By Dave B.
If you ask most television fans to name the most creative and unique shows on TV, a lot will name Legion. Some lesser amount may name Dirk Gently. But often overlooked (unfairly I might add) is a show that preceded them both: Z Nation (Syfy, also currently on Netflix). It campily infuses the post-apocalypse zombie genre with humor, horror, and a psychedelic sensibility that is unlike anything else you’re likely to come across.
There’s a lot to love about Z Nation. For starters, it never forgets its roots as a zombie apocalypse tale. This helps keep it grounded in the world its characters inhabit, which is a good thing, because the writers of Z Nation make it a point to remind viewers that reality is often quite subjective. From the constant human- and zombie-based dangers they face to zombie-infused weed and multiple forms of mind control and manipulation, characters on the show can only ever be certain of three things: tomorrow may never come to them, they’ll finish the mission or die trying, and they need to have fun whenever, wherever, and however they can as time and circumstance allow. That touches on one of the aspects to the show that makes it great, instead of merely good: Yes, most good zombie entertainment contains a decent amount of social commentary, but what elevates Z Nation is that it’s primary (but subtle) focus is on existential issues and the impact that perception can have upon those issues.
Despite the things that make Z Nation so unique and creative, it’s longevity is due in large part to getting the fundamentals right. There’s action aplenty (this show can be pretty gory, so those with sensitive stomachs, beware). The major arcs and the minor stories within them have remained fresh for the four seasons that it’s been on the air. In fact, it often feels like the type of show where one wouldn’t mind if each episode were movie length. My only major knock against Z Nation is the characters. Don’t get me wrong. They’re fantastic: well-developed, charismatic, and they don’t fall into any stereotypes. No, my issue is that the showrunners have no problem killing off (or disappearing) some of my favorite significant characters with little to no warning. It makes for a better show because the dangers feel real, but damn! Sometimes it really hurts.
I’m not going to say that Z Nation is for everyone. I think that those who are willing and able to see the joy in grief and the poignancy in absurdity will feel right at home with this show. In other words, getting into it requires a degree of mental flexibility that some people may be uncomfortable with. That said, I highly recommend Z Nation to anyone willing to expand their horizons and grapple with their mortality and morality, while having a good laugh and a good cry, and occasionally having the crap scared out of themselves.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.