June 30, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Zoo”


ZOO:  Tuesday 9PM on CBS – Change the Channel

Of all the broadcast networks, CBS is the biggest fan of branding.  It has its procedural hours during the regular season, its working-class half-hours (which are either multi-camera or feel like they could be), and more recently, its summer sci-fi thrillers.  Under the Dome begat Extant, and now we have the newly begotten ZOO, a show that requires about as many brain cells to watch as the chewing of a stick of gum.

Based on a novel by fiction conglomerate James Patterson (and Michael Ledwidge), Zoo has a bewildering number of Hollywood heavy hitters attached to it.  It’s been developed for television by the team of Scott Rosenberg (Con Air), Jeff Pinkner (Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and the Executive Producers also include director James Mangold (The Wolverine), although the initial episode is directed by Brad Anderson.  It’s not clear why 4 A-level writers were needed to put together the equivalent of a Samuel Z. Arkoff drive-in movie, but that’s the TV business for you.

The opening hour doesn’t do much more than establish the basic situation, which is that animals are through with taking crap from humans and ready to wreak some havoc.  In what’s supposed to be both Botswana and Los Angeles (the show was actually shot in Louisiana), lions are killing people for no clear reason, and in LA the cats (you can never trust the cats) are hanging out together and generally acting suspiciously.  Luckily for humanity, there are some spunky heroes in each location.  In Botswana, photo safari operator Jackson Oz (James Wolk) is soon teamed up with lovely Chloe Tousignant (Nora Amezeder), who conveniently just split from her fiancee.  Jackson’s late father (Ken Olin, seen in video clips) was a professor who had ideas about animals that were dismissed as just dang crazy, so clearly they’re totally accurate.  Meanwhile in LA, reporter Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) doesn’t even care if she’s fired by her newspaper as she pursues the story of the food company (corporately tied to her paper) whose products may be linked to the locally homicidal animals, a pursuit that leads her to antisocial (yet still charming) animal pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke).

Silliness in the service of summer scares isn’t necessarily a bad thing:  Jurassic World has already sold more than a billion dollars of tickets in the last few weeks, and it doesn’t make much more sense than Zoo.  But Jurassic has the $150M budget to provide state of the art spectacle and non-stop action.  Zoo‘s entire season probably didn’t cost one-third of that, and so we mostly get shots of animals looking balefully at the camera, and then action that occurs off-screen.  That forces us to listen to the dopey dialogue, which offers no surprises or wit, delivered by rudimentary characters.

The actors here all outclass their material (Reid Scott from Veep also turns up as Jamie’s untrustworthy boyfriend, and his deadpan as he delivers the B-movie dialogue almost feels like satire), and the production values are no more than mediocre.  There might be an audience for Zoo, grateful for an original drama that requires absolutely nothing from them during a summer heavy with Serious Television, but as slobbering companions go, this series doesn’t do any tricks worth watching.

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."