The Walking Dead
Entering its 5th season (which is still a bit crazy to me) Walking Dead had everything going for it. After the best season opener since the original the season was riding high. While it’s a bit old hat to have a decision Rick makes to bite him in the ass it worked in developing his character. He listened to others and showed that despite his still being vicious he it wasn’t the Ricktatorship we saw before. The Terminus cannibals also made for some good villains. Always on the outside and waiting to strike they were a constant threat. More importantly they were rarely the main focus. Their mystique was never killed off by bad writing. Instead we got quieter moments and self contained stories fleshing out newer characters. The audience learned more about Abraham and Eugene; hell even Rosita got some back story. Add some much improved zombie effects and it seemed like the series was finally living up to its potential.
Then came Beth.
After being a fairly bland character Beth became pretty interesting over the past season. Her interactions with Daryl in particular helped cement her as one of the better characters in the cast before she was kidnapped. What could have made for a good, slow build to a midseason or even season finale resulted in the worst villain yet. So she’s taken to a hospital run by a villain with self-esteem issues and meets a doctor who doesn’t do anything after an episode. That’s it? Even worse it ends the mid-season finale with Dawn (aforementioned villain) saying she needs to be villainous because she needs to be respected (despite knowing she has one) and killing Beth because Beth did something really stupid. Just… what?? It’s clearly supposed to be an emotional shock but after weeks of this plodding storyline I was just glad we were leaving these goofs.
It’s a shame too because The Walking Dead was riding a big wave of momentum before. Episodes like Consumed and Self Help really helped build the show’s new and old characters. With so much of the show focusing on Beth I couldn’t but help but be disappointed by season’s end. At least we still have Morgan walking around being all bad ass and mysterious.
How do you compete with one of the most popular current shows despite having a similar premise? Surprisingly the answer is to go full on crazy with it as you can. Even more surprising though is that it works. No seriously it did. Produced by The Asylum (Sharknado, Sharktopus) they decided that the serious route has already been taken and decided to make the show fun. In only 13 episodes we had several major character deaths, a cult that worships the undead and a zombie baby. It’s that kind of show.
With all that kind of craziness they still managed to keep running plots. The main thing pushing the show is this group of survivors having to transfer criminal Murphy to California. Experimented on in prison he is the only person to be bitten by a Z (nobody can just say zombie on these shows) he may have the secret to curing the epidemic. As the season progressed we learned that he was more than just that. In typical crazy fashion Murphy was able to turn others and control zombies while keeping his humanity. Essentially he became zombie Jesus and as silly as that was it was oddly captivating TV.
I can’t say all of it worked though. While the crazy obstacles were fun we still had our main cast who weren’t exactly the best. Besides some less than stellar acting moments the characters could be extremely boring at times. For example Mack and Addy were little more than the generic young lovers in the apocalypse trope or Cassandra doing the mysterious background gimmick. It’s all well worn territory but we still get some decent stories out of them. Pretty useless for the most part Mack and Addy had a fun recurring dream episode.. Sure it led to an obvious and cliché conclusion but if you ever wanted to see a c-lister from Twilight become zombie food it provided that.
Z Nation isn’t perfect. Aside from some dull side characters the special effects can be downright laughable at times and the more serious stuff doesn’t work a lot of the time. The thing is it’s not meant to be perfect. Forgoing most serious storytelling Z Nation is just trying to be fun which it accomplished. I can’t believe I’m going to write this but I probably enjoy it more than The Walking Dead. It may not look as good or have the budget to compete with most major TV shows but at the end of the day TV should be fun. Fun is what Z Nation excels at.
Also there was a zombie bear (or what I like to call Zombear).