By Dave B.
In Black Summer (Netflix), the prequel to the cult hit Z Nation, a group of survivors struggle to make it from the outskirts of an unnamed major city to a downtown where they will find evacuation to a safe haven. As they make their journey, they encounter increasingly dangerous situations as society crumbles around them. Are the bonds that they forge during this crisis durable enough to survive the challenges that they face? Or will they turn on each other when their individual survival seems most threatened?
I’ll start with the parts of Black Summer that are less than stellar: The story itself is basic in the extreme. To some extent, that’s expected, due to it being a show about the beginning weeks of a global apocalypse. Anyone who has ever seen or read anything about apocalyptic scenarios will have a pretty decent idea of the challenges that the survivors are likely to face. Unfortunately for Black Summer, it’s set in the same universe as Z Nation, which excelled at unique and creative storytelling, so the lack of a similar level of creativity in this show is disappointing. Further, the show experiences a significant increase in quality in the final half of the season. Ending on a strong note is good, but many viewers who are more casual fans of zombie entertainment may stop watching the show after the third or fourth of the season’s 8 episodes, before things really pick up. And not to belabor the comparisons with Z Nation, but I’m personally surprised how different in tone Black Summer is from its predecessor. Z Nation, while certainly gritty when it chose to be, was often funny, quirky, endearing and contained characters that were unlike any on television. Black Summer has none of those qualities. While some of the characters are interesting, I don’t find any of them to be particularly memorable.
All that said, I LOVE Black Summer! It takes place just weeks after the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, so most people still haven’t fully adapted to their new reality. It makes the show relatable in a way that a lot of zombie fiction that takes place much later, after the fall of society, just isn’t. Black Summer is also filled to the brim with an incredible feeling of tension. I wouldn’t say that it contains many jump scares, but the camerawork, sound, and acting are done in such a way that a palpable sense of dread fills every scene. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that each episode is short, ranging from 20 to 44 minutes, and is broken up into segments showing events from the perspective of main characters. Although not always effective, especially early in the series, this technique is used to GREAT effect in the last three episodes. Speaking of which, the last episode is WILD! Although it’s the shortest episode in the season, it’s also BY FAR the most nerve-wracking, fast-paced, and just plain nuts episode of television that I’ve seen in years! By itself, it makes the entire season worth watching.
In short, Black Summer is a bit of a mixed bag at times when it comes to its quality of storytelling, but if you let yourself get carried away by the environment that the show creates, it’s a hell of an emotional ride and I definitely recommend it. It’s one of the few television shows that I would watch again without any hesitation, because I know that it would it will spark the same feelings of delicious dread no matter how many times that I see it. Fans of Z Nation will be disappointed if they expect Black Summer to be anything like the show that they’ve loved and lost. But this prequel is solid, has a lot of potentially interesting stories to tell, and will likely improve now that it has set the stage for the world that its characters will inhabit. I’m definitely looking forward to the next season of this promising show.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.