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April 25, 2013

So, About That Zombieland "TV" Series....

It's hard to believe that Zombieland is nearly four years old. At the time of the film's release I thought it felt a lot like a movie that would grow a cult following, and these days I feel like it's almost underrated in the realm of horror comedies. Cruel irony has humanity still ruling the Earth while the lead character's beloved Twinkies have gone extinct, but the movie still holds up surprisingly well thanks to a smart script and one heck of a cast.

Since its release two of the four primary cast members - Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone - have gone on to bigger and better things (by my estimation, Stone will make that Anne Hathaway-ish leap to critical darling within the next two years and Eisenberg still has miles left on his tires, especially if he stays in David Fincher's good graces), while Woody Harrelson continues to be Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin looks like she just might survive the transition from child star to legitimate young actress.  The film had a perfect storm of a cast, and the stars seemed to mesh perfectly with director Ruben Fleischer who, surprisingly to me, has been at the helm of a couple of duds (30 Minutes or Less and Gangster Squad) since this one.

With the cast drawing so much attention and Fleischer getting a lot of credit for his work, Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were the relatively unsung heroes of the hit film. And here they are, four years later, milking the premise into an online pilot for Zombieland: The Series.  Presented by Amazon as part of their attempt to bring original shows to their always expanding website, Zombieland now exists as the template for an R-rated, thirty-minute-long sitcom.
The premise picks up where the film left off, if not in plot then at least in tone.  The same four lead characters are back, but they're played by a relatively unknown cast who do their best to mimic the famous folks they're replacing. This is probably the biggest struggle for a fan of the film like me, because - in case you didn't notice - that cast was sooooooo bloody perfect. It's kind of like that time when I wanted to go see the local theater troupe do Arsenic and Old Lace, until I realized that Cary Grant and Raymond Massey (or, better yet, Boris Karloff!) wouldn't be walking through that door.

That said, this cast isn't bad entirely. Kirk Ward has a young Rick Ducommon thing (and I mean that in the nicest way) going on as he fills the Woody role, while Maiara Walsh and Izabela Vidovic serviceable in the female roles. My biggest quibble is with Tyler Ross filling in for Eisenberg, because a) his tone seems a little too annoying, even in an already annoying role, and b) he seems to have taken the character in a more socially awkward direction than Eiseneberg did. Maybe this is what the writers wanted all along - it's their barbecue, they can flavor it however they like - but it's off-putting to a fan of the film.

The biggest concern with the show, from where I sit is I'm just not sure it can keep its legs under it. Despite all its charms, the film was a bit of a one-trick pony and I'm not sure the sarcastic and self-referential script would have worked without the cast and the film's manic pace. Watching a 29 minute introduction to the characters doesn't give me anything more than a feeling of "Oh wow, they're really milking those 'rules' for all they're worth and really hammering us over the head with blatant comedy."  I guess that's what sitcoms do, but it still left me with little reason to come back to the show. There's no hook that grabs your interest, just the promise of more senseless violence and inappropriate jokes. 

If you really want more of Zombieland, I guess the show might tickle your fancy. It's hard to draw a conclusion from one episode, but I can't really see the point of watching this when the movie's already out there.

Thankfully, you can decide for yourself if you like. The pilot is available for free viewing on Amazon, where they're taking feedback regarding which of several pilots they should produce. Take a look for yourself, if you dare.  And keep your copy of the movie on hand, because you'll probably feel like watching it instead by the time Episode Two premieres.

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