I gave up on The Walking Dead a few seasons ago. Continually disappointing story-lines and characters, along with frustrating pacing issues had made this show hard work to watch, and a far cry from it’s early days of action packed originality. Black Summer recently arrived on Netflix, described as a companion piece to the show Z Nation, and consisting of just 8 episodes ranging in length from 20 to 40 minutes. After seeing some online recommendations, I gave it a shot, and it’s safe to say that it has reignited my passion for zombie shows.
We’re in the fairly early stages of a full on zombie apocalypse. The military are evacuating a small town, taking survivors to a nearby stadium for safety and eventual extraction. There’s a lot of panic and confusion, and not a great deal of undead around at first in the mostly deserted town. The first episode is broken into smaller, titled scenes, introducing us to single characters or groups who are located about the town, and it’s a style of story telling that continues throughout the season. Some episodes focus on a single character while some focus on a particular mission, with different scenes shot from the perspective of different characters, highlighting how their actions affect others. There’s not a single character who is more important than the others in the show, and characters can be lost to the undead in the blink of an eye, with new ones immediately taking their place to become core characters.
Black Summer shares some of its ideas with The Walking Dead, not to mention many other zombie movies and shows. The virus which turns you into a zombie appears to be there within all of us, lying dormant, so you don’t necessarily need to die from a zombie bite in order to become one. Turning is pretty much instantaneous too, and the resulting zombies are of the more vicious, faster and cleverer kind. Running, climbing, very determined and able to learn in order to catch you whatever it takes. Luckily then, it’s not very often that our characters are having to deal with more than just a few of these things at any one time, which helps to keep things more focused and terrifying.
Black Summer is very dialogue light – something which definitely works in its favour, and is a refreshing change to the long conversations and monologuing of TWD. Many of the scenes are single camera shots, following our characters around and really immersing you in the action. It’s taking a simple idea and giving it a fresh spin, providing the viewer with a harrowing and intensely enjoyable thrill ride. For me, the perfect example of this is the episode titled ‘Alone’, where an unlucky coward called Lance finds himself all alone after escaping a school. He meanders around town before picking up the pace when a zombie decides that it wants to feed on him. I spent a pretty intense 30 minutes just wishing this poor guy would find himself a weapon and catch a break. But even when he does, he manages to blow his chance and lose it again! It’s a standout episode, and a perfect example of what I love about this show.
I couldn’t really fault a single episode of Black Summer, as it builds towards it’s intense but relatively short finale where a number of survivors converge on the stadium, while zombies come at them from all directions. I really hope it gets renewed, and I really hope it continues to find ways to remain original and enjoyable too.