I never really got into The Walking Dead (TWD). Which is odd, because I’m into most things zombie-ish. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the comic book, TWD, written by Robert Kirkman, but the television show was never that interesting to me. The bleak flavor of storytelling that made the comic so compelling, just came off as grim and joyless on the screen. And while this production of TWD was completely devoid of fun, how the heck else would a show about a post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled wasteland be? Then, back in 2014, the Syfy network aired a little show called Z Nation. I don’t expect there are many fellow fans of this show. It was NOT the most watched show, on a niche network and most fans of the zombie genre prefer their shows with a bit more horror. A good chunk of Z Nation was pure silliness.
If you’ve ever watched any zombie show, you know the basics. The dead now walk the Earth, hungry for human flesh, an apocalypse of the undead, destroying civilization and reducing nations to bands of tribal humans fighting over the scraps that are left. In the specific instance of Z Nation, the show starts 3 years into the zombie apocalypse, and scientists are trying to find a cure. They do so by injecting prison inmates with a cocktail of experimental drugs, often causing a painful death, but what are ya gonna do? On one such occasion, while the experiments are taking place, a horde of zombies break in and devour everyone in the room. Well, everyone except one of the inmates, an insufferable example of humanity named Murphy (Keith Allen of Stumptown and The Good Doctor) . In some bizarre twist of fate, the experimental drug he received, along with the zombie bites he suffered, turn him into the only person on Earth to be immune to whatever it is turning people into the undead. This suddenly makes him the most important person in the world and Sgt. Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott of La La Land and 13 Reasons Why) is charged with the task of transporting Murphy to the last remaining lab of the. He is assisted in this journey by Lt. Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith of The Bernie Mack Show and The First Family), who really becomes the star of the show.
Along the way, they are joined by other survivors. Doc (Russell Hodgkinson of Leverage and Grimm) was a wellness counselor and recovering drug addict before the apocalypse, but now serves as the group’s healer. His character is mostly stoner, burn-out comic relief, with the occasional flashes of hippie wisdom. Then there’s 10K (Nat Zang of, of … nothing else, really), the youngest member of the group, whose oddly numerical name is based on his goal of killing 10,000 zombies. Addy Carver (Anastasia Baranova of Scout’s Safari and Veronica Mars) is described by the Z Nation Wikipedia page as the group’s communication specialist, but I’ve completely forgotten about exactly what she did. It’s been years since I’ve seen an episode of Z Nation and she didn’t really stand out among the cast when I was watching it. I’m leaving out quite a number of cast members. One reason for this is that I don’t want to write any spoilers, so I’m sticking strictly to characters in the first season. The second is that the cast is huge; across all 5 seasons of the show, I don’t have the room to include every single cast member. The cast member I can’t leave out is Citizen Z (DJ Qualls of My Name is Earl and Supernatural). I’m a big fan of Qualls and feel that his awkward goofiness adds some fun to any show he’s a part of. On Z Nation, he plays an ex-hacker, NSA agent that was at a listening post in the Arctic circle when the apocalypse occurred. Relatively safe in his frozen bunker, he monitors the group as they make their journey, warning them of dangers and pointing out areas of interest.
The show works for a number of reasons. I found the characters likable and unique. Allen plays Murphy amazingly well, alternately making fans want to punch him in his stupid face and root for him to succeed. Doc is the lovable Cheech and Chong extra and 10K the brooding assassin with goth appeal. I kind of liked Addy, but I thought her character was much less fleshed out than the rest of the cast. Then there were the writers. I found the story lines fresh and inventive, adding quirkiness and humor into a genre I didn’t know needed it. The show had several different types of zombies, including exploding ones, and they were usually dispatched in ultra-violent and amusing ways. If those two descriptors don’t seem to go together, you need to watch the show. It didn’t always work. When the show first started, whenever they would “kill” a zombie, they would say the phrase, “I give you mercy.” That phrase was even a part of their intro theme song, but, holy shit, did that get old fast. I get it; they saw the undeath of being a zombie as a fate worse than death, but it really lost its impact over time.
A few years ago, after Z Nation had ended, the Asylum (the fine folks who brought the Sharknado series), the production company that created Z Nation, put out a prequel called Black Summer. I was so excited for it to come out. Z Nation had been off the air for about a year or so and I was missing some of that zombie action. It had been said that this wouldn’t be done in the same tongue in cheek style as Z Nation, but nothing could prepare me for the soul crushing desolation of this show. It was neither bad nor exceptionally good, but it offered no respite from the violence and tension in each episode. There was no binging this one; after a single episode, my mood was so depressed that I couldn’t even dream of watching a second episode.
While I write these little pieces to show my love for these shows, it’s hard for me to recommend Z Nation to anyone else. It does have a 6.7 rating on IMDB, so I can’t be alone in my fandom, but I, personally, have never met anyone who spoke fondly of the show. Plus, my tastes tend to be somewhat unique. I’ve given many a recommendation which resulted in those who listened looking at me a little differently, and not in a good way. But if you’re looking for a show that balances the Yin of violence and death with the Yang of humor, then Z Nation might be the one for you. You could certainly do worse (I’m looking at you, Fear the Walking Dead).