Horror and science fiction have always been a part of the television canvas, and constant attempts have been made over the years to produce classic entertainment. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others became mainstream phenomena. With “TV Terrors,” we take a look back at the many genre efforts from the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, exploring some shows that became cult classics, and others that sank into obscurity.
This week we take a look back at… Zombieland?!
- Aired in 2013
- Aired on Amazon Streaming Service
Looking back, it’s kind of hard to believe that “Zombieland” was such a fail when the series’ pilot episode premiered. With “The Walking Dead” at its peak during that period, you’d assume series’ about the apocalypse would go gang busters; especially ones based on hit movies. In fact, when “Zombieland” was originally conceived, it was pitched as a TV show and was shopped around by creators Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. When no one would buy it, it was repurposed as a movie; hence the whole “Zombie kill of the week,” which would have been a gimmick for the weekly series.
“Zombieland” became a hit movie and considerably well regarded cult classic in 2009. All things considered, it’s a pretty good road trip comedy, and just an okay zombie movie that borrows heavily from “The Zombie Survival Guide.” That aside, why did the proposed “Zombieland” series tank? In 2013 when Amazon Video was pitching 13 pilots to fans allowing them to vote, “Zombieland” was greeted with immense hatred. I mean, you had to expect “Zombieland” the series would have a smaller budget, and that none of its original stars would return.
Jessie Eisenberg and Emma Stone skyrocketed to Oscar level film careers immediately after, and Woody Harrelson has been starring in one high profile role after another for years, also gaining Oscar notice. Who knows? Maybe it was unrealistic expectations, or perhaps high expectations that just couldn’t be met. Every fan I’ve ever talked to has their own opinion for why the series pilot wasn’t any good.
I, for one, think its pretty okay, much like the movie. I’d say it had potential to really open up the world we saw but a glimpse of in the movie with a few nips and tucks here and there. Rather than opting for an hour long format, “Zombieland” instead squeezes in to a half hour format, bringing us along on the adventures of Tallahassee, Little Rock, Columbus, and Wichita, all of whom are looking for new friends to hook up with. The series is set directly after the movie, and further explores how the foursome bond and deal with everyday life in the zombie apocalypse.
“Zombieland” begins chaotically enough when we set down on two office workers complaining about first world problems. Behind them the whole world is literally going to hell, as zombies are running back and forth preying on victims. This is where we meet Tallahassee, who was apparently an office drone before becoming a zombie killer. I would have loved to learn why and how Tallahassee took to the apocalypse so easily, and explore his failed mission to save his son, but again, we only get twenty eight minutes.
The pilot then takes a downturn in to a more low key comedic drama, where Columbus does nothing but pontificate about how much he wants to sleep with Wichita, and realizes in the end of the episode that he’s a part of a new family. It’s kind of like the movie, but redundant. The writers also tweak a lot of the formula to where there’s not a lot of zombie carnage, just more isolated confrontations with one or two flesh eaters. The rest of the zombies are left as running gags, because in this incarnation the foursome has incredibly bad luck. Whereever they go to meet new people, they end up getting them killed in the most violent fashion, and you have to wonder if they intended this to be a consistent gag if the pilot was turned into a series.
The writing turns the foursome in to kind of shrill and thinly explored characters anyway, but it’s hard to root for them when they’re doing nothing but getting people murdered. If anything, maybe for the sake of budget, “Zombieland” embraces its comedy drama roots more than its zombie roots, so there’s never a big scene of fighting off zombies, or taking on a horde. In fact there aren’t many zombies in the environments our heroes travel through, which is quite curious considering a zombie apocalypse would likely have thousands of them roaming the streets.
There are some good ideas in “Zombieland” that could have been great recurring plot elements, including the introduction of character “On Star,” a woman who guides our heroes to various safe havens and new potential allies. For reasons never quite explained, she has eyes on all corners of America, and she’s a pretty charming individual who helps out and gives the characters a tough time. The show also includes “Zombie Kill of the Week,” which features a zombie being squashed by a giant billiard ball in the pilot.
That said, the writers don’t have a ton of time to do much with our characters and explore new areas of their personalities. Tallahassee is kind of a buffoon in this version, Little Rock has nothing to do, and the main focus is on Wichita and Columbus. The cast work well within the small scope of the pilot, and while they’re not as charming as their cinematic iterations, they probably would have grown on fans if given enough time. Maiara Walsh, in particular, is fun as Wichita, and is a genuine scene stealer.
In 2013, “Zombieland” had no chance of finding its footing or adjusting to fit the mold of the original movie, as Amazon passed on the series. Rhett Reese was particularly incensed, as he blamed fans for the series’ failure, insisting that fans “killed the Amazon pilot with their hatred,” explaining “I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard Zombieland fans. You guys successfully hated it out of existence.” While I do agree the hatred was loud and strong, the proposed series left a lot to be desired, in the end.
Maybe in the current climate with horror experiencing a humongous resurgence in pop culture, “Zombieland” can have another shot at a series. With shows like “Scream Queens,” and “Z Nation” actually making it to television, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.
Is It On DVD/Blu-Ray? The pilot is no longer available on Amazon streaming, but the original 2009 movie can be found basically anywhere.