8 Reasons Why CBS’ ‘Zoo’ Is the Most Insane Summer Series You’re Not Watching
CBS’ Zoo, much like the establishments that give the series its name, has a lot of shit going on. Basically, a cataclysmic event caused every animal on Earth to rise up and turn against the human race. It’s up to a rag-tag team—zoologist Jackson Oz (James Wolk), journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly), safari guide Abraham Kenyatta (Nonso Anozie), intelligence agent Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder) and pathologist Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke)—to develop a cure.
Honestly, the details don’t matter.
What actually does matter is the fact Zoo is a beautiful, preposterous summer slice of sensory overload. More plot happens in thirty seconds of Zoo than in entire seasons of The Americans. To properly convey this series’ tone, I should be delivering this piece entirely in capital letters and featuring several thousand exclamation points. If I tried to recap everything that occurred over Zoo’s two seasons we would all miss the June 29th Season 3 premiere. Instead, I have boiled it down to eight moments, all encapsulating why Zoo is not only the most absurd show on television right now but a must-watch experience.
1. The Wolf Pack Jail Bust
Zoo’s third episode, “The Silence of the Cicadas,” concludes with a pack of wolves orchestrating a coordinated attack on a Mississippi prison to free a death-row inmate named Evan Lee Hartley (Marcus Hester). I say “coordinated” but they mostly just rush inside at the same time as the guards frantically flee in the opposite direction. Saying “coordinated” allows me to picture the wolves sitting around a table with a prison map on it. It adds layers, which all prestige television has. Eventually, it is revealed that Hartley is afflicted with the same mutation that turned the animals against us, and the wolf pack views him as their alpha dog. Our heroes discover this information through several conversations about “scat.” Google “scat.”
2. The Antarctic Bat Attack
“Pack Mentality” introduces Wendy and Margaret Rhodes, a married couple of scientists whose relationship is on the rocks despite the fact that they moved to an isolated shack in Antarctica to study birds together. And that was before a rogue squadron of bats descended on their solar panels, shutting off the building’s electricity and heat. What follows is flesh-against-wings suspense similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds if Alfred Hitchcock had never seen a bird before. A single bat sneaks its way inside and flies directly into the backup generator. “Maybe we let the birds go and they’ll restore our power?” Margaret suggests, because the first step after a suicidal bat knocks out your last chance of survival is “bargaining.” The last shot we see is of empty bird cages and the scientists’ corpses, two frozen bodies equally as cold-blooded as that murderous colony of bats.
3. The Animal Street Rumble
Zoo’s Season One finale, “That Great Big Hill of Hope,” ends with the most deliriously delightful scene of gang warfare since West Side Story. Jackson, Abraham, Chloe, and Mitch drive toward the boat that will take them to Jamie, who has a leopard that will cure all wildlife—that is a whole other thing—when they are confronted by a street gang composed of hundreds of different animals. Reader, it is amazing. The only possible way this image gets better is if one of the lions was wearing a leather vest, or if a gorilla was brandishing a butterfly knife. Extra points to Abraham, who squints, says, “Hold on,” then gently slows the car to a stop like he can’t see every animal in existence has blocked off the street like a Pride parade.
4. The Spoonman Massacre
Season Two’s premiere, “The Day of the Beast,” is a hodgepodge of fantastical plot developments thrown so jarringly at the audience it makes Westworld look like The Wire. Vultures start vomiting human remains into the clouds to make it rain blood, which I don’t think is real science, but I also can’t prove it’s not real science. But no, the real development here is that, yes, humans are just as infected as their animal counterparts and it’s turning them into hulking rage-monsters. The episode’s grand finale sees one such behemoth, formerly named Janos Kovacs (Ryan Handley), slaughtering a room full of Army Rangers with his bare hands, all set to Soundgarden’s “Spoonman.” It’s a genuinely impressive feat of makeup, too; a month before Suicide Squad premiered, Zoo’s effects team managed to create a pretty serviceable Killer Croc, and with 100 percent less racist undertones.
5. The Elephant Runway Run-Away
Usually, the moment at which you lose someone during a Zoo recommendation falls somewhere in the middle of the phrase “elephant car chase.” So, the elephant car chase. To make a long story short: Season Two, Episode Two features an enraged elephant chasing a Hummer down a runway as it speeds toward a plane’s open cargo ramp. A quick internet search puts an elephant’s top speed around 15 miles-per-hour, but things like “facts” seem to melt away next to the image of the world’s largest land mammal pursuing the world’s boxiest land car, which itself is gunning for a rapidly taking off 747. It’s like Justin Lin directed Jurassic Park. It’s like Michael Bay directed Operation Dumbo Drop. It is pure, undiluted summer blockbuster nonsense.
6. The Mutant Sloth Caper
In the jungles of Costa Rica, there exists a mutated sloth that emits such strong, low-level frequencies it can cause earthquakes. The nefarious Noah Objective, headed up by General Andrew Davies (Peter Outerbridge), wants the sloth for dubious purposes. But when a renegade crew of similarly-mutated moles (stay with me) break the sloth out of captivity, “The Walls of Jericho” turns into a race against time between Davis and our heroes. An alligator is, eventually, involved. At one point, Oz slaps Davies across the face and growls, “Where’s the sloth?” Unfortunately, this line of dialogue marked the peak of television as a creative medium, and it has been a steady decline since.
7. The Saber-Toothed Cliffhanger
By the middle of Season Two, humanity has discovered the secret to world-restoring cure lies in the blood of a saber-toothed tiger. This would be an unsolvable obstacle on literally any other show than Zoo. Here, in “Sins of the Father,” we simply learn of a remote island called Pangea—populated by scientists who are definitely not just The Dharma Initiative from Lost, who’s even asking? —where a saber-toothed tiger just happens to live. Zoo, a show you should already be watching by now, confirmed the continued existence of an animal that went extinct during the Pleistocene epoch with four episodes left in a season.
8. The Russian Embassy Gorilla Heist
In the penultimate episode of Season Two, Mitch and Jaime accompany Deputy Secretary of Defense Allison Shaw (Joanne Kelly) to the Russian Embassy, to convince a group of delegates to withdraw their country from the Noah Objective. Of course, even the best laid plans can fall victim to a silverback gorilla that bursts through the door, rampages through several horrified onlookers, and traps you inside an elevator. One part locked-room horror movie, one part unintended advertisement for the King Kong ride at Universal Studios, this scene highlights the rare time a character in Zoo simply points a gun directly at an animal and pulls the trigger. It doesn’t work, of course, and that same character is dragged through the elevator ceiling by his face, but the humans are learning. Don’t say Zoo doesn’t do character development.
And by that, I mean a few episodes later, Season Two ends on a ten-year time jump. Zoo, like most mutated wildlife, has no concern for your bearings.
Tune in to CBS for the Season 3 premiere of Zoo tonight at 10pm.