As I've mentioned before, 2016 has been a banner year for horror movies. So much so that it's easy to forget the genre has also been a big hit on TV for the past few years. While the stuff of nightmares has proven its worth with long-running shows like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, it feels like The Walking Dead really opened the flood gates when first it aired in 2010. A success from the start, we have since seen everything from a new breed of vampires on The Strain to whatever craziness Ryan Murphy comes up with next on American Horror Story. With all of this variety on offer, it can be easy to overlook Syfy's Z Nation.
Debuting in 2014, Z Nation was quickly dismissed by critics as a Walking Dead knockoff. An easy assumption, considering production company The Asylum was behind it. That's right — the auteurs who brought us such new classics like Sharknado and Transmorphers now had a zombie show. Thinking Z Nation would be another mockbuster is a natural conclusion to draw. Aside from a mentioning "an ex-cop and some others taking shelter in a prison," it turned out to be anything but a knockoff. In fact, it is as different from the AMC hit as a show could be.
So Tell Us About It
Taking place three years after the initial outbreak, a group of survivors are tasked by the mysterious Citizen Z to protect ex-con Murphy. So why does he warrant their protection? He is the only known survivor of a zombie bite and now has antibodies that can cure the infection. Armed with this knowledge, they have to take him cross country and deal with all the perils that come with such a dangerous mission.
To me that is one of the most unique aspects of the show: the road trip. While shows like The Walking Dead and The Strain generally stay in one place, Z Nation has our heroes (and Murphy) constantly on the go. As the big story unfolds, we see how other people handle the apocalypse, for better or for worse. In Season 1 alone, we get everything from zombie-worshiping cults to clans of cannibals, each new group just as, if not more dangerous, than the living dead. The variety in villain isn’t relegated to just these nomads, either.
It's A Smorgasbord Of Zombies!
Thanks to the constantly changing environment, we get a ton of different types of zombies. Obviously, there are your regular Romero-style zombies, but on Z Nation the zombies are affected by their locale. We've seen it all, from radioactive zombies, to zombie stampedes scrambling roughshod through small-town America, and even zombie animals. That's right, zombie animals. Somehow, I doubt American Horror Story will have a zombie bear this season.
If all of this looks silly, well, it is. Z Nation takes a mischievous approach when rendering the zombie apocalypse, with the writers treating the world they've created as more a playground than a hellhole, resulting in some of the most creative kills on horror TV.
Things like beheadings and bullets to the brain feel tame after you see a giant wheel of cheese roll through the undead like a Katamari. To its credit, The Asylum has gone out of its way to use more than its typical stable of directors, having nabbed John Hyams to showrun episodes. He brings the energy and skill he brought to the Universal Soldier franchise and makes Z Nation look even better than what I'm describing.
Check out the Season 3 teaser trailer below.
- SyFy's Z Nation - Rival for AMC's The Walking Dead
- Z Nation (Syfy): 2x15 "All Good Things Must Come to an End" Season 2 Finale Video Review *SPOILERS*
They Might Not Have Brains, But They Do Have Heart
As farcical as it gets, the show still had a lot of heart. Amid all the chaos, every character has developed quite a bit over the course of two seasons. They have gone from clichés and stereotypes, to characters with legitimate emotional stakes. Watching Murphy dealing with his sudden infamy and a newfound desire to save humanity makes for surprisingly compelling television.
Even more typical storylines, like couple Mack and Addy dealing with the pre-zombies from their former lives, is made interesting by way of experimental episodes like "Die Zombie Die... Again," and the character-building "Day One." It certainly makes the character deaths more meaningful. At no point does a death feel like it was executed purely for shock value or to cut loose excess baggage. It all feels like it progresses the story and it's always a bummer to see a member of this makeshift family go.
Admittedly if you're looking for gory water-cooler talk of The Walking Dead or the resonant themes of Battlestar Galactica, that isn't to be found with Z Nation. Instead, you will get a show that strays from the pack by being just simple rollicking good fun. The creators see the silliness of the premise and the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. It's a breath of fresh air in a sea of darkness that tries to get by on shocks and violence. And with Murphy on the loose and the Chinese army seemingly in the mix, Z Nation looks like it has no intention of ceasing to be the goofy horror show the world needs.
The Season 3 premiere of Z Nation airs tonight, September 16, on Syfy.
Have you seen Z Nation? What is your favorite horror show? Let me know in the comments below.