REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX
Zombies are all the rage these days, so even with Syfy cancelling Z-Nation after five seasons, it’s unsurprising that the show has garnered a prequel spin-off, set in the early days of its zombie apocalypse. It’s the same trick as The Walking Dead pulled with Fear the Walking Dead, going back to the beginning to explore the fall of civilization and the rise of the walkers.
What sets Black Summer apart from the rest, however, is its emphasis on action while other shows spend most of their time with round table discussions and debating ethics in the face of zombie armageddon. There’s a pleasing lack of debate here as the remaining humans concentrate on survival, desperately trying to get to safety before the living dead can overwhelm them all. It’s nice to see a zombie show with a bit of urgency to it.
Some episodes don’t even last as long as most conversations on The Walking Dead, varying between 20 and 45 minutes apiece. Each is precisely what it needs to be, taking advantage of Netflix’s flexible format, with little room for flab or padding. It follows a handful of survivors as they attempt to navigate the city and reach safety, switching between perspectives and groups in neatly cropped little chapters, each episode following a theme or setting – a school, motorway, or the ominously titled ‘Alone’ – and sometimes meeting in the middle, through a different pair of eyes.
What it lacks however, is its characters’ personalities. A more boring bunch of humans have rarely ever been assembled for a TV series, entirely lacking in charisma, warmth or personality. Only Jaime King is of any note – because she’s Jaime King, and because of the overarching story forced upon her, as a mother separated from her child at the outset. If anyone has names, you won’t remember them; their faces forgotten by the time the end credits have finished rolling.
Nevertheless, there’s a scale and invention to the show limited only by its lack of a budget. One doesn’t even need to have ever watched an episode of Z-Nation to follow; tonally, thematically and in setting and story, it’s a completely different entity. It’s worth it for the episode ‘Alone’ alone, a one-man show (if you don’t count the zombie) which is stronger and more compelling than anything The Walking Dead has put out in years.
Black Summer is Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake with the budget of one of his knock-offs. It’s let down by awful characters and cheap action, but – for better and worse - it is one of the few zombie apocalypse shows to actually be about a zombie apocalypse.