It was announced last week that Amazon’s most high profile pilot pick-up, Zombieland adapted for television, would not be moving forward as a series. I had intended to watch it, even though my brother said it was pretty bad. But when the creator tweeted that fans “hated it out of existence,” I knew I had to make time in my schedule to check out just how bad ‘bad’ actually was. In a word: bad.
Problem #1 (just imagine this as a graphic popping up on screen like it’s part of the scenery.): Casting.
It’s pretty obvious that the four people pictured above are not the all-star cast assembled for the film version. That would be ridiculous to expect any one of the four to agree to reprise their role for a low-rent knockoff of their previous work that will only be seen on the internet. But this crew looks absolutely nothing like their counterparts. I guess in between the events of the film and the pilot, Tallahassee grew his hair out and Wichita dyed her hair brown. I’d like to believe that they just went with whatever actors nailed the auditions but yet, you always read about auditioning actors walking into a room full of people who looked just like them, so if that’s the case, these are the looks they were going for. Weird. It’s distracting and takes a lot of getting used to. I completely understand that Z-land was originally pitched as a TV show and the creator probably wanted to keep ideas he had for his characters. But it’s a no win situation. He either recasts and causes a distraction or makes new characters who would most likely end up acting in very similar fashion. (Which he would then take heat for, most likely). But that’s not the biggest flaw. In fact, I kind of got used to it. I had a much bigger issue with…
Problem # 2: Plot
Here’s the problem a lot of zombie stories run into. Once you establish the premise of “the apocalypse,” there are not a lot of places to go with that. There’s “survival,” which can be exciting at times, but isn’t really a plot. Besides, Zombieland doesn’t even pretend that the main characters are in danger. It becomes a running gag that every person they encounter dies immediately. It’s supposed to be funny (one character even straight up says so), but by the third time it happened, I was left feeling disappointed. Not to harp on the casting again, but the four mains are just not compelling enough to carry the show. I was hoping for new characters to be added to shake up the dynamic. Can’t they find a crazy survivor woman to match wits with Tallahassee, or a hot young dude to test the tentative bond between Columbus & Wichita? As it is, this thirty minute program manages to become boring and repetitive. I get that the foursome is trying to find more people and a place to call home, but that loose structure never feels like something that can be sustained from week to week in an interesting way.
Problem # 3: Suspension of Disbelief
Everyone knows the main characters are not going to die and in a comedy, that can be presented in a funny, meta way, as seen in Archer. But Archer is a cartoon so bullets can fly around him and through him much more casually. The Zombieland crew, even as potentially the last four people on Earth, still treat death as something that happens to other people. The constant threat doesn’t scare them because there is no threat. Tallahassee shoots zombies without even turning his head, and as I mentioned, they think it’s funny when other people die instead of them. A wacky comedy still has to have some kind of relatability to the audience, so even if shrugging off danger and death is a state these people might eventually reach, it isn’t hilarious. Their callousness makes them unlikeable. Archer is supposed to be an asshole so it’s okay, but the Zombieland crew is a “family.” In a family, heartlessness shouldn’t be played for laughs. That’s psychotic.
A second point on suspension of disbelief is the fact that everything still works. In a 90 minute movie, fine, whatever. But in a show that is intended to go on indefinitely? They’re still just walking into a furniture store to chill out and all the lights are on? Blatant product placements aside, freaking OnStar still works? Why are these people using the gas to drive around looking for a place to live when any place will apparently do? If there’s still electricity, why do they encounter their potential new friends in a tent on the streets and an abandoned warehouse? I found this to be more of a distraction than I would have if they had recast the mains with pornstar midgets.
Problem #4: It’s Just Not Funny
Let’s be honest. I would be able to look past head-scratching casting choices, lack of plot, and unbelievable situations if I had spent a half hour laughing my butt off. All the problems I’ve listed are things I’ve happily forgiven in things I enjoyed (Archer e.g.). Zombieland: The Pilot drew not one single chuckle from me. Barely even a smirk. The opening scene where something mundane is happening in the foreground while people are oblivious to the craziness in the background has been done to death and it’s not particularly well done here. I already mentioned how casual reactions to death aren’t funny, so I won’t harp on that again. There’s just an inherent, flat-out lack of jokes in the script. Seriously, a stupid character is the easiest kind to write and yet Tallahassee’s stupidity somehow never lands effectively. Maybe Woody Harrelson could have coaxed something funny out of trying to pull a tablecloth out from under the settings but, again, really? That’s your gag? They did that 30 years ago in Ghostbusters and I’m sure they didn’t invent it.
In the end, the whole show ended up making me feel sad. A Zombieland TV show has potential on paper and in the right hands, it could have turned into an enjoyable romp. But unfortunately, those hands don’t belong to the actual creator, apparently. Grade: D