Black Summer is a prequel/spin-off from Z Nation, a zombie horror series I’m not familiar with which airs on the SyFy channel (in the States, I presume, although it’s available here on Netflix?). At any rate, after suffering through another season of The Walking Dead, this thing is a breath of fresh (albeit decaying) air. Where The Walking Dead spreads interminably slow storylines over sixteen-episode seasons which are themselves split in two chunks of eight, Black Summer is just eight episodes and the whole thing lasts less than five hours- most episodes last under 40 minutes and the last two just 25 and 20 minutes. This brisk running time keeps the pace up and noticeably serves the story- the finale has every reason to be just 20 minutes long, and isn’t saddled with 20 minutes of padding for the sake of maintaining the traditional run-time (most of the time it seems entire episodes of The Walking Dead are padding just to maintain the sixteen-episode format of each season).
But enough about The Walking Dead– that show is made utterly irrelevant having watched Black Summer. This thing is like some high-octane zombie horror that maybe John Carpenter might have fashioned in the early ‘eighties. Set some six weeks into a zombie apocalypse in which the world is teetering on collapse, its as desperate and scary and tense as you could hope as chaos reigns and civilization disintegrates. To strain one last comparison, it’s the End of the World to The Walking Dead‘s soap opera of surviving the Apocalypse and bringing America back.
We are thrown right into the nightmare without any character backgrounds or introductions. There doesn’t seem to be any right or wrong as long as you survive another day, and the threats are as much other desperate humans as the wildly rabid-like undead. Everything is stripped back to the tense life-or-death moments of fight or flight or the confusion of who can be trusted. Its a little like a zombie Game of Thrones, funnily enough, in which every decision has consequences and any character can suffer a sudden death out of nowhere.
There’s just sufficient character moments -and the cast are all pretty much great- to ensure that we care what happens. Even the utterly incompetent Lance (Kelsey Flower) who at one point tries to pretend the apocalypse isn’t happening by burying himself in a random book while the sounds of death draws near, and seems to stumble from crisis to crisis in spite of himself doing everything to get himself killed, fosters some grudging empathy. He often seems to be a waste of air but I’m often reminded that there is a strange reality to his ineptitude, he’s some kind of Everyman offering the reality of what we would be like in the apocalypse. While we’d like to pretend we’d be more like Spears (Justin Chu Cary) or Rose (Jaime King) in the blind horror moments, we really know we’d be rabbits in the headlights like Lance.
This a great show and its format is perfect for Netflix- it’s an easy binge watch over a weekend and I hope it proves to be successful enough to warrant another season.