At A Glance:
Title: Z Nation
Premiere: September 12, 2014
Channel: Syfy (Space in Canada)
Production Company: The Asylum
Showrunner: Karl Schaefer
Producers: Michael Cassutt (co-executive producer 12 episodes, 2014), Karl Schaefer (executive producer 12 episodes, 2014), Craig Engler (co-executive producer 9 episodes, 2014), Dan Merchant (consulting producer 1 episode)
Writers: Eric Bernt (1 episode), Michael Cassutt (3 episodes), Jennifer Derwingson (4 episodes), Craig Engler (2 episodes), Dan Merchant (2 episodes), Karl Schaefer (3 episodes), Eric Wallace (1 episode)
Starring: Harold Perrineau, Tom Everett Scott, DJ Qualls, Michael Welch and Kellita Smith
(Note: I realize the show aired last night, but I’m putting this preview up prior to sitting down to watch the episode and writing up my review! The show will be re-airing several times over the weekend, so you still have a chance to catch it if you missed it.)
Last night marked the debut of a new Syfy original series, a zombie-centered drama strategically beginning several weeks before the much-anticipated return of the fifth season of The Walking Dead. This is a smart move – first, fans of TWD are champing at the bit, eagerly anticipating the October 12th premiere date, so they might be willing to try out another zombie-themed show in the interim; and second, it is coming out with a clearly delineated end-game, a clear goal-oriented season which may potentially lead to a sense of purpose and cohesion that, to be honest, sometimes hampers the narrative flow on the AMC show. This is not to say that I believe this will be a superior production; The Asylum is, after all, the same production company that has recently graces us with such classics as Sharknado and Sharknado 2 – but they’re also the company behind the campy-yet-enjoyable SF series Eureka. So can they move beyond the camp?
For one thing, the primary plot point indicates that the series will, at the least, have a clear focus and direction. Z Nation will follow the movements of a small group of survivors travelling from the east coast to the west, trying to escort the only person so far to have shown immunity to the zombie plague to the lone operating laboratory left in America. Right off the bat, this means that the series showrunner, Karl Schaefer, will have plenty more options at his disposal for sets and locations than the producers of TWD, which seems pretty firmly ensconced in the southeast. Again, I’m not saying this is a bad thing – TWD is one of my favorite shows – but comparisons are inevitable.
One thing that TWD definitely has in its favor is budget; but how about cast? Most of the actors who initially signed up to AMC’s flagship series were relative unknowns, but the chemistry between the actors and their increasingly improved acting (with a few exceptions – but Laurie is gone now, and Carl is growing up) has actually been a highlight. Can the cast of Z Nation find a similar level of compatibility? In order of billing, here are the main actors:
Harold Perrineau as Hammond
Perrineau is a familiar face for television viewers, playing the role of Michael Dawson on Lost and the ever-wise inmate Augustus Hill on the critically acclaimed Oz. In addition, he’s been in several other successful (and not so successful) series as a recurring character, such as Sons of Anarchy. Perrineau isn’t strictly a television actor – he’s also been in a bunch of movies, including 28 Weeks Later and Zero Dark Thirty. He brings twenty-five years of experience and a ton of genre roles to the table – he should be capable of taking the lead, or the co-lead, on this series.
Tom Everett Scott as Garnett
Scott’s resume is not as long as Perrineau’s, but it is actually far more extensive in the television arena. He’s best known for his role as Detective Russel Clarke in Southland, but he’s had recurring roles in series as diverse as ER, Law & Order, and Grace Under Fire. He’s never carried a series on his own, always playing in supporting roles, so Z Nation should give him a chance to raise his game.
DJ Qualls as Citizen Z
DJ Qualls began his career as a model, but his unusual looks and deadpan delivery quickly enamored him of directors looking for quirky one-off characters. He’s been in tons of shows, and is often cast as comic relief in larger productions (the first time I saw him was in a bit part in the overly cheesy Hilary Swank/Aaron Eckhart vehicle The Core). His role here – as Citizen Z – positions him as something of a narrator of events. Based on the previews, Citizen Z appears to be a voice in the wilderness, a loner broadcasting his thoughts and narrating the apocalypse in real-time. Think of him as social media taken to the nth degree – barring the ability to tweet the end of the world, radio will have to do.
Michael Welch as Mack
Welch’s first real success came when he was just eighteen, in the series Joan of Arcadia, but he is perhaps best known for his role as Mike Newton in the Twilight movies. His casting could be aimed at attracting a younger female demographic to the show.
Kellita Smith as Warren
Smith is best known for her role as Wanda McCullough in The Bernie Mac Show, and has had recent success as the First Lady in The First Family. She will likely provide a strong supporting presence in the ensemble cast.
Promos and Teasers:
Below I’ve embedded the trailers and promos released by Syfy in the last several weeks:
First thing to note here is that the zombies of Z Nation appear to lean more toward the super-fast 28 Days Later variety than to the prototypical shambling Romero undead. In the short bursts we get, the zombie effects look decent, and the humans suitably frightened. The baby in the final scene looks a little too CGI for my taste, but we’ll see how it plays out in the actual show.
Trailer #2 – Full HD Extended
This trailer is considerably longer, and gives us greater insight into the series. We see a lot more of several of the characters, Perrineau and Qualls coming particularly to the fore as two of the leads. Scenes of devastation set in familiar locations, such as Washington, DC, serve to emphasize the doomsday plight of the survivors. And again, those zombies look hellbent for leather when they smell fresh meat. Some of the dialogue comes across as pretty hokey (see Perrineau shooting a zombie, saying “I give you mercy” – he actually pauses long enough to get the line out, which just reeks of cheese). Parts of the trailer look deadly serious, with moments like this undermining that and suggesting that Schaefer is going for the same brand of “humor” The Asylum has been churning out recently. I’ll have more to say on this after I view the premiere episode later tonight and write up my thoughts.