On the way home from a recent trip, I managed to cram in all eight episodes of Netflix’s new zombie series, Black Summer. Like so many other Netflix originals these days, it sprang out of nowhere with little fanfare, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be ignored completely by viewers or the next viral sensation.
My guess is the former, because it just isn’t all that good.
While I may be a Walking Dead fanboy, especially now that the show has gotten really good again as of season 9, I am certainly open to competition. Netflix itself has already made a great new zombie show in the form of The Kingdom, the Korean zombie period drama that was actually quite stunning and is returning for a second season.
Black Summer is…less impressive, and plays more like a bloated movie than a new series. I know Netflix doesn’t have to operate within the bounds of traditional formatting, but the show’s episode lengths are bizarre, with a 45 minute premiere and a 20 minute finale across the eight episodes, with 25, 30 and 40 minute episodes in between. This makes the entire thing about a 3-4 hour experience, which, if you’re a zombie die-hard you may want to check out, but if you’re anyone else, I’m not sure this is worth your time.
This is a fairly traditional outbreak story, one told in the early days of a zombie attack. I think we’re about 5 weeks out from when things got “really bad,” as referenced by the characters. We follow a handful of characters that end up intersecting with one another frequently, as the show likes to play with parallel timelines. They have an ultimate goal of reaching the fabled stadium in the center of downtown (I’m not sure what city this is, something in the southwest), where they hope to reunite with lost family members.
The zombies here are…weird. Here are the rules we’re working with:
- These are “fast zombies,” 28 Days Later style, meaning they sprint and chase you and go so fast you’ll often see them plowing through walls and windows when you think you’re safe
- Biting does in fact turn people, but we are also working with the Walking Dead rule where anyone who dies, even if they aren’t bitten, turns. And they turn instantly.
- Headshots kill them, but these zombies seem far, far more durable than most Walking Dead Combine that with their speed and even one or two is enough to ruin your entire day.
What this looks like in practice is bizarre. Given that these are fast zombies that turn instantly after death, the zombies are essentially just actors with white-out eyes and blood on their face running around screaming. There are no prosthetics here, no real monster make-up. No zombies rolling around with one arm or half melted by fire. Just a lot of crazy people screaming, which does not make for a terribly compelling threat, however dangerous they may be.
But as weird as the zombies are, it’s the editing of this show that I can’t shake as being even bizarre. The show feels like it is desperately throwing out left turns as much as it can, adding and subtracting new characters at will so in many cases, you don’t get more than 2-3 episodes to know any of them. The show does some weird things like take a character tagging along in a group that you were positive was a redshirt and then…giving him his own 40 minute episode that he spends running away from a single zombie.
Editing also results in weird time skips. Like we will have one episode where five characters spend the entire thing debating how to get out of a diner they’ve been trapped in by two zombies. And then one episode later they are executing a highly choreographed raid of a weapons cache buried inside a sex/dance club full of armed guards. I had to check to make sure I hadn’t missed an episode or two multiple times.
I do like a few things the show does. The idea of “durable zombies” is a good one, ones that eat tons of damage and bullets before going down rather than being killed with pencils and icicles like in the Walking Dead. It’s just that their presentation is all wrong. The diner episode and the heist episode were memorable, but it’s hard to get attached to these characters given how often they come and go. The only person I even recognize in this series is Jamie King, but I don’t even think she’s one of the better characters. That honor goes to Christine Lee as Sun who has to navigate all this madness without speaking English.
The show kills off so many people by the end I have no idea if this is supposed to be a one-off series or the first of a few different season. I don’t think I’m terribly interested in more, and there are just better zombie properties to compare it to, even on Netflix itself. It’s not the biggest time commitment, but I just don’t know if it’s worth getting through regardless.
Netflix’s Black Summer sure ain’t your grandpappy’s zombie-based drama.
According to its main star, Jaime King (Hart of Dixie), the show is actually a political allegory meant to mirror current events in America. King plays Rose, a mother who’s looking for her child, but also leading a band of human survivors across the post-apocalyptic wasteland of a zombified United States.
“When I read the script, I was in Europe at the time. As soon as I closed the script, I literally changed my flight and flew back to the States because I was like, ‘I am Rose,'” the actor tells me during a one-on-one phone call.
Going on to relate the harrowing story of when her son was born with a heart defect and needed immediate surgery, she explains how it helped her realize that she and Rose were of one mind:
“There was something about going through that experience where I knew, in that moment—you hear that mothers can lift up cars to save their child—that there is nothing that a mother cannot do. When I read Rose, I knew I was her. I knew that there was nothing a woman cannot do to protect their child.”
Created by Karl Schaefer (co-creator of Z Nation) and John Hyams (a director of Z Nation and The CW’s Legacies), Black Summer deals with heavy themes of loss and humanity that echo the recent headline-making stories of children being separated from their parents at America’s border with Mexico.
“When I asked [John] why he wrote [the show], he said, originally, it was a love letter to his wife,” adds King. “When he saw what was happening down there [at the border] and what was happening with the country, he was like, ‘That’s it, I’m done. I have to tell this story’ … “All of this is a metaphor and that’s what I love. It’s metaphorical, but it’s also fun and in your face and it’s also authentic and true.”
In time, it became evident that such a relevant parallel would take precedence over the actual zombies. While the world of the show becomes infested with the flesh-eating ghouls, they are more of a unique lens through which to view the politically-charged stories swirling around since the 2016 election.
“And then our scripts, there was no mention of zombies. That was never mentioned,” King says. “It was that there was this sickness and the sickness is totally and fully representative of what is happening in our country in terms of that it doesn’t matter how much you love or how much you hate … no one is immune to the separation of one another and that we’re getting infected with biases that have always been present, but that are coming up to the surface and how does each person handle something like that?”
That being said, the series still has plenty of stuff to love for fans of both zombies and the horror genre in general without things becoming too overwhelming or graphic. King compares this approach to Alfred Hitchock, who once said that it’s better to leave some stuff up to the imagination, which will conjure up imagery and explanations that are much more frightening than if they were simply put up on the screen.
“If you love horror, you’re gonna love this. If you love drama, you’re gonna love this. It’s cinematic. It’s not like this gory, horror show, it is the kind of show that when you watch it, you can’t even breathe because it’s so grounded in truth … When you do see [the gore] in your face, it’s really purposeful and so, there’s a lot of care and consideration so that we were hitting all the different notes for everybody.”
While Season 1 isn’t even available to the public yet, I couldn’t resist in asking her where she’d like a second season to go, should Black Summer be renewed by Netflix. She was more than happy to oblige in a little speculative guesswork, saying:
“If Rose makes it to her child or wherever she makes it, I would like her to explore the aftermath of what that’s like to be separated from the person that you love so much. I would like to explore what it is that I’ve seen when mothers go back to their children at the border and their child doesn’t know who they are. I would like to explore the actual real aftermath of what happens when the people in power oppress and strip you of your humanity and the strength that you come to in realizing that you don’t need them in the first place because someone will have your back if you find that person. But I would just like to explore the complexities of that if she reaches her.”
Netflix was, at least for King, the inevitable choice for how the series was meant to be produced and distributed.
“I love genre and most importantly I just love cinema and the way that [the show] was shot, we break so many rules that most shows aren’t allowed to do, but that’s the beautiful thing about Netflix,” she says. “When they hire you for your voice, you get to do your voice and they let you just run and be free, which is why every artist wants to work with them.”
As for those of you watching at home, Jaime hopes that you’ll take their time with the show, which is obviously debuting on the Internet’s most “bingeable” site. The temptation is pretty great, but if you do zoom through all of Season 1, don’t worry—there’s still plenty of rewatch value.
“I think people should linger on it, because the way that we shot it, it’s so cinematic and we never jump backwards in time and we never jump forwards in time. We shot it like a play … What I hope is that the audience watches it however they prefer—if they binge it, then they go back and watch it episode-by-episode so that they can see each thing that’s woven within.”
Season 1 of Black Summer arrives on Netflix tomorrow, April 11.
I always wonder why high-level discussions within the European Union (EU) commence so late in the day that they can only be concluded in the early hours of the morning. Then again, I should note that the leaders of the EU nations seem unable to function unless they have been served a haute cuisine dinner to aid their decision-making capabilities.
The decision to grant another extension for when Brexit may happen is a case of frustration in the U.K. and typical EU compromise.
The U.K. had intended to leave on March 29. As the House of Commons failed to support the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement on no less than three occasions (albeit Meaningful Vote Three was a watered-down version) a new deadline of tomorrow, April 12 was put in place. This was not going to be possible so Mrs May asked for an extension again to June 30.
This marks the event horizon of an intersection between U.K. requests and EU proposals.
Donald Tusk, the President (one of many Presidents in the EU) of the European Council wanted a flexible extension of one year although the U.K. could leave earlier if an agreement was to be reached.
The German Chancellor seemed to concur was she had said on several occasions that she was ready to work till the last hour to help deliver a deal on Brexit. Opposing this view was the French President, Emmanuel Macron. He is facing a tough domestic political battle ahead of the European elections and was posturing for the home audience by appearing to make Brexit…indeed anything that upset his “Big Europe” vision as being a tricky path to take.
The process ended in a typical European way. It was best described by the former Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb, as being a classic case of European “Chaos…Confusion…and Compromise”.
(Note Mr Stubb is a potential successor to Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Council…oh my, another ex-politician seeking to ride the EU gravy train)
So not the date Mrs May wanted. Not the flexi year Donald Tusk and Angela Merkel wanted. Not the short time line Emmanuel Macron desired.
None of these…but a compromise, oh come on, it’s Europe, so what else would it be?
The new departure date is October 31. Whilst that is flexible, i.e. could be shortened it has given many headline writers (not this one) plenty of “Halloween” based fuel to write with.
Donald Tusk said that until that deadline arrives the next steps are entirely in the U.K.’s hands. He added that the U.K. could ratify the withdrawal agreement, and leave, or it could alter its course and can decide to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. He did go to on the stress that the U.K. will remain a friend of the EU and ended his press conference by saying to the U.K.
“…Please, do not waste this time. …”
Of course, the EU will check in every now and then on the progress and as such a review was scheduled for June 30, although President Tusk did not describe that as a “…cliff edge…”.
Almost enjoying the role of “hard man of Europe”, French President Emmanuel Macron openly took responsibility for blocking a long Brexit delay and said he has convinced other European Union leaders to agree to a shorter one, “…for the collective good…”.
In a press conference after the agreement was reached, U.K. Prime Minster Theresa May said:
“…the choices we now face are stark and the timetable is clear…”
She acknowledged the frustration that the UK had not yet left the EU.
What of Mrs May’s future? She has had to eat her words over Brexit so many times and last night it was painful to watch her avoid a series of questions about her future as Prime Minister. Given she had previously said she would not accept an extension beyond June 30, this can be only seen as humiliating.
Still, dogged is as dogged does and this resolute woman insisted that the U.K. could still leave on May 22 and not hold European parliamentary elections if the House of Commons were to pass the withdrawal deal. Mrs May…it will never pass as long as Labour and the Democratic Ulster Unionists oppose it.
She will face a testing day in Westminster as she will give a statement in the House of Commons in the early afternoon. No doubt the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn will seek to make political hay by calling the process and insisting on a customs union or a general election.
He just doesn’t get it that the people voted to leave the EU. They do not want to be held in lock step to EU industrial and trade policy, unable to strike its own deals. To be balanced, the hard core Brexiteers will similarly sneer at the extension and blame the Prime Minister.
What is staggering and what I imagine the electorate will find difficult to comprehend is that given the threat of a no-deal exit has gone, … for now… parliament has scrapped plans to it on Friday and next week. Do they not understand the frustration felt around the country?
Our MP’s should be ashamed. They have collectively let down the nation. An instruction was given in June 2016. I did not vote that way, but I accept it. This nation should have held open the “no-deal” option. It could be managed; the EU would have changed tack…they need the U.K.’s money.
There is no glory in this mess, either in the U.K. or within the EU. It is like a “Brexit Black Hole”, except unlike the real phenomena, we have no image, not even a fuzzy one of what this dark destination looks like.