Premieres: Sept. 12
Airs: Fridays at 10pm ET/PT
If you are heading into tonight’s premiere of Syfy’s Z Nation wondering who in their right mind would attempt a zombie show at the zenith of The Walking Dead’s popularity— uh, well, the Sharknado guys, that’s who.
This is important information for several reasons.
For one, it gives us e’er faithful Dead fans — and I am Activities Director of that camp around here — permission to tune in and blame it on curiosity about that pedigree. And for two, it also gives us permission to not be entirely mortified if we’re amused — even just a little — by the end of the pilot. Yes, it may take till the bitter end for that to happen, if you’re really holding a grudge. But, rest assured, there is a chance it will happen. Especially if you think Dead sometimes navel gazes a bit too much.
Produced by David Michael Latt’s The Asylum — the same folks who managed to make a pair of cheerfully dreadful films about shark-infested weather events into a pop culture phenomenon (and resurrect Ian Ziering’s and Tara Reid’s careers in the process) — Z Nation, at the outset, seems to be Dead meets Sharknado (Campy acting! Cheeseball effects!) meets Good Morning, Vietnam meets … I’m not quite sure what else. And first the three-quarters are a total puzzlement, as far as the show’s intent is concerned.
Here’s what we learn. The action unfolds three years into the zombie apocalypse, which is introduced as an “extinction-scale event with a 100-percent infection rate for which there is no cure.” (Walking Dead fans, eyes rolling: “Um, duh.”) And these zombies — called Z’s, hence the title — are no stiff-limbed, slow-witted shufflers who are only intent on a meal. These suckers can run full-bore and, despite what should be inherent brainlessness, seem to have a mean streak a mile wide. Also, they come in all ages.
Yes, kill shots to the head are still the ticket. But here we call it “giving mercy.”
In this cruel world, Lt. Mark Hammond (Zero Dark Thirty’s Harold Perrineau) receives orders from an arctic military base to transport a lady doc and her human guinea pigs to a California medical facility where the promise of a vaccine awaits (hello, Z Nation’s own Sgt. Abraham and Dr. Eugene … only headed in the opposite direction!). Things go predictably afoul for the fate of “Operation Bite Mark” and Hammond and a single, surly charge wind up on the run, picking up two other micro-groups of survivors along the way.
One pair, former National Guardsman Charles Garnett (Thomas Everett Scott) and the Michonne-like Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith), have passed the time “giving mercy” to folks on their deathbeds whose families hire the duo to make sure their loved ones pass into the afterlife without an unfortunate, people-munching interlude.
And everyone takes convincing that the weirdo Hammond is tasked with protecting is worth the effort — until the guy lifts his shirt and displays some nicely healing zombie bites. Turns out there’s plague-curing gold in that there blood, no matter how unpleasant the outer packaging might be.
And so the begins the journey west.
Homages to Dead are sprinkled throughout tonight’s episode. Hammond warns a misbehaving fellow traveler, “I’ll send you to walk among the dead.” Winking reference is made to an “ex-cop and some others taking refuge in a prison.” A male version of Bicycle Girl makes a brief appearance, too. That said, Z Nation seems to take itself surprisingly seriously — which is sure to bolster the derision of Dead faithful — until the last ten minutes of the premiere.
Then things take a decided turn for the B-movie camp that could set the series comfortably enough apart from AMC’s standard-bearer to make room for both in zombie fans’ hearts and on our DVRs. Whether we’ll admit it or not.
Z Nation airs Friday nights at 10/9CT on Syfy.
Photo by: Oliver Irwin/Syfy