Zombie series is DOA

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"Z Nation," Harold Perrineau (as Hammond), Tom Everett Scott (Garnett), and Kellita Smith (Warren) are part of the escort group for a man who has withstood many zombie bites without turning. (OLIVER IRWIN / Syfy)

What do zombies really want?

Too bad it isn't a Tic Tac. I would venture that a zombie's breath is as bad as its bite.

History would suggest that they are interested in only one thing - to despoil and consume us. And nothing will dissuade or distract them from it.

Yet they're surprisingly finicky eaters. The stagger-through lane at Arby's isn't good enough for the likes of them. No, only human flesh will do.

In any event, they can't get enough of us. And, judging by pop culture, the feeling is mutual.

Even if it means, as it does in this humdrum Syfy series, beating an undead horse.

Z Nation (10 p.m. Friday) takes the form of a postapocalyptic pilgrimage. A motley group of actors, including Southland's Tom Everett Scott, Michael Welch of Joan of Arcadia, and The First Family's Kellita Smith are charged with taking an exasperating man (Keith Allan) across the country. He's described as "the last best chance to save humanity" because he alone has endured zombie bites without turning.

The journey could be slow going. It took a full year for his initial escort (Lost's Harold Perrineau) to get him from a lab on the East Coast to the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York.

The 13-episode series has a sweeping, impressive prologue, but the show itself almost immediately shrinks to a small-scale, dark and rustic canvas. This is the same formula that doomed NBC's Revolution.

That's not to say that this isn't a violent show. There is the usual wholesale slaughter of the infected, with a heavy emphasis on shots to the head. But in Z Nation's parlance, turning out the lights on a zombie is called "giving mercy" which has a disquieting religious inference.

Judging by the pilot, the ravening hordes on this series are less grisly and faster on their feet than they are usually portrayed. One suspects this is a decision dictated by the budget. Less-elaborate makeup saves time and money. The quicker the monsters move, the easier it is to overlook the cheap special effects.

But toning down the zombies' look may be having a subliminal effect on the cast. The actors, especially Russell Hodgkinson, are oddly mellow and upbeat considering the dire straits their characters are in.

The most bizarre ingredient in Z Nation is casting DJ Qualls (The New Guy) as a lone soldier holding down a deserted military installation who takes it upon himself to start spinning records and shouting encouragement over the airwaves to whomever is left. He's like a beanpole Wolfman Jack howling in the wilderness.

Qualls as our sole military presence? The guy doesn't look like he could pass the physical to dispense tickets for the parking authority.

If you'll take zombies any way you can get 'em, Z Nation will hold you over. More discriminating fans may want to wait until next month, when The Walking Dead rumbles back to life.

 


TV REVIEW

Z Nation

10 p.m. Friday on Syfy


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4875 @daveondemand_tv