Netflix’s new zombie series, Black Summer, is basically what The Walking Dead’s first few seasons would feel like if you stripped them of all the melodrama. It’s a lean, mean, cannibalistic machine, and that works up until a point. Unfortunately, that point is well before the first season comes to a close.
The timeline of the series can be a little confusing. At one point it’s mentioned it has been many weeks since the outbreak, but at other times it feels like it’s just happening or has been going on for months or even years. We meet assorted survivors separately only to eventually see them all come together. Unlike The Walking Dead, there’s very little conversation in the series. The first few episodes, especially, are almost constantly on the go. It definitely gives it a unique feel to other zombie series I’ve personally seen, though this is apparently a prequel to Z Nation, a series I have not watched. If anything, the first few episodes feel an awful lot like the opening act of Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake (that’s a good thing).
Still, like most zombie tales, the show can’t keep that momentum up. It stumbles into some of the weird comic book-style storytelling The Walking Dead is known for. One episode takes place in a school and, without spoiling it, things quickly progress from creepy to just weird and unbelievable. That hurts in a show whose first couple of episodes are fairly grounded, or at least as much as zombie shenanigans can be. By the end the series has taken other oddball turns (such as a heist episode which doesn’t really make any logical sense) and finds itself depicting urban warfare. That final episode is actually kind of a breath of fresh air, as it’s something I haven’t seen in a zombie series before or let alone on television period. None of this, however, is helped by the show’s obvious plot telegraphing. Do not go in expecting surprises.
Black Summer feels like a show in search of itself. When it’s good, it’s reminiscent of the frightening thrills that Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead thrive upon. When it’s bad, well, it’s most of the show. A second season might better center the show’s structure and feel, but then again, it might already be a dead show walking.