No limit exists on zombie shows (although perhaps one should be imposed), but since “The Walking Dead” is out there — with a companion spinoff in the works — a new entry really ought to unearth something new. From that perspective, Syfy’s “Z Nation” has more guts than brains, essentially trotting out an old-fashioned wagon-train western, with a hardy band running a zombie gantlet trying to reach California. Along the way, the show serves up one doozy of a twist, and otherwise a lot of slavering, mindless flesh-eaters chasing our intrepid heroes. Think of it as the fast-food alternative to “Dead’s” more-flavorful dish.
Unwilling to waste even a minute on plot or story, the whole zombie apocalypse thing is tossed off in roughly 30 seconds. Chaos already reigns when a special-forces officer (Harold Perrineau) is assigned to transport precious cargo — a human host bearing a possible vaccine — to a facility in California, dispatched by a radio operator (“Legit’s” DJ Qualls) who is quickly left to fend for himself.
A couple odd bites later, it’s Year 3, A.Z. (get it?), and Perrineau’s character encounters a group of survivors, asking (OK, more like ordering) them to help complete his mission. They include former National Guardsmen Tom Everett Scott and “The Bernie Mac Show’s” Kellita Smith, as well as a lot of other folks who, given their relative level of recognition, may or may not be zombie bait.
Created by Karl Schaefer, and produced by “Sharknado” supplier the Asylum, “Z Nation” taps into the practical economic advantages, locations-wise, of a post-apocalyptic world, since the characters spend most of their time running around in the woods.
The show also seems determined to demonstrate the ruthlessness of this A.Z. era by exhibiting little sentimentality regarding the fate of children and those who are AARP eligible, which only goes to show that survivors of a zombie invasion and demographic-conscious TV executives have a surprising amount in common.
Yet while the series incorporates a specific quest element in the form of its possible “last, best hope to save humanity,” there’s just not enough to distinguish it from the other programs dealing more inventively with similar material, including “Dead” and this summer’s FX entry “The Strain.”
That’s not to dismiss “Z Nation” completely, since there are a few visceral thrills, but simply to reinforce that a hearty appetite for the genre is required to muster much enthusiasm for a plain old me-too zombie project.