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'Z Nation' Review: Zombie Show Has More Bark Than Bite, And That's OK

09/12/2014 10:17 EDT | Updated 11/12/2014 05:59 EST
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I'm a wuss when it comes to scary shows and movies. Before going down to the basement to do laundry, I would limber up with some jumping jacks, knowing that after throwing the clothes into the machines, I would then fly up the stairs two at a time, trying not to look at the furnace for fear that Freddy Krueger might jump out at me. To this day, I do a shudder-y double-take whenever I see someone wearing a black-and-red-striped sweater. I know. Don't.

But for some reason, zombies don't freak me out. On the contrary, I make an effort to watch movies (the recent mainstream ones, that is) like "Shaun of the Dead," "Dawn of the Dead," "28 Days Later," "Zombieland," "Warm Bodies." And "The Walking Dead" is easily in my top five television shows of all time.

So, naturally, I gravitated towards the latest zombie series, "Z Nation." The series is from The Asylum -- the producers who brought the world "Sharknado" -- but don't sneer at "Z Nation." It's nothing like the campy oceanic creature sci-fi phenomenon; though don't get me wrong, it's no "Walking Dead" either. And so begin the comparisons.

While "The Walking Dead'"s dramatic moments are the main reason I tune in, "Z Nation" doesn't really have too much of that, from what I can tell thus far. It does have a good blend of suspense and horror and camp and thankfully the cast (which includes Harold Perrineau, Tom Everett Scott, Kellita Smith and DJ Qualls) is game and is more badass than bad.

Where "Z Nation" might have an advantage over "The Walking Dead'"s early years is that it moves faster. "Z Nation" is a 13-part series set three years after a mysterious zombie virus has gutted the U.S. and the only hope for a cure lies within a test subject, who's hiding a dark secret that threatens him and the group tasked with transporting him from New York to California. Which is why it might have another leg up on "TWD": it's not just about survival (though that is a big part of it). Rather, the "Z Nation" peeps have a 3,000-mile mission and that (aside from the other obvious traits) makes it stand out.

Is it unfair to keep up the comparisons between the AMC and Space shows? Probably. But showrunner and executive producer Karl Schaefer ("Eureka") had to know what he was getting into. On "The Walking Dead," in spite of all the zombie madness, there's a polished human drama at its core. Don't expect that from "Z Nation." It's all about the action and those suspenseful moments -- but that only makes it that much more enjoyable.

The characters might need serious development, but since we don't know much about them, they can also go anytime. And the writing, well, it's not good. Perrineau's character trying to lure out a zombified baby Chuckie by muttering, "Here, baby, baby baby. Come to Papa," is cringeworthy at best. But that's OK. This latest zombie apocalypse series may be more Z-quality than A but just like "Sharknado," it's in on the joke, making for highly entertaining television. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.

"Z Nation" premieres Friday, September 12 at 10 p.m. ET on Space in Canada and on SyFy in the U.S.

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