TV Review - Summer 2015, Under the Dome, Extant & Zoo

James Wolk in 'Zoo'
I avoid CBS' Big Brother, but I have started watching the network's three, science-fiction series. One of which is new for 2015. That new show is not as compelling to me as the other two, which is a shame because if it were, CBS would have a really solid, summer line-up of escapist fun and craziness. During the fall and winter, CBS is dominated with its safe, procedural programs, mostly cop or legal shows. The summer is its time to let its hair down and do riskier or mind-bending, sci-fi adventures.

Zoo is the brand new series this summer. It's the adaptation of the novel by James Patterson. It's about a global epidemic where the animals of the world turn aggressive, specifically aggressive toward all humans. It feels like a weirdly drawn-out or extension of an episode of The X-Files, and this is not a compliment.

James Wolk stars as Jackson Oz, a biologist and the tour guide of an African safari in Botswana. He's the son of scientists who studied animals too, and particularly Jackson's deceased father has a theory about why the animals are going rogue. Jackson realizes his father might be right, so he's recruited as part of a group to help to do something about the animals.

Wolk was the only reason I tuned into the show. Wolk is an up-and-coming actor who became critically acclaimed in the short-lived, FOX series Lone Star (2010). He then had fantastic guest roles in Happy Endings, a show I loved and Shameless. He got a good supporting role in Political Animals, as well as Mad Men and The Crazy Ones along side Robin Williams, proving Wolk is sexy, charming and funny. All of those talents are unfortunately wasted here, mainly because the dialogue is so dry.

Kristen Connolly co-stars as Jamie Campbell, a newspaper reporter who worked as a controversial blogger trying to take on a corrupt corporation that might be responsible for the aberrant behavior in the animals. She's not like Lisbeth Salander, but she literally is "the Girl with the Genie Tattoo." I first saw Connolly in House of Cards, and it's weird because she seems to be playing the role of Kate Mara who is the sister of Rooney Mara, the star of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011). Yet, whatever talents Connolly has seems to be wasted here too.

There have been plenty of films that have dealt with animals turning wild and attacking humans. The pilot, directed by Brad Anderson, was in trouble when you see the major, animal-attack scene with Jackson versus the African lions. The way that it was shot was shaky. The editing was super quick and the green screen or CGI looked obvious. It was visually incomprehensible and you couldn't tell what was happening or what the geography was to a great degree, and what was comprehensible looked low-grade.

Lions are chasing Jackson and a girl with him. They're chased into a Jeep, and what is supposed to be an extremely tense situation becomes a mess. It's certainly not scary, not like Cujo (1983) or The Grey (2011). Later, Jamie is freaked out by a bunch of cats in trees. It's shot in a poor way, and as such not as creepy as any shot of animals in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963).

It almost feels like Patterson is trying to do Michael Crichton a la Jurassic Park, but, instead of being an effective thriller, it wants to be a global conspiracy and part family-drama, but it's clunky and boring. Episode 3 involves a wolf attack that was just nonsensical. It's curious as to why or what's behind it, but I'm not turned-on enough to care.

Halle Berry and Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Extant is the series starring Halle Berry that's in its second season. Berry plays Molly Woods, an astronaut who uncovers an alien conspiracy. It seems odd that a show like this is on CBS, but it's one of two programs on the network backed by Steven Spielberg and is probably the best. It's a lot more focused and fun. Berry is given just hilarious lines that embrace the ridiculousness, but yet it's directed in a way that the action and the horror are totally effective. Through the amazing, production design, it does sci-fi right and immerses us in its world, making this futuristic reality very much a reality. All the actors, particularly Grace Gummer give great performances. It's a shame it's gotten no Emmy love.

Under the Dome lost me in its second season, but now I'm strapped in for its third. Marg Helgenberger (Ryan's Hope and CSI) is the star that's been promoted as the new villain. She plays Christine Price, the leader of what looks like a riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) or The Matrix (1999). It's been crazy but fun, over-the-top, sci-fi stories.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 9PM on CBS.

Extant: Season 2.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on CBS.

Under the Dome: Season 3.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 9PM on CBS.


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