, as a way of not getting too attached. It’s a legit way of coping with the uncertainty of the zombie apocalypse, but what happens when, gasp!, you meet two people from the same town? Please tell me there’s a funny scene down the line for that.
So we’ve got these re-hashed characters played by new actors… I really wonder why the creators of the series Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick didn’t choose another group of survivors? For one, the Woody Harrelson character Tallahassee isn’t the same in the series. Apparently the creators originally thought to cast Kirk Ward in the film, but that’s no excuse…let him be Tallahassee’s half-brother Jacksonville or something. Like what I did there?I’d be amiss if I didn’t present the most off-color, un-funny joke the pilot had to offer: the “vagina counter”. One throw-away character is Regina, who asserts that her name is pronounced “Reg-I-nah”, like vagina. That starts Tallahassee on a ridiculous quest to say that word ad-nauseum even when it makes no sense. A counter appears on the screen for every instance. This counter gag is probably intended to be another weekly running gag (like the “Zombie Kill of the Week”) but it’s simply another reason to roll one’s eyes and find something better to watch.
There’s also this weird, non-chalant way the characters deal (or don’t deal) with death. Their whole purpose is to add new people to their group, but as each newcomer dies almost immediately via zombie tackle, they just kind of shrug, move on, and in one case enjoy the deceased’s pie.
When Detroit tells them there’s supposed to be a community of survivors in zombie-free Fisher’s Island, New York, Tallahassee dismisses it as too far (he thinks the nearly 2800 mile trek to New York is 50,000 miles). By the end of the episode, they’re all too willing to make the trek to Detroit (the actual city).
So, unfortunately for zombie and comedy fans, this pilot wasn’t funny. Even having a similar formula to the movie, like the zombie survival rules and the same characters (sort of), the pilot doesn’t stand out as something that will survive much longer if it continues in this fashion. It’s quite surprising since the creators of the film (who intended it as a pilot all along) did this pilot, but talented people have been known to make similar mistakes with their own material in years past (start reciting your favorite “how did the original creator mess this up?” list now!). If I haven’t convinced you otherwise, go ahead and try it out for yourself. Since the pilot episode is free, all you’ll waste is 28 unfunny minutes.
And after all that, I leave you with one last question: Aren’t Twinkies an outdated joke now?