After watching a few episodes of SyFy's latest offering Z Nation, it's safe to speculate it's no The Walking Dead. But what is more gratifying is to add, that, it has no inclination to be. SyFy knows its audience well, so it doesn't bother to make a critique of modern society through the perilous lenses of a quasi-futuristic world where humanity is in direct confrontation with inhumanity, both within and without. Instead, it ventures into the more-traveled path in the zombie sub-genre, and embraces its roots of blood and gore of the old world cinema from a simpler time period.
Starring Kellita Smith (Three Can Play That Game, Imperial Dreams), DJ Qualls (Memphis Beat, The Core) and Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do, Southland) Z Nation tells the story of a group of survivors making their way through the zombie-ravaged America. This particular odyssey, as it happens, is not without a genuine reasoning. They are escorting the only man ever to survive bitten by zombies with his sentience intact, and in whose blood the cure for the plague may be hidden, after his original protector, an Ex-Delta Force officer has been killed by, wait for it, a zombie kidlet. The story shifts back and forth between them and Citizen Z (Qualls), a hacker, and possibly the only living employee of NSA, and his dog, both trapped in frozen tundra thousand miles away from the main group. Every episode the group faces a new set of antagonisms, ranging from dead to living, from the desolated industrialized world to the mother nature herself; as Citizen Z tries to guide them through the deformed, infested scenario, while battling his own demons of loosing the grip on his sanity due to acute seclusion and loneliness.
Admittedly, it does take a getting used to, so to appreciate the show as it is, and not, as how we envision our television to be these days. And that is not helped by the acting for the most part. Where Scott as the default and stereotyped leader Charles Garnett is a good casting and Michael Welch as Mack Thompson is promising, the rest, well, being relatively unknown, at least they try. Smith's Roberta Warren feels like lacking convictions of the very character she sketched out as and comes off wooden. Qualls, playing the role with perhaps the most potential doesn't simply have the talent to pull it off.
Even so, the show cannot be dismissed. Post Game of Thrones, 'the shock value' has garnered a viable popularity and now people expects, no demands, it from everything they intake as entertainment. This is not an audience that can be easily sated with predictable storylines, relatable characters and the underlying social message you know the show producers feel imperative to be delivered with subtlety and fineness; it turning out neither. No, we are so numbed by the constant and unending flow of media, interaction, and information, that nothing short of a big bang jolts us out of that stupor to pay attention and response. There, this show excels with brilliance. In one its recent episode it did something that completely stunned me, made me wonder where would they go after this. It was unexpected, unforeseen, unbelievable. A risque card to play this early in the show's existence. And perhaps really, that, combined with the showrunner Karl Schaefer and Craig Engler's ability and desire to give us a full forty-two minutes of uninhabited, thrilling television each week will pave the success in the future as well for Z Nation.
Final Verdict: Worth the watch.