Humans become the hunted in CBS’ adaptation of James Patterson’s thriller, Zoo. Does the premiere start the series off with a roar or a whimper?
Let’s bitch it out…
First off, let me make an admission: I’m totally cheering for the animals in this one. I’m the guy who does a fist pump when the matador gets hooked in the junk by the bull, or a rodeo rider gets thrown ass over tea kettle by his horse. Put your head in crocodile mouths for a living? You might get bit, but I’m not going to cry over it. (That being said, Steve Irwin was awesome. RIP, buddy.)
When I heard that CBS was adapting Zoo, a thriller where the world’s animals turn against humans, into a series, I knew I had to check it out. Lions stalking and eating Swedish safari tourists? Hell yeah. Packs of dogs hunting businessmen through the streets of LA? Cool, let’s do this.
The premiere opens in the plains of Botswana, where Jackson Oz (James Wolk) is working as a tour guide for a safari company with his pal Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie). At this point in the series, Oz’s background is a little fuzzy. We know he’s in Botswana to escape a troubled past, that he drinks hard, and that he knows how to fix radios. That’s about it. Oh, and I’m not sure if this will be relevant, but his father drove himself mad (and possibly to suicide) working on unorthodox animal behaviour theories.
Oz and Kenyatta, when they’re not disrupting evil big-game hunters, investigate a number of odd goings-on around the plains. They discover the occupants of a nearby safari camp have been chased off by lions, who like the Sand People of Star Wars, were walking single file to hide their numbers. According to Oz, this isn’t normal behaviour (for the lions, it’s totally normal for Sand People), and his suspicions are confirmed when they’re ambushed by a pack of male lions. Oz is forced the leave the injured or dead Kenyatta behind and flee with fellow survivor, Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder).
Eventually, Oz realizes that daddy might have been right, and that something strange is afoot. Male lions don’t usually work together. Everyone knows that dammit!
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, we meet Jamie Campbell (House of Cards’ Kristen Connolly), a can’t-take-no-for-an-answer reporter who suspects that a recent mauling of two dude-bros by a pair of escaped lions was caused by a new diet of questionable food from sketchy biotech company, Reiden. She teams up with veterinarian pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke) to determine if the lions’ odd behaviour was natural, or “man-made.” Ultimately their investigation leads them to a neighbourhood where all the cats have gone missing. They discover a glaring of cats (no lie, a group of cats is called a “glaring”) hanging out in a tree at an elementary school, where it is ominously revealed that summer camps start…TOMORROW. It’s hinted that the children will be these kitty cats primary food source. It’s all supposed to be very threatening, but it just comes across as funny. What’s more terrifying to me is imagining the smell of cat pee that must be funking up that tree.
‘First Blood’ ends with a contrasting shot of the African lions dragging Kenyatta’s body up a tree of their own and we learn that Kenyatta may still be alive after all. I am just glad the writers elected to end with the lions and not the domestic kitties.
This episode clearly tries to keep the story lean and tight. We don’t see worldwide pandemonium yet. Renegade gorillas aren’t caving in Wall St. bankers heads, and wolf packs aren’t prowling the streets of Toronto. Yet. I hope Zoo does a good job of “unspooling” the apocalypse properly. There is a lot of good tension to be had in Oz and Campbell’s fight to convince the authorities that something serious is going on.
Zoo moves fast, and this momentum helps propel it pass some of the goofier plot points and questionable concepts. I’m most interested by what is causing the animals to go haywire. Is the world ending, like the hints by Oz’s father? Is it a biotech experiment gone wrong? Are animals just collectively fed up with humanity’s shit? Is Dr. Malcolm right that life ‘finds a way?’ Whatever the cause, Zoo is goofy summer fun that teased me enough to keep me interested until next week.
- Evil Big-Game Hunter Guy is kind of awesome in a moustache-twirling 1920’s vaudeville villain kind of way. Who agrees that he’s totally going to get gored by a rhino?
- I actually really like the way the animals aren’t made out to be the “bad guys” yet. Wait, let me rephrase that: the animals are the bad guys, but they aren’t evil and cruel bad guys. Although we haven’t seen what the guinea pigs are going to to. Those guys can be cruel.
- What’s with that CGI Los Angeles cityscape at the beginning? It looks bad. Like shitty 90’s computer-game cut scene bad. Why not just use stock footage?
- Speaking of CGI, the animals are hilariously hit or miss. Sometimes they look great, and sometimes they look completely amateurish. I know the direwolves in Game of Thrones have had their ups and downs too, so hopefully Zoo gets this nailed down in the next few episodes.
- Best role in the credits is definitely “Australian Dude” (played by Garrett Kruithof if you’re curious).
- Chloe (discussing their previous lion attack): “How does that even happen? At what point do you die? How does one get eaten to death?” Jackson: “I don’t know.”
- Chloe (taking a drink of bourbon from Oz’s flask): “They do good work in Kentucky.” I’m not sure if that line is in the book, but wow, what a stinker!
Your turn: What did you think of the premiere? Will you be coming back for more maulings? Is the premise too goofy for you to buy into, or is Zoo just good summer fun? What awesome/hilarious animal attack would you like to see? Sound off below.
Zoo airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on CBS