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.
Cut interest rates, increase liquidity, and otherwise shove capital into the private sector. This helps businesses hire more workers and raise wages. Then gradually remove all the stimulus as growth recovers.
This playbook truly fell apart in 2008. The system had so much debt that adding yet more of it didn’t have the desired effect.
Even dropping short-term rates to zero didn’t help because it was creditworthiness, not interest costs, that kept people and businesses from borrowing.
The Bernanke Fed’s answer was quantitative easing. It had an effect but not the intended one.
Instead of going to productive use, the new stimulus helped banks deleverage and public companies repurchase their own shares or simply buy their competition.
This pushed asset prices, i.e. the stock market, higher and made it appear recovery was underway. Unfortunately, the “recovery” was the slowest recovery on record.
All that cash eventually trickled through the economy to yield-starved investors, not people who would spend it on useful goods and services.
Why were they starving? Because the Fed was keeping rates low. They had little choice but to take more risk, which is what the Fed wanted them to do in the first place.
So they plunged money into venture capital, private equity, IPOs, emerging markets, and everything else they could find with potentially decent capital gains and/or yields.
The result was a massive wave of investment, some good and some, well, let’s just say based on hope and little else. And hope is not a solid investment strategy.
Some businesses that had good stories (the so-called unicorns) found themselves covered with cash from hopeful investors. These companies emulated the Amazon model by using money to buy growth without profit.
In the hopes of going public at some point and cashing in, they kept the game alive. Think Lyft. Investors wanted to believe the story they were investing in was true, so they watched and waited.
They’re still waiting. And here we are.
A 2018 study examined a database of 32,000 listed companies in 14 advanced economies to identify “zombie” businesses. By their broad definition, a company is a zombie if it is…
- At least 10 years old, and
- Had an interest coverage ratio below 1.0 for three consecutive years.
In other words, these companies weren’t making enough revenue to pay back their loans, much less cover their other expenses and earn a profit.
Note, these were not startup companies. All were at least 10 years old and still in business despite their inability to make any money.
A Bank of America Merrill Lynch study finds roughly the same thing: 13% of developed-country public companies can’t even cover their interest payments. They are either borrowing more cash to pay off previous loans, or issuing equity to hopeful (too hopeful) investors.
Now, there are perfectly understandable, human reasons for this.
Faced with a probable loss, lenders always face a temptation to “extend and pretend.” They convince themselves that another year or another quarter will let it turn into a sterling borrower who pays in full and on time.
And more often than not, the zombie company has a charismatic CEO or founder who can charm lenders.
While it’s easy to say these investors are making poor decisions, they’re not doing it in a vacuum. They’re trying to earn positive returns in a world where central bankers have made positive returns an endangered species.
This means everyone is operating with distorted information and incentives. We’re in a hall of mirrors, so no surprise some people crash into the glass.
None of this is “natural.” It’s not the free market gone wild. It is the result of a manipulated market. The manipulators are what went wild. Sadly, they’ve only just begun….