July 7, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Zoo”


ZOO:  Tuesday 9PM on CBSa

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on ZOO:  From Botswana to Los Angeles, animals are on the attack.  Lions are mauling, and some awfully suspicious cats have clustered in a West LA tree.  In Africa, photo-safari organizer Jackson Oz (James Wolk), the son of a nutty/genius professor who prophesized the rise of the planet of the beasts, teamed with (beautiful) French tourist Chloe (Nora Amezeder) as he tried to figure out what was happening; in LA, determined reporter Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) sought information with the reluctant help of irascible (but appealing) animal pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke).

Episode 2:  Zoo‘s second hour, written by Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, two of the quartet who adapted the series from James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge’s novel, widened its cage to Slovenia, where a bland British couple had traveled to meet a potential adopted son, but the father-to-be made the mistake of following a seemingly innocent stray dog into a dark alley and became the pack’s latest serving of Slovenian Alpo.  We also journeyed to Paris, for the reveal that Chloe is a government agent of some kind.  Back in Africa, it turned out that Jackson’s best friend Abraham (Nonso Anozie) had been spared by the lions who’d seemingly bumped him off last week, apparently in order to send a “Don’t screw with us” message to mankind, and when last seen the two buds were off to Tokyo, there to track down the remaining records of Jackson’s father’s prophetic lectures.

There’s just not enough fun in Zoo to make up for how terrible it is.  Whether the animals have eaten food infected by a drug created by an evil multinational conglomerate, as Jamie theorizes, or whether they’ve just spontaneously realized that they’re more than capable of calling the shots and making humans dive for cover (Jackson’s hypothesis), nothing they do could be much worse than the writing of this show.  Sometimes slickness and a fast pace can lead to B-movie charm that makes idiocy worth watching, but there’s so little plot here to speak of that things move glacially, especially as Jackson repeats to one disbelieving listener after another that the animals have changed in a dangerous way.  Director Michael Katleman probably had little in the way of resources to simulate the globe-trotting that was going on in the episode, and the hour looked cheap in all its purported locations.  The actors, bless them, try to keep their heads up and their dialogue intelligible, but they can’t transform dung into literature.  There’s not even much action to speak of, with virtually all the animal-on-human violence taking place off screen.

Zoo didn’t have find many takers in the ratings, and given its shortcomings, it’s hard to see how things will pick up.  But the new state of network economics means that factors beyond ratings weigh into the decision to drop or retain a series, and perhaps Zoo‘s popularity online or internationally will keep it going.  If it turns out to have nine lives–or even more than one–it won’t be due to the quality on display.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  If It’s 4-Legged Creatures You Want, Try Animal Planet

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."