Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Idiot Box: Zombieland The Series - "Pilot" Review

Despite the unfortunate presence of poor man's Micheal Cera Jesse Eisenberg, I still quite enjoyed the original movie Zombieland. Tonally it was a new twist on the zombie genre without needing to take it too far into Warm Bodies style geek betrayal territory, its probably one of the best performances of Woody Harrelson's career, and has easily one of the funniest celebrity cameos in history when the still great Bill Murray shows up. When I heard they were making a series based on it, enacting what was originally the plan for the concept even before the movie was produced, I was skeptical that it would work in an episodic format. Even with The Walking Dead proving that zombies can work on TV, that's a horror drama, not a comedy, and this take on zombies is a much tougher tightrope to climb. After watching the pilot, I'm a bit conflicted as to whether or not it ultimately succeeds.

Zombieland The Series is for all intents and purposes a sequel to the film, recast with unknown actors to replace the famous ones. Our core group from the original film is already established with an extremely slight recap for those not already on board, and after a ridiculously funny cold opening set during the start of the outbreak, we find ourselves in the world as we last left it, mostly devoid of life, but still mostly upbeat about it. Regrettably, one of the few things I found tiresome about the film, the various rules for surviving the apocalypse, are still present, as is the Zombie Kill Of The Week, which promises to be a recurring segment if this goes to series, though I don't know if the joke will be sustainable.

The first thing that will no doubt be jarring is the tone, which eschews the mostly realistic one set by the movie in favor of a much more sitcom-like approach. The show is basically The Walking Dead meets Scrubs, right down to the skinny introvert guided by an inner monologue, in love with a brash tom boy who dismisses him, and seeking the approval of a gruff older father figure. I was surprised by how well this panned out considering how absurd it sounds even now as I write it down. All of my instincts tell me that for a zombie show to work, the zombies must maintain their menace in such a way that any character is expendable, but for this show to work, that obviously can't be true, and yet it works just the same.

Tyler Ross is good at not being as annoying as Jesse Eisenberg, though both he and Emma Stone's replacement Maiara Walsh seem a bit hamstrung by the need to imitate their characters' big screen incarnations. The big worry was always going to be whoever they brought in to play Tallahassee, and thankfully, the production team wisely decided not to even try to approximate Harrelson's mannerisms and go in a similar but different take on the character. Kirk Ward is a little more friendly and manic in the role, acting as the big dumb lovable patriarch of the group, and while I wouldn't say it is necessarily better, its unique enough that I'm able to accept it as its own thing and enjoy the result. That's actually sort of the same for the entire show, off kilter and not what you might expect if you walk into it thinking its going to be the same style as the movie, but different in a way that works for a weekly series the way some of the original stuff wouldn't have.

This first episode is infused with a dark sense of humor that shows a lot of promise for the future assuming the people behind it are smart enough to take it to series, even if I do somewhat question just how many stories they can tell with this lighthearted take on zombie horror. I was skeptical going in, but it almost immediately assuaged my concerns, and would easily be a show I would stick with week to week if given the chance. Its available online at now as of this writing, so if you get a chance, check it out and see for yourself.

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