TV Review: Zombieland – The Series Pilot (2013)
You know what, I get it: you want it all. You want the pizza that’s both delicious and non-fattening. You want the underwear that’s both comfortable and makes you look good in the mirror. You want the partner that’s both hot and rich, and is willing to let you do a Dirty Lugosi with them.
And you want the movie that’s both a successful horror and a comedy. It’s not easy. The number I can name off-hand can be counted on the fingers of that same hand: SHAUN OF THE DEAD, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL… there are others, I know, but my brain isn’t quite working at the moment. Anyway, getting a movie that can give you laughs and scares that work is as rare as an incorruptible politician.
ZOMBIELAND was another example. This 2009 zom-com (reviewed by Scott here), directed by Ruben Fleischer (30 MINUTES OR LESS) from a screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wemick (both of whom have since collaborated on G.I. JOE: RETALIATION), starred Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as survivors of a zombie apocalypse making their way across America in an attempt to find sanctuary – and Twinkies.
There was a lot to distinguish ZOMBIELAND from the pack, including a narration offering onscreen “rules” to survival, and the characters referring to each other by their hometowns so as not to get too emotionally attached to people who might get eaten at any moment. It had its weaknesses (including a sagging middle section), but the chemistry between the leads, including Harrelson (as the cool-as-ice Alpha zombie killer Tallahassee) and Eisenberg (as his snarky protégé Columbus) gave it strength. It became a massive hit, grossing more than $175 million dollars worldwide and surpassing Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) as the top-grossing zombie film to date in America.
Since its release, there had been talk of a sequel, though its main stumbling blocks have been the busy schedule of those involved (plus the fact that the cast have moved up into the big time and would probably eat up most of the budget). And anyway, could lightning strike twice?
Apparently, someone thought so, because earlier this year Internet shopping titan Amazon moved into web-based television production, creating fourteen pilots, eight comedies and six children’s shows, putting them free online and allowing people to vote on which ones they’d most like to see made into series. It’s a system that couldn’t have been possible before the age of crowd-sourcing, and has great potential (and misuse, if enough Bieberfans get together to do anything more than wet their pants over their little god-king). I had a read through most of the pilots available; the only one that interested me was DARK MINIONS, a stop-motion animated series about two slackers working as stormtroopers for an evil Galactic Empire.
Oh, and the ZOMBIELAND TV series.
Could it work? Why not? Funnily enough, Reese and Wemick had first conceived of ZOMBIELAND back in 2004 as a TV series (What, a zombie-based TV series? Never happen). And they’re back working on this project, along with Eli Craig (director and scribe for the excellent TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL). Naturally they couldn’t get any of the principal cast for something like this. But still, having the original writers, with one from a well-received fellow horror-comedy, should still mean something decent can come of it.
The show opens with two office workers having an extended conversation about nothing of value, the same as a billion other office workers (myself included). But it’s what’s happening outside their window that’s important: Zombie Attack! The workers remain oblivious to anyone but the hapless sandwich guy who strolls in – but when one of the zombies breaks in and attacks, it’s the sandwich guy who takes action. And it’s here that the sandwich guy is revealed as our hero, Tallahassee (Kirk Ward, FORREST GUMP, AUSTIN POWERS).
Soon we’re brought up to speed to the state of post-apocalyptic America (a few weeks after the events of the movie), courtesy of narration from lovable geeky loser Columbus (Tyler Ross, NATE AND MARGARET). Columbus rides with Tallahassee, the cold and guarded Wichita (Maiara Walsh, MEAN GIRLS 2), whom Columbus had a crush on, and Little Rock (Izabela Vidovic), Wichita’s little sister with a potty mouth. The pilot is basically an excuse to introduce our four, their world, and a fifth regular character, the unseen Detroit (Kendra Fountain), a former OnStar guide who still performs a version of her old job in the new world, passing messages, aiding survivors and basically playing Charlie to these zombie-killing angels.
And that’s it, basically. The plot involved our quartet seeking a fifth member, finding them – and then losing them, either to zombies or some stupid accident. The first and second time, it’s amusing. After that, however, it gets to be like some MONTY PYTHON sketch, and I hope that this won’t comprise the bulk of the series if this gets greenlit into a series.
Visually, it remains close to the film, the undead hordes looking effective as well as rather silly, and the deserted towns and cities look good (though I still wonder, as I do watching more than a few post-apocalyptic movies, why the power is still working). And it’s just as playful showing you “the rules” as well as keeping count with how often Tallahassee refers to a certain female body part (if you watch it, stick with the credits and see the number count rise dramatically with some outtakes).
The makeup is passable, the gorier effects are CGI for the more spectacular pieces. The cast? Again, passable. Kirk Ward has the biggest shoes to fill, as so many fans of the movie believe Woody Harrelson is irreplaceable. And they’re right. Kirk Ward seems like an okay guy and okay actor, but he’s not Woody, and will never be Woody (snicker!). That’s not his fault. Blame the writers, not just for wanting to bring their story back to the public, but for slightly altering the character.
Tallahassee is still a bad-ass zombie character ala the movie, but they’ve added a lovable goofball element to him. You watch him effortlessly blow away a zombie without even looking in one scene, and then see him repeatedly and unsuccessfully try that old “pull the tablecloth out from under the table dining sets” trick in an abandoned Ikea the next. I would have preferred to keep Tallahassee an impossibly cool inspirational figure for Columbus. This way it feels a bit more like a MY NAME IS EARL mash-up with THE WALKING DEAD.
Confession time: I’m not a massive fan of the movie, at least not to the point where I’d rather not have a series rather than a sequel. Frankly, the chances of a sequel now, with any of the original cast, are slightly less than zero. So if you want to see these characters and this world, then this is probably going to be the only way to do it. And it’s probably going to be the one that gets the series. Catch the trailer below:
Director: Eli Craig
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. But not for long; it’s just finished a vindaloo.