After The Walking Dead Finale, Give Z Nation a Tryby Jon Lachonis / March 22, 2015
I realize I’m opening myself to all kinds of ridicule here, so let me start out by saying Z Nation, Syfy’s low budget Walking Dead knock off, is NOT a replacement for AMC’s far superior production. It’s also important to point out that Z Nation is, in its purest form, a Zombie comedy; a zom-com if you will, but that said in its single season on the air Z Nation has managed to develop into a pretty far-out take on the genre with its own unique brand of Zombie mythology.
If you are a purist, like me, you scoffed at Syfy’s attempt to me-too their way into the Zombie genre and outright avoided it. It was only until the mounting dread of Walking Dead’s season 5 rundown that I, out of complete desperation, cued up Z Nation on Netflix, swallowed my pride, and prepared to be underwhelmed.
For the first few episodes I thought I’d gotten exactly what I expected. Schlocky story lines, carbon copy characters, fairly awful special effects; then I started to get it.
Far removed from the naked desperation of The Walking Dead, the world of Z Nation, as it turns out, is populated by characters that ponder the Zombie Apocalypse with their own brand of introspective philosophy. It seems that the more relaxed tone of Z Nation allows character building that isn’t even possible with TWD and a brand of shock that is purely all its own. For instance, one of the characters, Doc, who isn’t a doctor, Drills into the head of a concussion victim to relieve pressure on the brain. The drill bit, of course, breaks and he’s forced to tap it the rest of the way in with the butt of a pistol. Later, when the ‘victim’ starts to come too, saved by Doc’s impromptu brain surgery, he quips “I should have pulled the bit when he was still asleep.” Ooops.
As a serial, Z Nation also excels at world building. The central thread is a character named Murphy who survived a zombie attack and may now be mankind’s hope for a vaccine; if he can survive a road trip from the East Coast to California. That seems like a pretty generic start to an arc, but when he begins to show signs of Zombie-ism and some of his fellow travelers begin to have visions, things get far more interesting.
Look, nobody does post-apocalypse like The Walking Dead. Nobody. Z Nation doesn’t even come close to capturing the world-sense that TWD projects. At the same time, the pure weight of TWD’s sullen character-scape can sometimes be oppressive. Z Nation is not a replacement for The Walking Dead by any means, but if you are looking to fill the void it may just be your drink of choice.
For starters, once you get past the schlock you find that Z Nation is populated with characters that actually grow, and grow on you, from episode to episode. Like The Walking Dead, the characters of Z Nation are not immune to the dangers of the world they inhabit and there are indeed numerous clever conundrums thrown at them, as well as more than a couple unexpected deaths. Characters like Citizen Z, an NSA ‘operator’ stationed in the arctic, Doc, a too-smart-for-his-own-good hippy, keep things lively while the more intense Garnett and Warren act as more ‘serious’ gateways into the effects of the apocalypse on the human soul.
The world of Z Nation is itself nothing like The Walking Dead, and is a rich place to explore and discover. The tertiary characters that inhabit the world are getting by through any means necessary, but that is where the comparison ends. Survival in the Z Nation landscape is less brutal but more colorful, with characters and locations that seem pulled from a caricature.
Again, you won’t find anything approximating the raw energy and rhythms of The Walking Dead in Z Nation, but if you’ve yet to give it a try you will probably be pleasantly surprised by how quickly it grows on you. And hey, it’s been renewed for a second season. Z Nation is a worthy double up on your Zombie addiction and just what the doctor ordered for Walking Dead withdrawal.