Z Nation (Season 1)

ZN1

Three years after humanity was overrun by the living dead, a group of survivors are tasked with transporting a man named Murphy, the only known human to survive being bitten by a zombie, from their home turf of New York all the way to California, but along the way they’ll face demented cannibals, religious zealots, and hordes of the roving undead.

With a title like Z Nation, I got a little touchy with this one. Nothing on anyone who came up with the name mind you, it just brings up a dream the undead share of having a nation all our own. I usually refer to our imaginary homeland as Zenosha because I’ve been reading X-Men comics for far too long and I always loved Magneto’s little mutant island of Genosha, but Z Nation would work just as well. The name isn’t important so long as the undead finally have a place to call home, a place where we don’t have to worry about you meatsacks taking a bat to the back of our skulls, or the front of the skull, any part of our skulls really. We can’t at this point in time because putting every zombie alive today (you know what I mean) would just give humanity a nice target for all the world’s missiles, and I know you people would just love to live in a world free from flesh hungry ghouls. People eat cows and nobody cares, I eat humans and it’s suddenly such a huge problem. Freaking lifeists. Anyhow, a real home is a dream for another day. I guess we could just take over completely, but a world without humans means a world full of hungry zombies, and nobody wants that, zombies are jerks when they get hungry. Plus, free range human is the only way to go, cages make you people all stringy. Until we get Zenosha, or whatever we decide to call it, I’ll just have to use things like Z Nation to soothe my broken, unbeating heart.

Our story begins three years after the zombie apocalypse with a man named Murphy. Murphy was one of three inmates given an experimental vaccine, a vaccine that killed the other two prisoners but allowed Murphy to survive being bitten by a zombie…or eight. Unfortunately, the prison was overrun shortly thereafter, and it was only a soldier’s dedication (played by the always amazing Harold Perrineau) that kept the last hope for mankind from becoming little bits inside the rotting stomachs of the undead. In order to harvest the antibodies in Murphy’s blood, he needs to get all the way from New York to California where a medical lab is set up and waiting to extract said antibodies. This is where former National Guard members Warren and Garnett come into play when Murphy and his handler end up near their camp. After a series of events that would make most people just throw in the towel, Warren and Garnett, along with a small group of survivors, make the decision to help get Murphy to California. Their journey won’t be easy though, not only is time of the essence as Murphy continues to deteriorate, but they’ll have to face the worst humanity has to offer, hordes of zombies roam the country, and tension within the group itself threatens to tear them apart. It’ll take a strong leader to get them all to California safely, but even a good leader can’t protect them from events playing out behind the scenes.

ZN4

{They got this}

Okay, confession time, I almost didn’t give Z Nation a chance. It looked enjoyable from the previews, good effects, a great cast, and zombies that were more than simple cannon fodder, but then I noticed a name behind the show…The Asylum. Don’t get me wrong, their movies can be fun as long as they have a short run time and you have a lot of alcohol, but story is never a strong point when it comes to The Asylum. For a movie, that isn’t necessarily a problem, I’ve immensely enjoyed a lot of relatively pointless movies that were nonetheless entertaining. Hell, I just did my top ten zombies movies which included Dead Alive, a movie with a plot line that basically comes down to “Kill All the Things,” but I didn’t want to invest my time in a show that wasn’t going to have a coherent plot. I ignored two seasons before the previews finally sucked me in and I had to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did. Z Nation is an amazing zombie television show with amazing characters, mostly amazing effects, and an amazing storyline that, unlike Walking Dead, actually goes somewhere.

ZN3

{I just want to go where they’re going}

The characters are most definitely one of the things that make Z Nation such an amazing show. In fact, it was seeing Keith Allan (Murphy) in the previews that finally convinced me to watch the show, but he’s by far not the only great actor here. I can’t say I’ve seen a character yet that was portrayed by a bad actor, but what I really enjoyed was the fact that even minor characters who might only be involved with one episode were not only portrayed by great actors, but were fleshed out. A television habit is giving the viewer “filler” characters, people who are only there to further the plot, be an obstacle, or just die. These characters are simply cardboard cutouts that don’t add much to the program, and it shows, generally they actually bring the show down instead of helping to raise it up. This isn’t the case with Z Nation. If someone is introduced, they feel like a real part of the show’s universe, affecting not just the story but those people involved in seeing said story to the end. A good example for myself was a religious zealot introduced later on, one who only plays a part in one small section of the journey. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say I hated the guy with the passion of a thousand stars, or maybe just ten stars, a thousand seems like overkill. While this might sound like a complaint, it’s really not, because you’re supposed to hate him. He was such a real part of Z Nation’s story, was so fully fleshed out, I felt an actual sense of hatred towards him, hoping against hope he’d meet a terrible end so that I could find a sense of satisfaction, and this is someone who is only in it for one episode. Imagine how some of the repeat offenders made me feel. It shows a great writing team when they can take minor players and make them so integral, not to mention a great casting agent for the people playing these characters.

ZN7

{We should also add the person who thought of this into the list of people responsible for Z Nation’s greatness}

That’s not to say that I only got worked up over the small fish. Every actor does a fantastic job and I loved them all, but I do have my favorites. DJ Qualls is great as Citizen Z, the last member of an NSA listening station in Antarctica that does his best to help guide the group on their journey, his loneliness is a palpable thing, as is his struggle to retain his sanity in the face of total isolation. Another favorite was Russell Hodgkinson who plays Doc, a former drug addict with some medical training that uses his stash of pills as a way to barter with others. Not only is he the group’s sense of humor, he’s also their center as it’s him who manages to look at things in an uplifting light no matter how bad they get (his response to being stuck in a tiny space with a zombie is pretty damn brilliant). Then there’s Murphy. Come on, like you didn’t know the most zombie like character was going to be my favorite. What’s amazing is that the man is a complete ass, that person who would complain about the noise if it started raining gold, but you still can’t help but love him. He somehow has a likable personality despite being kind of a dick, and as the show went on, I liked him more and more. Despite having my favorites, don’t take that to mean I forgot about the rest. I normally have that one character I just want gone, the one person I can’t stand no matter what a show does with them, but I didn’t have that here. I got so damn attached to them all that when one passed away (don’t even think I’m spoiling who for you), I wanted to punch the bastard that killed them square in the jaw. I won’t say I teared up a bit because I’m far too manly for that, but…damn it, okay, I teared up a little bit. Sue me. They are all amazing, and the great dialogue only added to my amazement in how well everyone did. As much as I enjoyed the action, and trust me, there is plenty of action, some of my favorite parts are those in which the group get a moment to relax and banter with each other.

ZN6

{At least until Murphy reminds them of why they’re trekking cross country}

The story is another great aspect of Z Nation. If you’ve read my reviews for any amount of time, you’ll already be aware that I’m not a huge Walking Dead fan (and if you’re new, welcome, we have punch and cake in the back). I know a lot of people like it, and there’s definitely a lot to like so don’t think I’m going to start tearing it about, it’s just that it bores me. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of goal, everyone is simply trying to survive, which I get is the whole point of the show, but it still bores me. With Z Nation, there is a goal for the group, something for them to look forward to and fight for that isn’t only about surviving until the next day. Most importantly, there’s hope for a better tomorrow, something inherent to any great story. Though my favorite aspect of the story might be the fact there’s a goal, it’s not the only reason I fell in love with Z Nation. No, that would be the very realistic, and very brutal, depiction of life after the zombie apocalypse. What I mean by this is that they don’t sugar coat what people would be like, but they do a good job of making sure that there are levels to how far down some people go when the world as we know it has disappeared instead of just having morally upstanding good guys and evil, cartoonish bad guys. In a world ruled by the dead, there’s no such thing as a good guy so no one has a clean conscious, but that doesn’t mean everyone has completely lost their sense of right and wrong. Some people only do what is necessary for the group’s survival, though necessary can mean a lot of things when all the conveniences we take for granted are gone. They don’t do these things because they like doing them (I know I’m being vague by using “things” but I’m really trying not to spoil any of Z Nation for those that haven’t seen it), but when the survival of the species is on the line, you do what you have to do. Some people see only an opportunity for profit in the niches left open for the entrepreneurs of the world, people like erstwhile salesman Sketchy whom could sell just about anything and thrives in this environment. Some people though, some people don’t care about the world’s survival or profit, some people don’t care about anything, either because they’ve lost all they cared about, lost their mind, or simply don’t have any kind of moral compass whatsoever, before or after the zombie apocalypse, and these are the type you need to worry about. Z Nation does a perfect job of differentiating between these types of people, showing the viewer that while some would most assuredly succumb to any type of apocalypse, others would strive to be better while realizing that the ways of the old world were no more.

ZN5

{Yeah, that’d be my face too if I learned I could no longer enjoy online debates involving which Star Trek captain was the best, we all know it’s Sisko, but it’d still be missed}

Lastly, we come to the heart of any zombie type media, the zombies themselves and the bloody gore inherent in taking them down. I was immensely impressed with what they were able to do, and what makes this even more impressive is the fact that I loved the effects despite the occasional use of CGI blood, a massive pet peeve of mine. I’ve always hated CGI blood splatter with a passion, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I envision a world where I’m a cankerous old man, screaming at kids to get off his lawn, only instead of hating swear words, I’ll complain about you young’ins and your blasted CGI, also your loud music and indecipherable slang. Yet, in spite of there being CGI blood, the effects and makeup where freaking marvelous. The gore, the action, the zombies, they all look incredible. The zombies are rotted, desiccated corpses falling apart day by day, when someone is torn apart by the undead it’s cringe worthy, and even little effects like a dead body being passed by are done with an FX artist’s touch. While I wish they had gone without the CGI blood, the fact that everything else looks so amazing I didn’t mind says wonders to just how astonishing the effects are. On top of how great everything looks, it helped that the actors chosen to play the undead put effort into their roles. I understand that zombies are there for the living to kill when it comes to movies and television, but too many times there’s no work put into making them anything more than moving targets. Z Nation shows us zombies as they should be, sad reminders of what could have been, real creatures that used to be human but had all the humanity burned out of them until nothing was left but pure instinct. A great set of makeup artists coupled with actors willing to put their all into crafting believable zombies made for some magnificent undead.

ZN2

{Well, that’s one way to make sure someone can see you}

If you, like me, were avoiding Z Nation because of The Asylum involvement, you’re making a mistake. This is by far leaps and bounds better than anything they’ve done prior, but then again, it’s leaps and bounds better than a lot of what’s on television. If you’re a zombie fan, I guarantee you’re missing out if you haven’t yet checked out Z Nation.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Dragon Eyes), Abram Cox (Mammoth, MorphMan), and Dan Merchant (Lord, Save Us from Your Followers) as well as a few others

Starring: Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show, The First Family), Keith Allan (Rise of the Zombie, Social Nightmare), Russell Hodgkinson (Eden, Big Fish), Nat Zang, Anastasia Baranova (Welcome to Willits, The Sublime and the Beautiful), Tom Everett Scott (American Werewolf in Paris, That Thing You Do), Michael Welch (Twilight Saga, The Last Survivors), Pisay Pao (The Whole Truth, Simply Fobulous), and DJ Qualls (The Man in the High Castle, The New Guy)

Released By: The Asylum, SyFy Entertainment, and Go2 Digital Media

Release Year: 2014

Release Type: Television Show

Channel: SyFy Channel

Rating: Not Rated

 

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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One Response to Z Nation (Season 1)

  1. Pingback: An Interview with the Z Nation Zombies | UNDEAD REVIEW

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