It takes guts to run a zombie show in the era of the high-concept, high-budget Walking Dead. But Z Nation from Syfy does it the only way it can be done: it’s a run and gun, campy, yell-at-the screen show that doesn’t take itself seriously. Rather than ponder humanity’s collapse, Z Nation has fun with all the possible twists on the way down. Only half a dozen or so episodes into its first season, the show has already featured a zombie baby; a religious cult that worships zombies; cannibalism (before The Walking Dead); a tornado (or zombnado); and, perhaps most significantly, answered the question, “Can zombies get high?” It’s not Shakespeare, but damn, is it entertaining.
What makes the show work is that it moves fast, and it’s a simple plot: it’s the zombie apocalypse, and there is one man whose body contains the key to a possible vaccine. A group of survivors, guided by a military analyst somewhere in Antarctica (OK, I don’t know where he is, but it’s snowing and he’s alone and it’s clearly far away) attempt to transport a man whose blood contains a possible cure for the zombie virus to California, where scientists await.
The cast is also very solid. To a one, they deliver their lines with the seriousness that is the hallmark of great camp. That’s not to say the show doesn’t get serious, just that these moments occur in an environment of sheer WTF lunacy: while one character is coming to grips with the loss of a partner, another is snuggling up with a zombie in a storm cellar (and no, I’m not being coy with my language choice).
The show occasionally does special effects, but they are done with a wink rather than a flourish. For example, a scene of a character falling off a roof, firing all the way down, made no attempt to make it realistic — instead it was just one more silly thing that you see in an action movie under a particular set of circumstances. The show’s fast pace helps with that, as does the fact that zombies move — and turn — fast. You don’t have time to linger on any possible deficiencies in the makeup department. The one exception to that — an extended scene where a character was trapped suspended over an elevator shaft next to a similarly trapped zombie — did a solid job on making the zombie look like a zombie.
From a feminist standpoint, I’m pleased with the show. All of the surviving women are strong fighters, and although one of the survivors has been used as a honey trap by the aforementioned cannibals, it wasn’t done salaciously, nor is it even clear that she is made to have sex with the victims — it seemed just as likely that she was merely used as bait to get the victims alone. The twentysomething female footsoldier is immensely likable and really reminds me of a lot of the twentysomethings I know — strong, feisty, but also vulnerable. And finally, in the show I watched, a WOC (played by Kellita Smith) was about to take leadership of the group, with nary a peep from the other members.
So, if you are looking for a fast-paced, slightly twisted, campy zombie adventure, this show is for you. Don’t worry if you have just started watching. You’ll catch on fast.