“Scream” and “Zoo” Seek to Raise the Summer TV Body Count


Everyone is looking for the next high-concept hit. With “The
Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” as massive role models, TV developers have
learned that audiences like the thrill of not knowing who in the supporting
cast will be around for the next episode. And that’s a model that’s likely to
increase as other networks try to find similar, social media-shattering success
in shows with high body counts and gore levels that would have shocked
audiences just a few years ago. Two such shows premiere this week, MTV’s
surprisingly successful “Scream,” based on the hit film by Kevin Williamson and
Wes Craven, and CBS’s less successful “Zoo,” based on the book by James

If you’re wondering how a slasher movie like “Scream” could
possibly be turned into a weekly series, you have just cause. In fact, the show
itself references the oddity of its own existence with a similar meta-commentary
as the feature film. One character literally says, “You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series.” And yet that’s
exactly what “Scream” sets out to be, with a modern update on the horror movie
tropes and technology central to the first film. Instead of Drew Barrymore
being terrorized and killed by a maniac who keeps calling her, Bella Thorne’s
torment begins the series with a Snapchat clip of her in her own house. Clever.
Of course, “Scream” the TV series doesn’t have the cinematic flair that Craven
brought to the original film, and that’s a bit disappointing, but right from
the first scene there’s a unique energy to the piece. It doesn’t feel like a
knock-off or a cheap tie-in. It’s a horror movie in weekly series form.

It’s also a murder mystery. A lot of people might have wanted
Bella Thorne’s Nina dead. She was a mean girl, who most recently posted a video
of a classmate named Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus) making out with another girl in
her car. She bullied the boy genius Noah (John Karna), the fill-in for the
Jamie Kennedy character from the first film—the guy who knows everything about
slasher films and horror shows; maybe too much. Noah also knows a lot about
serial killers, including the one who was murdered 20 years ago this weekend
after going on a teen-killing spree. Has he returned from the grave? Was he
ever really killed? And is it a coincidence that the daughter (Willa
Fitzgerald) of the infamous serial killer’s object of obsession is now the same
age as her mom?

Obviously, there’s a Neve Campbell character, a Rose McGowan
character, a Jamie Kennedy character, etc., but “Scream” also carves (pun only
slightly intended) its own path. The weekly series format leads to a number of
suspenseful scenes in which a movie would take out a supporting character on
its way to a climax but the series is forced to go in another direction. And
the script has a number of clever moments, such as when a “Call 911” to Siri
produces a call to Pottery Barn and references to “The Walking Dead,” “American
Horror Story” and even “Hannibal.” Like those programs, “Scream” is very

Unlike those programs, there’s really no visual language
here at all. I wish “Scream” the TV series was a bit more stylish and a bit
less visually reminiscent of a WB show in the ‘90s. It needs a bit more style,
more dread and more atmosphere, which could come with future episodes (I really
wish MTV had made more than just the pilot available). But my initial
trepidation at the start of the premiere turned to interest in where it goes
from here by the end. That’s really all a pilot needs to do—make you want to
watch the next one.

Looking for the next “Under the Dome,” CBS turns to James
Patterson instead of Stephen King for the Summer series “Zoo,” a surprisingly
dull piece given that it’s about a step in evolution that takes us off of the
top of the food chain. Jackson Oz (James Wolk) is an American zoologist in
Africa whose dad went crazy while studying animal evolution and theorizing that
we were on the cusp of a major change. Jackson and his best friend Abraham
(Nonzo Anonzie) are running a safari on which things go very wrong through a
series of wildlife attacks. The lions are acting strangely. They are working in
tandem to take down enemies. Jackson and Abraham get particularly nervous when
they notice multiple male lions in a pack. That doesn’t usually happen.

Meanwhile, lions escape a zoo in Los Angeles and kill a
couple people, leading to an investigation by news reporter Jamie Campbell
(Kristen Connolly). She’s convinced it’s corporate malfeasance that has led to
the mysterious animal behavior, and it takes her into the world of the odd
veterinarian Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke). Nora Amezeder fills out the cast as
Chloe, a French investigator who Jackson saves in Africa. What is going on? Are
the animals really taking over the world? And is there anything we can do to
stop them?

“Zoo” is one of those shows I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for
watching. It’s got a solid cast—although one can’t help but thing Wolk and
Connolly are better than the material they’re given here—and it’s got a typical
CBS budget. But, to be blunt, I just didn’t care. It’s dull, plot-driven
writing that sinks “Zoo” for me. “What’s happening?” “Here’s what I think is
happening.” “Here’s what we should do.” It’s one of those genre pieces in which
everyone says what they’re thinking and planning with every line of dialogue.
It’s a snooze. And it’s disappointingly dull filmically given that Brad
Anderson directed the pilot. Like Wolk and Connolly, Anderson deserved a better
script. You do too.



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