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Stay Tuned: Forget zombies, it's animal apocalypse on 'Zoo'

 
Melissa Crawley
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Posted on 7/13/2015, 9:24 AM

"Zoo" begins with a question: What if all the animals decided that humans were not at the top of the food chain and in fact, were food? The answer is watch your back. Organized and angry, the animals on "Zoo" are out for a meal and maybe some revenge. Bears leave the forest, lions form hunting parties, cats collectively gather in trees. Based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, the series isn't going to make you think too hard about the cause and effect of our disregard for animal welfare, but it raises the issue within a well-paced and fun what-if scenario.

In a bit of foreshadowing, the story begins in a safari camp in Botswana with a boy watching an online video of a scientist discussing his controversial theories on the dangerous impact of man's mistreatment of animals. A few scenes later, the scientist's son Jackson Oz (James Wolk), an American zoologist working at the safari outpost, is in the field with his friend Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie) hoping to track down Abraham's cousin at a nearby camp. Abraham is attacked inside the camp just as a woman named Chloe (Nora Arnezeder) emerges from the brush. She tells Jackson that her entire group has been killed. Suddenly, in a coordinated attack, male lions flank them from all sides. They make it out alive but the encounter means that Jackson has literally come face to face with his father's theories.

Across the world a determined reporter named Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) is investigating a story of lions attacking people at a zoo. Jamie's theory is that their feed is toxic but the corporation that supplies it also owns her newspaper. With little support from her editor, she finds a friend in veterinary pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke) who isn't much for people and has his own ideas about why animals are staging an uprising.

The familiar idea of the natural world turning against us because we are not good caretakers is played out here as an international thriller. On one side of the world is Jackson, fighting off exotic animals while on the other is Jamie and Mitch taking on less exotic but still extraordinary animal attacks. In each case, they are trying to solve a mystery before the world succumbs to an animal apocalypse. The global set-up keeps the story moving and the performances are solid, if not standouts. Wolk, in particular, has a charm about him. It works with a story that is posing some interesting scenarios but not taking itself too seriously.

While other nature versus man narratives are more sinister and scary (Hitchcock's "The Birds" is an obvious one that comes to mind), "Zoo's" lack of frightening imagery and depth of ideas is not a deal breaker. It's a good what-if story with stakes that are high enough to hold your attention and entertaining enough to make you think -- if not about humanity's relationship to animals, then maybe about how often you pay attention to your pets. After watching a few episodes, I'm starting to think I need to relax my no dogs on the couch rule. They might take that into consideration when the revolt begins.

"Zoo" is on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on CBS.

Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.