With The Walking Dead currently between seasons, Netflix's Black Summer has made its way into the world, hoping to fulfill all our zombie needs. But is Black Summer a worthy successor to The Walking Dead? The simple answer: Yes and no.
Black Summer, which serves as a prequel to Syfy's Z Nation, has a lot going for it. For starters, it doesn't feel like a prequel. Instead, it feels like a stand-alone project, dropping us into a world of mayhem where even its main characters are scrambling for answers. It's also binge-worthy, with only eight episodes ranging from 20 to 40 minutes. With that said, is it enough to keep us interested? Although Black Summer wants to be the next big TV show, it needs some serious improvements. Here are a few things the show gets right and what it should have left on the cutting room floor.
1. Rooting for Rose isn't easy.
Rose (Jaime King) is a mother whose family is torn apart by the zombie apocalypse. When her daughter is rescued and she's left behind, Rose finds herself tasked with one goal: to be reunited with her daughter. As Rose embarks on her journey, we're intrigued. Who doesn't love a story about a mom on a mission? Unfortunately, Rose never becomes the badass she needs to be in order to survive the apocalypse, let alone rescue her daughter! Instead, Rose remains dependent on Spears (Justin Chu Cary) the entire time. While we want to root for Rose, Black Summer divides our attention amongst many protagonists, each with storylines we're meant to be equally invested in. With so much ground to cover, Rose never gets the opportunity to become a strong female protagonist.
2. Give us more Kyungsun.
Survival is understood no matter what language you speak. Kyungsun (Christine Lee) does not speak English, but her fight to stay alive is truly compelling. In many ways, she is what sets Black Summer apart and makes it worth watching. The show's decision to create a character whose language barrier is part of her struggle to survive only further heightens the show's tension.
While the audience struggles to understand Kyungsun, so do the rest of the survivors. Without the aid of subtitles or an interpreter, we're all left in the dark as to what Kyungsun is experiencing during moments of chaos, as well as moments of calm and recollection. Yet, nothing stops Kyungsun from killing the plethora of zombies needed to insure her survival. Christine Lee's performance as Kyungsun is not only powerful enough to keep us invested in Kyungsun's emotional arch, it's enough to dub Kyungsun the breakout character of the show.
3. Use your wits, please!
Each episode introduces us to characters who fight to stay alive. They slowly find their way to each other, forming Black Summer's core group of survivors. William (Sal Velez Jr.) and Spears (Justin Chu Cary) are the group's main assets. Their abilities to take charge, wield weapons, and keep everyone alive is what gives the group the fuel it needs while they seek refuge. For some reason, the rest of the group constantly garners unwanted attention from zombies. They struggle to stay alive and always need to be rescued. Don't get me wrong, we don't want anyone from the core group dead. We want them to use their wits rather than bang on drums in the middle of a classroom, hoping no one finds them!
4. The zombies are terrifying.
These zombies are able to run, jump, and make quick decisions about who they choose to feast on. Very much like the zombies from Dawn of the Dead, these zombies know it's only a matter of time before non-marathon runners tire and become their prey. The only problem is the zombie conversion in Black Summer is inconsistent. For Rose's husband, it happens over time from a wound. For others, it happens almost immediately, as if breathing in air activates the zombie virus. As packs of zombies and survivors rush toward safety, it also becomes difficult to discern who's living and who's dead — that alone is its own nightmare!
5. The end is not near.
After eight episodes, Black Summer ends with the intent to continue. But, should it? We don't think so. In the last episode, watching Rose wield a gun and shoot a group member point-blank leads us to believe there is a strong female lead in her after all. The problem is Black Summer does Rose a disservice by waiting until the very end to discover her character's potential.
Though the zombie drama is good for a quick binge, it doesn't offer anything of real substance. We're not invested in the majority of characters, and we're not entirely sure how to feel about the show's decision to divide each episode into miniature "chapters" marked by title cards. With an overabundance of stellar shows out there, Black Summer is one series Netflix can toss out of its ever-growing roster.
You can watch Black Summer on Netflix now.