It’s tough to believe that The Asylum is behind “Black Summer.” It’s definitely one of the biggest surprises of 2019 as I’ve made it no secret about my disdain toward the company and “Z Nation.” I thought the show was insanely dumb and boring, but I was very much open to “Black Summer.” Keeping my expectations rock bottom (because The Asylum has done horribly with zombie entertainment consistently) I was stunned to very much enjoy “Black Summer.” In fact if it continues its course and settles down a bit in season two, it might end up being one of the great zombie TV series.
“Black Summer” is set in the “Z Nation” universe and I hope it never actually touches on any of those goofy talking zombies or whatnot, as so far it has so many good ideas within its narrative. “Black Summer” is set six weeks during the start of a zombie apocalypse during the sweltering summer. When mom Rose loses contact with her daughter with a pack of refugees being shipped off to a military safe haven, she has to basically fend for herself. After her husband is turned, Rose literally has to fight her way out of her cul de sac and make it to a nearby stadium where refugees are being picked up and transferred.
“Black Summer” season one is very much a raw, emotional, and vicious journey of various survivors, and the writers are never afraid to pick off characters. Following various characters in different scenarios a la “Pulp Fiction,” we’re able to grasp a plethora of angles of humanity literally falling apart at the seams. Some characters we think will be permanent are murdered within minutes, while others manage to barely make it out alive. The writers even focus on victims of the apocalypse as anyone that dies under any circumstance instantly springs to life and goes on a rampage attacking the living and feasting on their flesh. Directors John Hyams and Abram Cox even focus twice on fleeing refugees turned flesh eaters.
We literally follow one poor girl as she’s hit by a car, springs to life, and dashes around the cul de sac looking for victims and chasing random prey through yards and back alleys. It’s a shockingly refreshing angle that gives us an exposition dump without halting the momentum of the show to have characters explain things. The series instead shows much more than explains, and we’re able to grab a good idea of what these survivors and refugees are dealing with as they go along. With eight one hour episodes, there’s so much unpacked that it becomes a rather harrowing ride. There are car chases, and so much running from the sprinting undead. There’s also a very creepy moment in a super market with survivor Lucas, as well as a brutally disturbing side plot involving Rose and a few other survivors hiding out in an empty elementary school.
There isn’t a lot of room for the actors to perform so much as react, but for all intents and purposes most of the cast are quite good. Along with Jaime King’s (an underrated actress) great turn as Rose who is desperately trying to make it to the Stadium, there’s also Kelsey Flower as Lance, a resourceful and ridiculously lucky survivor who can never seem to shake off the dead, and Christine Lee. As the Korean speaking survivor Sun, Lee offers some wonderful scenes of emotional distress, including a harrowing journey through an air duct. Hyams and Cox’s direction is superb, often following long tracking shots of survivors fleeing the dead, sneaking around hide outs, and looking for escapes in confined spaces.
There’s even the big centerpiece of the season with a large group of armed survivors battling through a downtown shopping area anxiously mowing down zombies to get to the stadium. I hope season two, if there is one, settles down a bit and takes some time to decompress and comprehend a lot of the emotional trauma and stress these people have endured. I’m all for “Black Summer” barreling through like a roller coaster, but I also hope the writers find some time to allow us to take a breather here and there. That said, “Black Summer” was an entertaining, exciting and tense, introduction to what I hope will become a brilliant zombie series.
Streaming Exclusively on Netflix.