REVIEW: ‘Black Summer’ is a Prequel that Builds Out a World but Not its Characters

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Over the past 50 years, the zombie has become one the most prominent figures in popular culture. With the rise of movies and TV shows like The Walking DeadZ Nation, Night of the Living Dead, and 28 Days Later, the zombie genre has quickly won over many audiences. One of the major upsides to the zombie genre is its exploration to how the world reacts to this kind of situation. Countless movies and shows have done this, some better than others, but it’s always exciting to see how they tackles the initial days of the outbreak.

Netflix’s newest original show Black Summer, a prequel series to SyFy’s hit show Z Nation, looks to tell the story of the outbreak many years before the show. It stars Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, Sal Velez Jr, Kelsey Flower, Erika Hau, Gwynyth Walsh, Edsson Morales and Mustafa Alabssi. Picking up only six weeks after the the zombie outbreak, Rose (King) is on a journey to find her daughter after being separated from her at the military transportation site that’s taking people to shelter. Along her journey, set meets other survivors who are also trying to reach the stadium, for protection. The group must learn to trust one another and find ways to survive hostile environments in this new zombie infested world.

Much like in the first two seasons of Fear the Walking Dead, this show does an incredible job with world building. It tackles how the world would react to this kind of situation in an interesting yet honest way. For instance, several of the main characters see others get swarmed by zombies. Knowing that they can’t do anything, they just run away. It also shows the desperation that people would have to reach safety and that they would be willing to put other people at risk for their own safety and the safety of their love ones. Within minutes of the first episode, it shows families running to the military transportation site, leaving behind everything to make it to the stadium.

Unfortunately, no amount of world building would be enough to save this show from falling apart. For one, there isn’t much character development or any real moment that makes the audience really care about any of them. Some information is given about them as a way to sympathize and care for them, but it’s not enough to establish any sort of connection.

Had there been a more personal connection established between characters and the audience, I would’ve cared for the deaths that happen. However, most of them happen without any real purpose and seemingly out of nowhere. There could have been more character development, or even growth, had some of the episodes been longer than 30 minutes. Both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead did a much better job at world building and character development in their respective 6-episode first seasons.

For the majority of the season, the episodes switch between William’s (Velez) group and Rose’s group. Both groups come together, but not until much later. The constant title cards transitions and switching which group we follow pulled me away from the show. It’s often that shows have two different plots, but pointing out that they’re about to switch is quite distracting. It would break away during tense moments, which I can understand why they did this, but the tease didn’t build anything up. This and not having any real reason to root for any of these characters definitely didn’t help my viewing experience.

Overall, I can’t say I enjoyed watching this show. Out of the 8 episode, only one episode managed to capture my attention. It focused on the the tensions amongst survivors, which is one of the major components of any show the revolves around zombies. However, knowing that  this was a prequel to Z Nation, it’s a definite improvement. If it does get renewed for a second season, I hope we are given characters that audiences can care for and more plot development other than “we need to get to the stadium.”

Black Summer is streaming now on Netflix.

Final Rating: 5/10 Title Card Transitions