June 30, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Zoo”


ZOO:  Thursday 10PM on CBS

Every summer, CBS changes its drama hat from procedural to low-rent sci-fi.  It’s a path the network has followed since Under the Dome became a (temporary) surprise hit, even though the results, after that initial success, haven’t been great.  (BrainDead did earn points for sheer weirdness.)  ZOO had just about run out of story by the end of its 2d season, and it turned that season’s final scene into what amounted to a filmed pitch for a Season 3 pick-up, with a time-jump epilogue set 10 years later.  The tactic worked, and the show is back.

For the most part, the Season 3 premiere (written by Supervising Producer Melissa Glenn and Staff Writer Nicole Phillips) followed through with a more detailed version of the plotlines sketched out in last season’s finale.  A decade later, most animals had been cured of the virus that made them bloodthirsty, but the fanatical group that distributed the cure added an ingredient that made all humans sterile.  In addition, Dr. Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke), the animal pathologist who was one of our heroes, was revealed by his now-adult daughter Clementine (Gracie Dzienny) to be not so dead after all.

The premiere’s action proceeded on four fronts.  We learned that the remaining mutant animals were confined to the west coast of the US, walled off from the rest of the country (no word on whether Mexico had paid for the wall), and that Jackson Oz (James Wolk)–who may have acquired Dr. Doolittle-like mental control abilities over the animals–was working with new girlfriend Tessa (Hilary Jardine) to keep them docile.  In the midwest, Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie) and wife Daniela (Alyssa Diaz) were working both to identify Jackson’s mutants and to reverse human sterility.  And on the east coast, Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) was both superstar author and super spy, tracking down the remaining members of the group that had infected the cure.  We soon found out as well that Mitch Morgan was indeed alive, kept in some form of liquid suspended animation in Siberia.

There is, of course, some kind of massive conspiracy afoot, which resulted in a west coast bombing and unidentified agents breaking Mitch out of his tube before Clementine could get there so they could interrogate him–unless that “Clementine” they produced at the end of the episode as a good cop questioner was the real one (doubtful) instead of some form of clone.  Also, it can’t be good news that the mutant animal blood sample Jackson sent Abe spontaneously began to grow into a living being.

Zoo is utterly unchallenging sci-fi, with no interest in social commentary even though its premise of human sterility is the same one that informed Children of Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, two of the most pointed dystopian stories of recent years.  It’s only interested in action sequences and scenes where characters excitedly grasp twists we’d figured out two acts earlier.  Even on that level, premiere director Michael Katleman wasn’t able to squeeze the budget enough to make the CG beasts look remotely real.

Zoo‘s new plotlines seem likely to be variations of its old ones, and it’s far from clear that will be enough to hold back the ratings declines that were evident by the end of last season.  But this stuff is just inexpensive product for CBS (the network has a brief window on each episode and then allows it to stream online), something to keep the scripted lights on until September.  The animals may be wild, but the show itself could hardly be more tame.

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."