Review by Mike Snoonian
In the fall of 2009 Zombieland stormed cinemas, posing as the only credible threat to Shaun of the Dead’s claim for the best zombie comedy throne*. Featuring the best use of Bill Murray since Osmosis Jones Kingpin, crackerjack performances from its core cast (including a pre-Social Network Jesse Eisnenberg shedding the “hey is that Michael Cera’s stunt double tag?” once and for all) and laying out a common sense series of rules for survival executed with impeccable comic timing, the film cleared $75 million in the United States alone, tripling its budget. Despite its smash success, a proposed sequel can’t seem to find its sea legs. Its return takes shape in an unexpected form. Taking a cue from Netflix, Amazon is getting in to the original content game, posting ten pilot episodes for shows that will be taken to series based on User ratings. The shows will be free to stream for Prime users. Just so we’re clear, in order to see a follow-up to one of the most beloved horror comedies of the past decade, you also have to be the sort of person that needs their kitty litter and hard boiled egg peelers delivered free freight to your door within two days of placing the order.
Meanwhile the Scary Movie franchise continues to chug along unabated.
Zombieland the show picks up just after the first film. Tallahassee and crew are still in Los Angeles, and the four of them are going a bit stir crazy from the lack of other survivors Assisted by a sassy On Star operator (because why not?) they set about the city attempting to locate other people. Unfortunately, they seem to all have come down with a serious case of the “Madden Curse” because every person they come across winds up zombie chow before Columbus can explain the “double tap” rule. The show attempts to mine humor from the groups collective sadness over bumping off the last woman on earth who can bake a killer blackberry crumble. After sending California’s last remnants of humanity to the abyss, the quartet pack up and decide to make their way across the country to a rumored outpost.
Attempting to replace one actor in a role audiences are familiar with is a difficult enough business as it is. There’s a tricky balancing act in trying to stay true to the core of the character while making the role one’s own. Zombieland: The Series replaces the cast wholesale, with none of the film’s ensemble returning for the scaled back (i.e. cheap-looking) production. Tyler Ross and Maiara Walsh step into the roles of Columbus and Wichita respectively, and while they manage not to embarrass themselves, neither do they deliver any sort of performances that would compel you to invest in them going forward. If the show goes to series, then they need to drop the whole “will they/won’t they” angle as fast as possible, because without a surrounding ensemble to carry other story lines, this one wears out its welcome within twenty minutes.
The only thing that distracts the audience from the blandness of the Wichita/Columbus dynamic is the awful performance Kirk Ward turns in as Tallahassee. Woody Harrelson turned this character into one of the most badass zombie hunters to grace the big screen, while injecting healthy doses of heart and humor into the role. Ward manages to shatter that image in less than thirty minutes with a performance so goofy and moronic that you begin to wonder if he lost a bet. In Ward’s hands Tallahassee is little more than a mouth-breathing man child prone to tossing toddler-like tantrums and unable to string simple concepts together in his mind. The show’s version of Zombieland strips Tallahassee of his role as the de facto protector, turning him into something more akin to a bumbling sidekick there for one liners.
Oh, but if those one liners invoked a few laughs, Ward might be forgiven. Absent from Zombieland is anything that could remotely pass for humor. An onscreen counter tabulating how many ways Tallahassee can pronounce “vagina” acts as the show’s running gag. Conceived as a comedic answer to AMC’s too serious The Walking Dead, Amazon’s attempt offers about as many laughs: zero.
It’s hard to imagine a show that could be executed this poorly. It seems like just yesterday when Amazon announced to a confused world the direction the property would take before posting the pilot online with little fanfare. Perhaps they’ve overestimated the public’s willingness to consume anything with “zombie” stuck onto the title, because it’s hard to imagine anyone sitting through another twelve episodes of this awful dreck. If you’re an undead completist with self loathing issues, by all means check Zombieland: The Series out. I’ll be somewhere out there, offering a package of Twinkies to the gods, hoping for the course correcting itself on the silver screen.
*That sound you might have just heard is a Return of the Living Dead fanatic cracking me over the back of the skull with a sock filled with nickels.