The Zombie Invasion has taken America by storm. Literally. That is the plot of SyFy’s new zombie series Z Nation, which hopes to cash in on pop culture’s fascination with zombies thanks to AMC’s The Walking Dead. The show gives us a different take on the zombie apocalypse as the characters race from New York to California in order to deliver a cure to save humanity. Warning: spoilers below.
Sounds familiar, right? Then it will come as no surprise that Z Nation is produced by none other than The Asylum, the company responsible for SyFy’s cult hit Sharknado. In the past The Asylum was known for blockbuster knock-offs like I Am Omega, which they released to coincide with Will Smith’s I Am Legend. That alone may be enough to scare most people off and the first two episodes should take care of the stragglers. But stay with me.
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DJ Qualls (Road Trip) takes the role of Citizen Z, an NSA computer guy who is the lone man at a remote army base three years after the Z-Pocalypse. Using communication satellites and all sorts of hacking that would have been questionable before the outbreak, he guides a group of survivors tasked with escorting “the asset” to a medical facility across The Nation. The Asset is a former inmate named Murphy who may hold the cure to the infection after being unwillingly subjected to experiments.
Sure, the plot isn’t anything we aren’t already watching but it has some pretty interesting twists. In later episodes Murphy develops some hybrid zombie super powers and there is a mystery surrounding his appearance and health. And as far as delivering a treatment, I’d be hard pressed to come up with a different plot device to send a group across the continent.
Aside from Qualls, most of the actors are relatively unknown. Not a bad thing when you look back at the start of The Walking Dead or shows like Dexter. The main cast pulls off their parts better than can be expected with the exception of Keith Allen who plays Murphy. Allen’s lines feel like he is reading them from a page for the first time; however, as the series progresses his physical acting is on par. Most of the one-episode characters and Big Bads on the other hand come off as overly dramatic and hokey.
The characters themselves are your usual suspects. There is Garnett, the leader and National Guard member who has seen some stuff. Warren, the second in command who is having a difficult time forgetting her past. Doc, who is the old man/doctor. Mack and Addy, two young zombie killing bad asses in love. Cassandra, a mysterious young woman with a secret past and tall emotional walls. 10K, a young sharpshooter. And Murphy whose cowardice has put the group in danger a few times.
10K is the most likeable and entertaining character in the story. He is a teenager who wasn’t able to experience his awkward journey into adulthood due to the apocalypse three years prior. Because of this he is reserved, says little and is developing a curiosity towards the opposite sex. He calls himself 10K because that is the number of zombies he plans to kill (currently 2k). 10K has amazing skills with all things ranged and has helped the group out of many tough situations with his sharp shooting. My guess is that he will easily become a fan favorite a la Daryl Dixon.
The other characters don’t have much development behind them and details regarding their lives are introduced out of the blue as plot devices. There are some hints that Addy will have a larger arc but other than that there is little to no foreshadowing which has already lowered the quality of the show and the impact of some major moments.
Z Nation had to set itself apart some how and this is where the show shines. Think of the world as a mix between the grime and threat of The Walking Dead mixed with the whimsy of the Fallout series and the psychopaths from Dead Rising video games. Each episode has no shortage of strange events whether it is a Z-Nado, a Zunami, the survivors killing zeds with The Liberty Bell or communicating with Citizen Z through a drive-thru box.
The Nation has plenty of survivors for the group to meet along the way. Most are unhinged in one way or another. Usually, these characters don’t make it past a single episode either through death or rarely, retreat. This allows the writers to introduce a new threat in each episode. They’re at seven episodes and they have already dealt with their versions of The Governer, a group of cannibals who lures victims into a camp, an insane general, traveling bandits and a cult. The survivors aren’t held up anywhere for too long and the story is paced to offer viewers something entertaining and new in each episode. For instance, one of the most interesting locales was in Episode 7, Welcome to the FU-Bar. The characters found themselves in a watering hole in Kansas where they met neo-frontier survivors, drank moonshine and competed in a shoot-out where a man in a slow moving ice cream truck led zombies through the range.
At a glance, Z Nation has received middling reviews from critics and viewers. I would suspect that this has a lot to do with the expectations set by the hyper realistic tone of “The Walking Dead.” Honestly, I have found it difficult to switch my mind between the shows and this lack of imminent danger is what turned me off to the first two episodes. That and poor production. I think that Z Nation fills a gap in zombie entertainment that we’ve seen before with Fido and Zombieland and should work a little harder at earning that place which it deserves. Where The Walking Dead is great at telling stories, Z Nation excels at keeping episodes fresh. This show is far from perfect but if The Walking Dead pulls another Weekend at Hershel’s we will have a less serious alternative to enjoy.
Give Z Nation a shot. It is refreshing to see the world of a zombie apocalypse opened up and the quirks are amusing enough. Just don’t compare it to The Walking Dead or you’ll be let down.