One episode was provided for viewing purposes prior to broadcast.
There’s a line of narration over the opening scene of CBS’ new thriller Zoo, based on James Patterson’s novel of the same name, that threatens to expose the show for the cheesily assembled, dumbed-down thriller its scant trailers and plot descriptions make it out to be. “What if animals all across the globe decided no more,” asks the narrator, after describing humanity’s long-standing reign at the top of the food chain. “What if they decided to fight back?” Is this show pitching me its hook in the opening scene? I thought to myself as the camera panned over various shots of wildlife and nature in a way I’m sure Luc Besson would love.
Luckily, Zoo has more up its sleeve than redundant narrative devices. The show’s basic idea – worldwide coordinated animal attacks – is simultaneously laughable and freaky, lending the pilot a jittery edge. You know the second a random character is introduced it’s to become the meal-of-the-week, and there’s a decidedly monstrous delight in finding out the “by what?” lurking around each corner. It’s got its fair share of problems – it is a CBS genre series, after all – but its hook is solid, its pace is zippy, and it’s backed by a humorously overqualified cast willing to lend the C-level premise some A-level charm.
Taking the formula of the classic outbreak/disaster/apocalypse structure used, well everywhere, the show starts off with Jackson Oz (James Wolk), an American zoologist living in Botswana, Africa, heading up safari guides for tourists and scaring off local poachers with a busted-up tape deck. He’s got a dad-sized chip on his shoulder and a laissez-faire attitude, but showcases verve when a pack of lions begin terrorizing local villages — putting he and his best friend in danger. Adding to the occasional dip into silliness is the whole “main character is related to the one person whose kooky theories are coming true” cliche, with his dad revealed to be some kind of crazy scientist who spouted out-there theories about extinction events and animal revolutions. This, of course, positions Jackson with a plot-handy edge over the human-hungry animals when the time comes (and come it does, barely 30 minutes into the series).
Halfway across the world, journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly, in her second TV thriller of the summer) is attempting to unearth the truth of a mysterious lion rampage through downtown Los Angeles. She’s in trouble for blasting her personal opinions on her own blog regarding the mother corporation of her newspaper, and attempting to link that company – Raiden – to the food provided to the lions that may have caused them to riot. So Jackson is aloof and foolhardy but reliable, and she’s a bad-ass truth-slinger with a keyboard and a savior complex. Their collision is inevitable, but not dreadful, as played by Connolly and Wolk, and you want to see the two push one another’s buttons and solve the mystery together.