Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Fracking Zombies" and Zombie Flambé in "Z Nation:" A Television Review

Director: John Hyams.

Writers: Karl Schaefer, Craig Engler, Michael Cassutt and Jennifer Derwingson.

Cast: Kellita Smith, DJ Qualls, and Michael Welch.

"Z Nation" is a new zombie themed series, from the SyFy Network. Two episodes from the series have been released to date. "Fracking Zombies" is the latest episode to debut, on September 19th, 2014. Hammond (Harold Perrineau) is long gone. Now, the survivors of a ruthless zombie attack must band together on the road to California. Though, their destination might have already been overrun. In "Fracking Zombies," the characters stop off at a large post-apocalyptic looking refinery, while a communication officer languishes in the Arctic. This episode offered lots of creepy settings and even a few interesting characterizations. "Z Nation" and this latest episode have a few interesting stories to tell, in the zombie apocalypse.

The main storyline focused on one group at the refinery. They are in need of more fuel and all of the gas stations are full of the undead. A sketchy stranger leads the group to a nearby gas refinery, but this location only brings more terror and tragedy. The group does their best to gather some fuel; their efforts are not rewarded with anything tangible. Farther north, a radio operator is trying to guide this group to a safe location. But, Citizen Z's (DJ Qualls) own location is under threat. A pack of sled dogs turns up at his location. One of the dogs is infected with a virulent virus, which turns everyone into brainless flesheaters. Citizen Z does his best to stay alive, while staving off loneliness. Both of these storylines are interconnected by a phone booth and a desire to reverse the effects of a deadly plague.

The Asylum is using suitable settings. The Asylum, which is based in Los Angeles, is a production and distribution company and "Z Nation" is their first television series. Known for cheap effects, The Asylum's location scouts have really put in some hardwork, on this show. The com' station in the Arctic looks believably eerie. Here, Citizen Z walks about darkened halls and into a dour radio room. This setting is particularly useful for creating a horror tone. At the refinery, there is lots of room to create choreographed action sequences. Though, from the outset, this location looks nothing like an actual refinery. Still, all of the pipe work and steel infrastructure creates enough believability for the show. These two settings hosted two terrorific conflicts.

The survivors were at the center of all of the conflict. Cassandra (Pisay Pao), Warren (Kellita Smith), Mack (Michael Welch) and others are developing slightly. Cassandra has a sordid past to hide from the group. Apparently, she was part of a biker cult. Tobias might be the leader and he does not like stragglers leaving him. Murphy (Keith Allan) is doing his best to overcome a zombie phobia, but so is everyone else. Murphy might want to find a little more courage, in the zombie apocalypse, before it is too late. As a sidenote, Hammond was the central hero from the first episode. His departure will signal to viewers that anyone can be removed at anytime. All of the survivors, minus the strange biker, make it through this episode, while revealing a little more about themselves. The characterizations continued to be intriguing, in this second episode.

There is one other element this viewer enjoyed and one element that was less exciting. The Asylum is often good at developing good pacing and action. In this episode, there were diesel zombies, which were later set aflame. This scene was especially well done (get it?). Other scenes are equally action-packed. Zombies are consistently threatening the characters from all sides. On the other hand, this episode was very episodic. It was created like a rest stop in the show's wider storyline. Did the plot move ahead? The answer is: not really. The characters are no closer to delivering their "package," better known as Murphy. Instead, there are more challenges in their way. Their destination is overrun and a crazy biker gang is on the hunt for them. A cure for pandemic is a long way off.

"Fracking Zombies" offered a couple of exciting scenarios, with the zeds creating many of the thrills. The visuals were often compelling. The diesel coated zombies were a good, gooey touch. Characters are deepening as best they can in a The Asylum production. Also, story elements are focused but a resolution to this storyline is way off in the distance. Settings are horrifying enough, while more threats lie just around the corner. Overall, "Z Nation" is heavy on the camp and this show offers its zombie action very tongue-in-cheek. More great lines and difficult situations are sure to come in "Philly Feast," which airs September 22nd, 2014.

Overall: 6.75 out of 10 (scenarios are larger than life, some unbelievable moments - a zombie filled diesel tank comes to mind).

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