Black Summer is a Netflix original series and prequel to the SyFy zombie show Z Nation from creators John Hyams and Karl Schaefer. It stars Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, Kelsey Flower, Erika Hau and Sal Velez Jr.
A mother searches for her daughter after civilization collapses due to a Zombie outbreak.
Let me be the first to say that I formally apologize to the production team of The Asylum. I will be 100% honest and admit that I HATED Z Nation. I’m not a fan of the Sharknado franchise, or anything else that The Asylum has produced for that matter. Until today – when I proclaim Black Summer the new king of zombie television. I actually had no clue that this short and explosive 8-episode first season of Black Summer was even a prequel to Z Nation until finishing every episode in rapid succession. Now – whereas Z Nation was loaded with camp, comedy and strange characters — Black Summer is the complete opposite in tone, opting to play it deadly serious in every single way. This is not a funny show, this is not a silly show and it does not “feel” like your typical Asylum effort in any way. There are moments littered throughout Black Summer season one that felt like I was watching Alfonso Cuaron directing a zombie apocalypse epic.
Black Summer shows the early days of the zombie outbreak – when nobody really knew what the hell was going on. If you get angry at the people shooting the infected horde in the chest as opposed to the head? They didn’t know. Don’t blame these fools – they’re terrified and spend most of their time trying to run away from the speedy undead. I didn’t blame them once, because the fast zombies of Black Summer ARE TERRIFYING. This is what 28 Days Later would look like if it spent more time bouncing around the suburbs and city streets while the main character sleeps the chaos away in a coma. Director John Hyams, who managed to pull off one of the most stunning sequences of TV all year with that rush to the stadium in the season finale, is executing on a new level here which we have not seen before in other horror TV series. It doesn’t hurt that they filmed most of this in Calgary, Alberta where I frequent quite often. It only made the episodes feel even more frightening because I recognized several of the downtown shots and it really added an extra layer of terror to the experience.
The series is simple – survival. We follow a set of panicked main characters, though we aren’t quite sure who these main characters are until their paths start to intertwine as the series flows towards its insane conclusion. Jaime King is seemingly our leading lady; a woman trying to reach the stadium so that she can be reunited with her daughter who was taken by a military convoy early on. Other people like Kelsey Flower’s character, are kinda just winging it by barely making it from one location to the next.
There’s an entire episode where Flower’s character Lance, is trying to outrun ONE ZOMBIE for 80% of the runtime. This bearded buffoon is showing me EXACTLY how I’d likely be acting myself in the same horrific situation… And it makes me both sad and disturbed at the realization that sometimes the only thing we can think of on the spot, is simply laying on top of a schoolbus and crying while a bloodthirsty cannibal is trying to screambite my flesh off. If you wanted realism, you’ll get that and more with Black Summer. These are all dumb people just trying to stay alive and watching that all play out makes for an experience totally different from other similar shows like The Walking Dead or the aforementioned Z Nation, which honestly has NOTHING to do with this prequel show aside from the same creative team.
I also want to point out that the haunting score from Alec Puro is a major factor in what makes Black Summer propel beyond the typical horror show as well. Puro’s music is such an amazing fit and it really builds the tension to add this layer of terror and suspense to an already stressful show in such wonderful ways. Early into the season, we even get an entire chapter (yes the episodes are broken into named chapters and I love that) dedicated to the point of view for one of the zombies. We literally follow this screaming woman as she runs from one location to the next trying to eat any living thing she can get her bloody hands on. It’s one of the coolest moments of any show so far for 2019 and watching the action unfold from the POV of a zombie is actually even more unnerving than waiting for one of the infected to pop up unexpectedly to attack a main character. I only wished that they used this effect more throughout season one, but it’s only limited to a couple moments.
The performances are all on point but Justin Chu Cary’s role as “Spears” aka the man disguised as a soldier, was the highlight of season one for me. I was unfamiliar with Cary until Black Summer, but he won me over with his badassery. I hate to draw comparisons, but he’s like the Daryl Dixon of Black Summer and there’s one moment where I actually yelled outloud that this dude just became the John Wick of zombie cinema. For such a short debut season (episodes range from 20 minutes to 40 tops), the series does a perfect job showing viewers several layers of social collapse. The survivors wind up in a school of horrors and eventually some sort of drug den with a very rapey guard to boot. The undead aren’t the only threat here and seeing what these people are capable of only a month into the apocalypse is kind of staggering but also completely understandable considering the nightmarish scenario of Black Summer. Stephen King dropped his praise of the show and I paid attention — now I’m urging everyone else to do the same and binge Black Summer immediately so we can get that second season rolling ASAP. I’m sorry Asylum – I was wrong and I’m man enough to admit that in this review for one of 2019’s best shows. Bravo.