Z Nation, Syfy’s answer to The Walking Dead is somewhere between rip-off, parody, and often downright terrible.
That doesn’t stop me from watching and loving it.
The relatively low rated zombie fest has yet to reach the status of cult show. Instead, it’s a hidden gem in the endless parade of Netflix waiting to for someone to bite.
To go from watching well-made, well-written, and finely produced television to Z Nation is tough. It’s like going from Starbucks to burnt office Folgers and expect not to notice the difference. However, what Z Nation lacks in overall quality and production value, it makes up for in plot.
For starters, Z Nation doesn’t screw around. There’s no lengthy exposition but rather non-stop delightfully terrible zombie violence from episode one. Viewers learn or see something new in every episode. Also, characters don’t walk around in the woods for five episodes were nothing happens.
Walking Dead fans know what I’m talking about. Those episodes are terrible, yet we tune in weekly to see if said characters will run into something worthwhile in the woods. Walking Dead is known for this and has received a lot of well-deserved criticism for doing so, as well as torturing us with rage inducing cliffhangers.
The show gets away with those episodes because it isn’t necessarily plot-driven; it’s character driven. We tune in because we care about Rick and company. There is no single element driving the plot but to survive. This limited plot is what a) makes us care about what happens to our favorite characters, and b) forces the show to be a character-driven rather than plot-driven.
Meanwhile, Z Nation has a mission-driven, story-based plot. It’s not the type of show you watch because you want to see what happens to random character you’ve grown emotionally attached to. You watch it for zombie babies, zombie tornadoes, radioactive zombies, and zombies hopped up on Viagra.
What’s not to love?
Honestly, I don’t give a crap what happens to any of the characters on Z Nation. I can barely remember their names but that doesn’t matter when you have an entertaining, albeit goofy, plot.
One of the biggest pet peeves many people seem to have about The Walking Dead, is the lack of the word “zombie.” Then you have Z Nation which said “screw it” and put a reference to the word in the title.
Creator of TWD, Robert Kirkman, has explained on The Wrap why Rick and crew don’t know what they are dealing with: It’s because zombies and the concept of them don’t exist in TWD universe. Kirkman went on to further explain, “these people don’t understand the situation. They’ve never seen this in pop culture, this is a completely new thing for them.” This seems like a cop-out, like Kirkman is trying too hard to be “different”.
On Z Nation, the characters freely use the word. There’s also much more backstory chronicling the events prior to the apocalypse. The Z Nation universe also starts out three years after the apocalypse, so the characters have had some time to adjust to their situation. Rick Grimes, on the other hand, wakes up and finds the world is a zombie buffet, which is possibly why Kirkman decided to take the zombies-don’t-exist-route.
Regardless of your zombie fictional universe preferences (I’m torn between the two worlds), both of these shows have their strengths and obvious weakness (the Season 6 cliffhanger).