CBS’ idea of summer escapism has an interesting bent toward, as they put it in “Zoo,” a “possible extinction event.” So in the we-all-might-die spirit of “Extant” comes this rather frenetic new drama adapted from James Patterson’s thriller about animal attacks suddenly sprouting up across the globe. At least initially, the two far-flung storylines — one involving a safari guide/zoologist in Botswana, the other a reporter in Los Angeles — aren’t exactly hair-raising. “Zoo” might build toward something more satisfying, but based on the premiere, there’s not particularly strong incentive to take the bait.
The well-traveled James Wolk plays Jackson Oz, ensconced in Africa to escape the shadow of the crazy predictions of his late father (Ken Olin, seen in old videoclips), ranting about some kind of dire event of come. Yet Jackson starts to think dad might have been onto something when the local fauna begins behaving strangely, with lions assaulting a French safari, leaving him to squire the survivor (Nora Arnezeder, likely spared by the producers, if not the beasts, because she’s extremely attractive) to safety.
Across the globe (although the show is shot in New Orleans, approximating both locales), reporter Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) is seeking to blow the lid off odd behavior involving local zoo animals, which she thinks can be sourced to the company responsible for feeding them. This doesn’t endear her to management, but she finds a slightly more sympathetic ear from a people-phobic veterinarian (Billy Burke), who, among other things, helps her probe a sudden disappearance by smaller, more cuddly cats in Brentwood.
Boasting an entire herd of executive producers, four of whom share credit on the script, “Zoo” moves along briskly enough, even if some of the work in realizing the threatening lions looks a little toothless. In that sense, it joins a long tradition of “When Animals Attack”-type movies, although unlike, say, “The Birds,” some clue as to why this is all happening will be vital to sustaining interest.
Nevertheless, “Zoo” does mesh reasonably well with the kind of dramas CBS has trotted out during the summer (first “Under the Dome,” then the aforementioned “Extant”), which qualify as rather mindless serialized thrillers partly underwritten by international sales and CBS’ Amazon deal — and, alas, under-written as well.
Wolk is as always a likable presence as the reluctant hero, but in these limited confines, he can only offer modest compensation for those who tune in. That said, “Zoo” could corral enough viewers to work for CBS, provided the network’s expectations hew more closely to just putting dinner on the table rather than landing big game.