Review: An Adrenaline Rush That Hits the Ground Running, BLACK SUMMER is a Worthy Zombie Show to Binge
Black Summer may be produced by the same company as Syfy’s post-apocalyptic zombie comedy Z Nation, but unlike its counterpart, the show is no laughing matter. The Netflix series, which was created by Karl Schaefer and John Hyams, wastes no time in dropping viewers into a world that’s teetering on the brink of devastation. The only hope for peace and order to triumph over global chaos are in the safe zones that are being set up by the military, but it’s evident within the first ten minutes of Black Summer that even the armed forces are beginning to crack.
The show begins a mere six weeks after the start of the zombie apocalypse and spends its first episode jumping around between character introductions. By the end of the episode, many of those characters are tied together through random encounters while trying to survive. Unlike AMC’s own zombie series The Walking Dead, Black Summer doesn’t allow characters to catch their breath and talk about the things they’ve lost in the apocalypse, but these introductions, especially that of Rose (Jamie King) - a mother who is separated from her child - establish enough of an emotional connection for viewers to become invested in their fight for survival.
During last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, series co-creator Karl Schaefer stated that Black Summer would focus on the horror of the zombie apocalypse rather than the weirdness that was on display throughout Z Nation, and the show does not disappoint on this promise. Black Summer is suitably manic and full of horror-based adrenaline as the characters are faced with one nightmarish scenario after another. The undead are fast and vicious, but, such is the case with every other series or film about the fall of society, the living are not to be trusted either.
Where Black Summer differentiates itself from The Walking Dead in that regard, though, is that the “bad” humans are not larger-than-life personalities. They are people, just as you and I, who are motivated by survival. Whether it means stealing or killing, they’re willing to do whatever is necessary. Nobody is wearing an eye patch or swinging a baseball bat (yet), and that helps to ground the series in a way that feels scarily plausible. The moments of tension between survivors are every bit as intense as the zombie encounters, and it’s in these standoffs that Black Summer shines brightest.
All of these showdowns, whether against zombies or other humans, allow the viewer to become more attached to certain characters who weren’t given as much attention in the first episode of the series. Ooh Kungsun (Christine Lee), simply called “Sun” by the other survivors, is the heart and soul of Black Summer, but it isn’t until she’s caught in a troubling scenario halfway through the first season that we realize how truly invested we are in her survival and how important she is to the series. Another character, Lance (Kelsey Flower), initially seems to be taking up space on the show, but we eventually come around on his character based solely on how frequently he has to run from zombies. It’s almost an ongoing gag of sorts that the character can’t catch a break. We meet him while he’s running away from certain death, and we spend 8-episodes watching him do the same exact thing.
There are, of course, characters who fall by the wayside and never become interesting, but the relentless pacing of the series makes sure that we never spend too much time with those specific survivors or any single location. Life comes at you fast and so do the dead. Still, by episode seven, the energy and “we have to make it to this location” plot begin to run out of steam. Even with the runtime of the final two episodes being shortened to just over twenty minutes, Black Summer, much like its still-breathing characters, limps to its destination and leaves us questioning its sustainability.
For five-and-a-half episodes, though, Black Summer is a highly recommendable and refreshingly straightforward take on the zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t quite stick the landing, but the journey there is the best kind of nightmare.