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Syfy TV pilots: Z NATION and HIGH MOON… One is great. The other is freaking terrible.

Posted on September 19th, 2014
Posted on September 19th, 2014

by Coop Cooper

Z Nation”:

Taking place years after a zombie apocalypse ravaged the Earth, a team of soldiers and scavengers (including Harold Perrineau, Tom Everett Scott and “Twilight”’s Michael Welch) must escort the only survivor of a zombie bite across the country to a California research facility in order to help develop a cure. They are guided by radio by a lone communications operator (D.J. Qualls) at a desolate military base in the Arctic Circle.

Cashing in on the massive success of “The Walking Dead,” “Z Nation” tries to duplicate a similar story but with a hammier tone. Going for a more action-oriented approach, the show obviously has a much lower budget and lower tier actors than “The Walking Dead”. Ditto for the low-grade writing.

The show has a neat idea or two. Survivors have developed a code of honor and new religious rituals regarding the life and death. Destroying zombies or killing the freshly infected or dying is called “giving mercy” and this is done without mourning or afterthought. There is also a thriving trade economy where people barter with medicine, weapons or inventions. Those weren’t bad ideas. In fact, they were the only good ones.

The first episode of “Z Nation” ultimately fails because of a horribly conceived sequence involving a ridiculously quick zombie baby that the group has a difficult time dispatching. The scene is so bad and unfunny, it exposes the show’s fatal flaw: It can’t navigate that fine line between comedy and drama. No matter how hard it tries, it will always suffer from that same syndrome that makes watching those cheesy made-for-Syfy monster movies so boring. They usually don’t have the budget or the vision to make a serious film/show work and they are hardly ever funny enough to pull off a decent comedy (except for maybe “Sharknado” which was an unintentional hit). This is the made-for-TV equivalent of bad fast food.

Syfy has rolled a long way downhill from their successes with high-quality shows like “Farscape” and “Battlestar Galactica”. Even some of their lesser shows like “Eureka” were highly watchable. “Z Nation” might be a good argument that Syfy is incapable of ever making a quality show again…

Rating: 1 out of 5

High Moon”:

…and then Syfy comes out with something like this:

Taking place in the future where huge caches of Helium deposits on the moon prompt a new space race, an Air Force investigator is dispatched to an American Lunar base to probe a possible instance of Russian sabotage that supposedly claimed the life of his convict brother. While there, he uncovers international conspiracies to control the moon and soon discovers that the moon isn’t exactly the lifeless hunk of rock everyone thinks it is. There are also android spies, Indian assassins, a tyrannical oxygen heiress, monsters and a giant robot dinosaur.

Nothing in that summation (not even the robot dinosaur) accurately describes how light-hearted, fun, weird or wildly original this show is. It was written by Bryan Fuller who wrote for “Star Trek” during it’s post-”Next Generation” era. He also created shows like “Pushing Daisies”, “Wonderfalls”, “Dead Like Me” and the current “Hannibal” TV series on NBC. Fuller is an A-list Hollywood writer and it shows in “High Moon”. The story is creative and impossible to predict. The characters are wacky and dynamic and the wondrous ending opens up some interesting possibilities.

So, maybe there is hope for the Syfy Channel. This was a two-hour pilot and based off of the strength of it, Syfy could order more episodes. I’m hopeful that they will because besides “Sharknado”, the channel doesn’t have much else to offer these days.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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