Despite over seven million and eighteen zombie movies being released in the 21st century Zombieland was something of a success. A low budget affair starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, a cameo from Bill Murray gave it a large amount of word of mouth buzz and it made over one hundred million dollars at the box office (so five times it’s budget) and even more on dvd, back when the rental market was still worth something, and so unsurprisingly a tv version was mooted by a couple of networks.
The first, initially suggested by Fox back in 2011 never went anywhere but in 2013 Amazon ordered a pilot from the film’s writers, which featured the characters from the movie but with an all new cast. So we had Tyler Ross playing Columbus, Kirk Ward as Tallahassee, Maiara Walsh taking on the role of Wichita and Izabela Vidovic playing Little Rock, while there was a new character in the form of Detroit, the group’s navigator who we never see but who was voiced by Kendra Fountain.
It starts with a guy bitching about his petty life to a co-worker as behind them in the outside world we see various zombie attacks taking place, because who doesn’t like the “Ah, but who are the real zombies?” joke the genre has hammered home over and over again. Then just as a zombie is about to burst through the window there’s a bit of narration where we’re asked who we think might survive the attack, and it turns out to be the sandwich guy (soon to be revealed as the show’s version of Tallahassee) rather than the two main character’s we’re initially introduced to. It’s an okay beginning, worthy of the odd smile, but I wasn’t too excited about the series at this point.
Then it skips forward two months and we get yet more exposition, plus the introduction of the rules that Columbus and co live by that were so notable in the film. Because they’re bored and trying to have some fun with the apocalypse Tallahassee blows up a firework factory, but that only causes Columbus to feel depressed, and comment “What good is fun if there’s no one to share with?”, which is a bit mean to the other three he’s with. More moping ensues, until when back in the car they start chatting over the radio to Detroit, a female who happens to be able to see where all of humanity is lurking, and who advises them that there’s a big community apparently on the east coast and that cheers Columbus up no end as he’s excited about the idea of having a new home.
So that’s the season arc set up within the opening ten minutes, with it also revealed that Wichita and Columbus are no longer a couple, presumably so they could have done the whole “Will They / Won’t They” thing for a couple of seasons, and the rest of the episode revolves around the group trying to find people who are alive to join up with as they go about their mission. That leads to a fairly funny running gag where each new person is killed off within a few seconds of finding bumping in to them (something The Last Man On Earth often did effectively too), and, um, well, that’s about all there is to it.
As I mentioned earlier, like the original film it’s written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick so you’d expect it to be as sharp and as funny as the movie was, especially as it’s also an Amazon affair and they’re able to swear their heads off whenever they want. But it’s only a partial success, some of the jokes work but others fall a little flat and though all of the cast are okay they’re nowhere near as good as the movie stars they replaced. Which is of course unsurprising given that Stone, Harrelson and Eisenberg were all so great in the film, but it’s a shame they couldn’t find actors who had a bit more vim, the new additions get very little to do, and though only a voice over Kendra Fountain is a bit annoying as Detroit.
Whether or not it would have been a successful tv series is difficult to tell then, there isn’t a lot of variety in this pilot when it comes to humour and most of it is either based on blood and gore, unfortunate deaths, or blind luck at surviving an incident – Columbus for instance would definitely not have made it to the end credits were it not for a pair of rather convenient false teeth. Some of the dialogue amuses, like when Columbus and Wichita split up he gasps “Let’s just be honest, is there someone else?”, but other bits did nothing for me. So perhaps it’s better that it continues only as a movie franchise, and with the sequel finally hitting cinemas in the Autumn we’ll have a better idea as to how much mileage they can eek out of this set up.