I’m guessing that among the post-apocalyptic zombies, and the ice zombies, and the other, more ambiguous kinds of zombies that have dominated television’s apocalyptic tales lately, you’ve all been waiting patiently for a series that would finally focus on the word you live in—a world where animals just waiting to turn on you. Well, here it is! To your rallying cry, CBS responds with Zoo, based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, in an impressively dedicated effort to a show that reads as kind of a silly sell. But as our TV critic Jeff Jensen said in his review of the series, it’s not just silly fun—Zoo, with its thrills with a noticeable lack of gore turns out to be more “gripping, unpretentious fun.”
You’re likely not to care that the science basically boils down to what’s going on with an animal’s leaky pupil; and you might not be drawn in by the rogue Zoe-Barnes-style investigative blogging; all that’s going to matter to you while watching Zoo are those key moments that you think there’s just one lion stalking toward the unarmed humans, then suddenly, you see two more golden heads peek out of the grass… and then two more… and now they’re charging. Cue the guttural growl track, it’s on!
And, really—it’s summer TV—these craftily executed, gratuitously sound-tracked “oh shit” moments are all you need. Zoo is both silly and scary in that “Oh, come on, that would never happen… but it could” kind of way. How will the premise of animals mounting a revolt against the human race while the human race actively ignores it hold up for 13 episodes? Not sure. But for the premiere, give me as many close-ups of majestic, angry lion heads as you’ve got, because I’m ready to figure out the mystery of “the defiant pupil.”
It’s a smart choice to focus solely on the threat of felines running amok in Zoo’s premiere—a brief glimpse of a rather stoic-looking gorilla had me thinking the animal revolt might already be escalating to inter-species, but starting with just a few attacks on two different continents means only a select few know to look up in the trees for a cult of house cats before crossing the street. The unlucky arbiters of truth are located mostly in Botswana and L.A. In Botswana, unreasonably handsome every-man James Wolk plays Jackson Oz, a zoologist spending his time leading animal safaris alongside his local bestie, Abraham (Nonso Anosie, just as simultaneously warm and intimidating here as he is on Game of Thrones). While Jackson and Abe deal with cats in the wild, Jamie (Kristen Connolly), an intrepid junior reporter at an L.A. newspaper teams up with a laid back veterinary pathologist (Billy Burke) to investigate the city cats with newly murderous tendencies.
Zoo states its premise pretty readily in voice-over as we close in on Jackson and Abe’s safari camp headquarters in Botswana: “For centuries, mankind has been the dominant species. We’ve domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But what if all across the globe, the animals decided no more? What if they finally decided to fight back?” Okay, first of all, speak for yourself—but, sure, sounds plausible. In the tents while Jackson nurses a hangover—I just knew he’d be rakish!—a young assistant is watching videos of a raving scientist. Turns out, that scientist is Jackson’s father, also a zoologist, one whose outlandish theories about animals and “the defiant pupil” Jackson doesn’t seem to give much credence to. And neither did the science community at large, from what we gather.
Jackson and Abe head out on their first tour of the day, but while they’re searching for rhinos, they come across another group (with much shinier safari vehicles) hunting them. But Jackson and Abe have a fool-proof plan for this type of situation: a boom box with James Brown’s “Sex Machine” queued up just loud enough to scare off rhinos. The hunters are furious and remind Jackson that hunting is legal, but their local guide advises them to leave it alone, as Abe seems to inspire that with all of the towering over people he does.
NEXT: What happens in Botswana stays in Botswana (and also L.A. if what happens is murderous lions)…