TV REVIEW: ZOO
Episode 1.03, "The Silence of the Cicadas"
POSTED 1:35pm | 21 JULY 2015
At its very core Zoo, the new high-concept drama from CBS, is completely silly. The setup that something is making animals violently turn against their human masters is fine in itself, but Zoo attempts to pass the story off by couching it in scientific language with "smart" characters saying some really dumb things. It's based on the 2012 novel of the same name by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, two authors who have spent their careers writing bland thrillers that sell in extraordinary numbers, and doesn't really break any moulds.
Episode 3 picks up after the events of the first two episodes, where lions first attacked in Botswana and Los Angeles, followed by domestic dogs in Slovenia. Handsome lead Jackson Oz (James Wolk from Lone Star, The Crazy Ones) and his best friend Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie from The Grey, Game of Thrones) find themselves in Tokyo searching for clues about Oz Snr's last research, French super-agent Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder from Safe House, Paris 36) is recruited by the mysterious stranger Gaspard Alves (Henri Lubatti from Sleeper Cell, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son), and terrible/fired journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly from House of Cards, The Cabin in the Woods) tries to convince sceptical animal pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke from Revolution, Twilight) to travel with her to lobby a Senator about an evil global corporation that may be causing the crazy animals with their pesticides. Meanwhile the B story follows death row inmate Evan Lee Hartley (Marcus Hester), on the day before he is to be executed by lethal injection, as wolves seem to be planning on attacking the prison.
Jackson and Abe get a tip from Oz Snr's surprise Asian widow that his research might be on a radiated island outside Fukashima, so the trio hop on a light plane, but are attacked mid-air by high-flying kamikaze bats, causing them to crash on the island. Unfortunately the pilot and Tokyo Step-Mom don't survive the crash, leaving Jackson and Abe to search the island alone while awaiting rescue. Jamie and Mitch land in New Orleans where, upon having her credit card declined, Jamie finally reveals to Mitch that she is actually unemployed now and has no money. Somehow she talks him into spotting her for the remainder of the trip with a sob story about her mother and the duo confront the Senator with their evidence against Reiden Global, but he's not convinced by Jamie's crazy eyes and explains to her that Reiden is just too powerful to fight.
The B story doesn't connect with the A story again this episode. The wolves attack the prison (making for a pretty hilarious scene) and leave everyone dead except for the condemned killer, while, when all hope seems lost, the major players are finally brought together in Tokyo by Mr. Mysterious to form some super-group tasked with solving the growing animal attack problem and saving the world. It's really brain-numbing stuff. Ridiculous plotting that makes no sense with dialogue laden in pseudo-science and conspiracy theory logic. It's a shame, because the cast is good, and they do an admirable job with the material they're given, but their efforts are wasted on Zoo.
This episode was written by Denitria Harris-Lawrence and directed by Chris Long (neither of which have done any work of great significance or note), and they keep it moving along at a decent click, but it's clear that they were tasked with putting together the cheaper episode that links the more expressive (and expensive) opening two episodes with the rest of the series. There are a lot of moving parts that only exist to get all the separate characters together in one room at the end.
What Zoo has going for it is some very good work from its support technical crew. Set medic turned location scout Frank Duffy has found some excellent locations around New Orleans that pass believably for countries on opposite sides of the globe, while production designer Lauren Crasco has got the art department creating a strong look and feel for the series. There is also again some excellent cinematography from Dan Stoloff (Miracle, Suits) which is backed up by some absolutely superb camera work from Michael Applebaum (This Is the End, Olympus Has Fallen, Survivor) and Remi Tournois (22 Jump Street, Now You See Me). It's top-notch television production work that is let down only by the story. That's the main point I feel I need to get across here: everything in Zoo is truly top quality for television except for the writing and plotting - and that is at such a low level of quality that nothing can save the series from here.
After three episodes I can't recommend sticking with Zoo. No matter how gorgeous it may look at times (and no matter how gorgeous James Wolk may look at times) there is nothing of substance here. I hope the animals win in the upcoming war against humans, but at this point it feels like a poor re-hash of Planet of the Apes territory.
Watch list: Extinct