At some point, you really start to feel for actors, and I’d give anything if James Wolk could just catch a break that would stick. He’s been on good shows, bad shows, and shows that should have lasted, but he’s never quite managed to rocket to stardom.
I feel for him, because he’s really good, and I wish Lone Star was still on to show off his talents. He’s had breaks, but it’s like he’s cursed, because they just don’t turn into what you’d expect. The starring role in Lone Star didn’t pan out, and neither did the “sidekick” role in The Crazy Ones. He got a 12-episode run on Mad Men, but he didn’t exactly turn into the guy everyone was talking about (although, it didn’t hurt him).
Now, just when you hear that he’s going to have another big role, it turns out to be Zoo.
Also staring Kristen Connolly, Billy Burke, Nonso Anozie, and Nora Arnezeder, Zoo is based on a James Patterson novel, and follows the strange turn of events surrounding animal attacks and otherwise odd behavior.
We find Wolk working in Africa taking tourists on safaris, when suddenly lions start killing people. That coincides with several lions going berserk back in the U.S., which is how we lock onto a journalist who wants to bring down a corporate giant with a connection to said lions. She leads us to Burke’s character, the animal expert, and the more we find out about what’s going on, the more it looks like an alarm went off in the head of every animal on Earth.
The production is trying to watch, with competent actors battling furiously against a plot that is at best something to figure out a party game for, and at worst unapologetic self-mockery. Burke, who not only can be very good, but actually comes very close to being believable here (which is basically impossible), has to stare at a tree full of cats and feign being menaced and unnerved.
The book may work, but this is in that class of novel – perhaps like King’s Cujo and/or Pet Cemetary – that may make for a chilling read, but loses its power as soon as someone tries to film it. It isn’t just that it’s not scary, it’s funny that you’re acting like it’s scary.
Through the first half of the pilot, it seems that we could make something out of it, but the show quickly spins into the surreal, as opposed to trying to take advantage of the oddness of the premise. This is, one must assume, to be true to the book, but if animals all over the world started going nuts, working together, and attacking people, that would actually be weird enough.
Worse, the script paints so heavily in neon letters, beating you over the head with the nonsense theory about pupils, and the normal habits of animals, that it moves beyond thinking you’re too stupid to follow along, and is just convinced that you’re stupid because you’re watching it at all. That’s not a big selling point.
On the positive side, most of the negatives also mean that the show is being straight with you, in its own way. It isn’t pretending to be any better than it is. The journalist is “revealed” to be writing an underground blog in the most stale, belabored, poorly acted scene in years (that wasn’t attached to the name Shonda Rhimes), a pair of veteran safari guides are outfoxed by a couple of lions, and just at the end of the first episode, a lion pulls a guy up a tree in a scene that is shot like a kid with an iPhone making a movie. I’m led to understand that certain big cats will, in some situations, pull their kills up a tree. This is the sort of thing that, in the development of a script, if it’s true, you should lie.
There’s every chance that this one can hold itself high enough through a summer slot to stick around, and CBS generally sticks with their shows longer than other networks, but if people come back through the third episode, I’ll be amazed. Of course, that’s assuming there aren’t enough drunk, college students who can’t figure out anything better to do.