Netflix brings yet another original genre show to television with its new series, Black Summer.
Produced by The Asylum (of Syfy’s Z Nation,) it acts as a prequel to that series. I’ve not seen an episode of Z Nation, and what I have seen makes me think it’s probably a bit too goofy for my tastes.
With the exception of Shuan of the Dead and Zombieland, I prefer my zombie shows and movies serious. And Black Summer isn’t just serious, it’s DARK!
Like Batman levels of brooding!
Which, of course, I enjoy!
The first episode opens with a pretty tense scene where an entire neighborhood is running toward an Army checkpoint where they’ll be loaded up and brought to the safety of a stadium (assuming that stadium is still standing once we get to it.)
We (the viewers) don’t yet know what the hell is going on. We hear jets soaring overhead, bombs going off, the world shaking, and … well, the proverbial shit hitting many proverbial fans all at once.
In case you didn’t already know, something bad happened and it involves zombies.
But these aren’t your slow dumbass Walking Dead zombies.
No, these are the SUPER FAST RAGEY KIND that’ll keep chasing you until they can either infect you or taste your yummy entrails kinda zombies!
They’re kinda like the infected in 28 Days Later. Which, as we all know, are the scariest kind of zombies.
And pleeeeeease don’t email me or leave me a comment saying, “But Dave, those aren’t zombies in 28 Days Later, they’re rage virus-infected people!” I’m not going to debate the semantics.
If they’re looking to eat your brains or infect you, they’re zombies … or a Florida Man on bath salts.
Anyway, there’s some zombie shit going down in Black Summer. Though, four episodes in, they haven’t yet revealed the exact nature of WHAT that zombie shit is.
And I like that.
I like the mystery of not knowing quite what’s going on. Oftentimes I prefer NOT KNOWING more than when the writers eventually present some bog standard explanation that disappoints me more than a Monday morning.
Anyway (small early scene spoiler here), we open with a woman, Rose, getting separated from her daughter, Anna. And she’s trying to get to her, which sets up the main storyline for the season.
One of my favorite things about the first episode is how the story unfolds in chapters highlighting each of the main characters.
Episode One opens in media res (Latin for “we’re just dropping your ass in right in the middle of this story, no clunky exposition or backstory to bog you down”) following a few main characters.
And they DO get right to the action here! The opening episode is packed full of tension. And once things start happening, it’s pretty much nonstop.
There is very little character development — even four episodes in. I’ll get back to that point later.
The first episode tells the same opening scene (the scramble towards safety) from the main characters’ points of view, slowly piecing together what’s going on. And what you think is going on isn’t always what’s actually going on. I love when a story does that!
And, in many cases, you’ll notice that characters in the background in one character’s POV become main characters when we get to their “chapters.”
I really liked this method of introducing everybody. It reminded me a bit of how we started Yesterday’s Gone.
I don’t want to spoil the show by saying too much. It’s best enjoyed by going in knowing as little as possible.
While (even four episodes in) it lacks much character development, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the series as a whole, I’m still enjoying it immensely.
I’m curious to see if the writers of Black Summer are being intentionally sparse with character development so as not to fall into the trap of diluting the action, like a lot of shows tend to do. Or, as I’ve seen some critics say, they didn’t write very deep characters.
I’m hoping that they’re just reaching for a good balance. It’s tricky to get that mix of action and character-defining drama just right.
On one hand, you don’t want a nine episode arc where a character is exploring the trauma they suffered as a child that one time their mother didn’t let them get the toy they wanted. On the other hand, you NEED to feel something for the characters in order to appreciate the danger to them.
If I don’t know the character, if I haven’t been through their journey, I’m not going to care too much once the zombie comes and eats their face off.
So, yeah, it’s a tricky balance, and I look forward to seeing if Black Summer pulls it off.
At just eight episodes, I’m guessing we’ll know soon enough how the first season works.
If you enjoyed this review let me know in the comments below. If you’d like a spoiler review for EACH EPISODE of the first season, also let me know and I’ll do a blog post for each one.
Thank you for reading,
Z Nation is goofy. Black Summer is better but still not great. Holes.
Well, guess I’ll find out soon enough.
My husband and I just finished Black Summer last night. We’d been watching 2 episodes a night to make it last plus that gave me time to get my voice back after yelling repeatedly at the TV, shoot them in the head, head shot, head shot, quit wasting bullets and then of course me yelling have you guys never seen a zombie movie or read a zombie book before ! I then stopped yelling at them because I thought maybe they never have seen a zombie movie or series, that helped me enjoy the show a whole lot more. There is one character we rooted for and that is Sun, the rest, especially Lance can all become zombie food for all we care !! We will of course watch season 2 if there is one.
LOL! Yeah, it’s weird when a show acts like zombies aren’t a thing in fiction. I guess the only thing that might make sense here is that it’s hard to hit a head shot on zombies moving THAT fast? These aren’t the plodding Walking Dead kinda zombies where you can take alllll day and line up the shot.
I’ve been scrolling past this show on Netflix, wondering if it’s worth checking out, so your review comes at just the right time. After all, one needs more stuff to watch just to make the wait for the next GoT episode more bearable.
BTW. Been missing you on fb ever since I last emerged after months of writerly burnout (or whatever you call it when sitting down to write makes you want to claw your own eyes out). Hoping to be back for good now 🙂
Yeah, it’s gonna be long waits between weeks on GOT! Hit me up in email and we can catch up.
I really enjoyed this series (already watched it all!), and especially how the story looped around to tell about the background events from previous scenes. I don’t think the character development went very deep, but we did understand some of them better by the end, enough that I’m keen for Season 2 to hurry up already. I love my stories dark, dark, dark!
Awesome! I look forward to seeing how it all plays out. And I like when storytellers loop back to fill in the gaps.
I too like dark stories but some of this didnt make sense. Holes in the story and people behaving not like people would. For instance running through that house to get away from zombies but not shutting the door behind him.
I’ve watched the first three episodes so far. I enjoyed the first episode the most for the reasons you mentioned in the review. What I’m not a fan of is the stupidity of the characters. You know you’re being chased by a zombie, so shut and lock the door behind you! Don’t stand in the middle of the street so anyone can spot you etc. I’ll keep watching all the episodes, though, because….zombies!
I completely agree! Stupidity so many times! But…zombies.
Yeah, I’m always wondering why writers don’t spend more time thinking about the situation the characters are in. For instance, take pretty much any horror or suspense movie where people KNOW that someone is out to get them, and yet they walk around their house with the curtains wiiiiiide open and alllllll the lights on!
I close my curtains/blinds tighter than a seal on a sub hatch, so why aren’t these people at least using a LITTLE common sense?
Thank you, looking for something to watch… not sure my wife will handle it though! Her bad!