Zoo, 13 forty-minute episodes CBS/Netflix, based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Confession one: I tend to harbor ill will towards what I perceive to be false advertisement. Even when the false perception was primarily my fault. I was hoping to see humans living hiding out from marauding wild-eyed vengeful lions. Therefore I had to shake off my annoyance that this book turned out to be more spy-medical-thriller than sci-fi.
Confession two: One of the effects of watching Korean dramas is that whenever I return to American storytelling tropes, I feel just a might underwhelmed. So, yes: I had to get my mind sorted out.
The first thing I noticed was that Zoo presents viewers with a cosmopolitan multicultural world. I never know what to do with this sort of thing. Should I praise the writers for doing the quota thing? Or should I cringe because it’s so dang aggressive and yet --no matter how hard it tries-- it is so rooted in ya know...whiteness?
But -- my qualms and uneasiness aside-- let us move on: Meet Jackson Oz a (white) zoologist who lives in Botswana and is pretty chill. His best friend is a happy, philosophical, stocky (aren’t we all happy and philosophical, though?) African safari guide named Abraham. Not that we see a lot of friendshippy moments between these two but hey, the friendship is established. So the plot can move along. Jackson’s dad went mad while developing a radical-enough-to-knock-him-out-of-responsible-academia theory of animal uprising. “A manifesto, of sorts.” But, yeah, you know how it is with prophets -- or the prophetic trope: no one paid attention to him.
Then there is Jamie, a blogger with a passionate axe to grind against Big Food/Big Corporation Reiden Global. You know this kind of axe; if the sun doesn’t set, Jamie would find a way to blame Reiden Global. Then there are the mysterious Chloe and animal pathologist, Mitch. And a whole bunch of other people.
The plot begins when some lions escape from the Los Angeles zoo and go on a murder spree. Wouldn’t you know? Some African lions are doing the same thing. Then there are missing cats in LA, dogs, rats, and birds. Ah, yes, birds. See, this brings me back to where this drama lost me. I was hoping something more was going on. Ya know...like a natural “reset.” Heck, I’ll say it. I was hoping for a kind of Walking Dead with zombies replaced by animals. But no, this epidemic is man-made and greed-caused. Which is cool, I guess. After all, that’s how many zombie apocalypses begin. But my heart sank when the hordes of terrified fleeing humans didn’t really materialize and the story took a detour into medical investigation.
Something else bothered me. The tropes. Tropes galore. The story felt like screenwriting by the American cultural book. There are gun-toting rednecks, Black men who will say wise insightful philosophical paternal stuff one minute then make piropos at non-Black women the next, a young scientific-minded African boy, a possibly-shifty FBI operative, a sick dying little girl who speaks like no real sick girl but like all the sick dying kids ever in Hollywood movies, a gang, a Charles Manson type (complete with southern accent and Bible), a rich Asian safari-hunter and many others. The drama had a kitchen sink feel and if the writers hadn’t aimed to shoehorn all these tropes/beats into one story, I would’ve been more interested. But in their rush to hit all the templates, none of these sub-plots touched the heart.
Okay, so did I like it? Once you accept the tropes, the rushing about from country to country, the convenient-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness-plot, the iffy CGI, and the dang slow mystery, it’s really an okay show. Writers will be ticked off by the stereotypical beats, even more stereotypical people, and cringey dialog but kids and non-writers might like it. It’s pretty safe. No major sex scenes. I will also say that James Wolk, who plays Jackson Oz is seriously hot and boy-next-door hotness does wonders to keep this female viewer watching even after she realizes a story isn’t going the way she wants it. So yeah, good for teens who like medical thrillers. And hey --a multicultural cast and a Black person helping to save the world. Aggressive multiculturalism covers a multitude of bad plotting.