So, years ago – yes, I’m that lazy – I was thinking of making Bad Movies a regular thing on this blog. Although somehow I missed everything but the soundtrack first time around, I wallowed through polished Eighties turd Cocktail and came out the other side wondering how on earth Tom Cruise ever had an acting career after that one. In the interim I cued up another likely stinker – Days of Thunder – and pretty much Adam Sandler’s entire post Happy Gilmore oeuvre.
Needless to say, my Netflix recommendations look…bad. The white text at the top should probably read ‘lasciate ogne speranza voi c’he entrate’, but Netflix hasn’t read Dante so instead I get ‘wacky eighties comedies’, which is much the same thing really.
It was mostly laziness that stopped me from keeping it up, but it was also a period of time where nobody watched movies any more. It was all TV, and in the main it was all very, very good TV. The kind of TV that stomped along in the huge footprints of The Sopranos, and did it very well. House of Cards. Breaking Bad, and its shockingly good spinoff Better Call Saul. And now Stranger Things – I mean, look at that fucking thing. It’s beautiful. It’s like Netflix’s kneeling, hands-clasped apology for commissioning three series of Hemlock Grove.
So yeah. There wasn’t really a great deal of stuff to point and laugh at, except maybe for Hemlock Grove and the bog-awful Sons of Anarchy, and they – like a lot of the bad stuff – wasn’t point-and-laugh bad. Just deathly dull.
But then there was Zoo.
Full disclosure, when I started watching Zoo I was down with a vicious stomach bug. So it might have been feverishness and a lack of food that made me laugh as loud and hard as I did. This show is insane. It’s dementedly awful in a shrieking, so-bad-it’s-good way that I haven’t seen since the dizzy days of Footballer’s Wives. And I’m told they’re doing a third series. Magical.
Zoo starts out silly and just gets gleefully sillier from there. The word BOTSWANA appear on the screen in huge, important white letters, and then – after a bit of business with the main character’s dog, who is acting wiggy – we get the dramatic music and a growling voiceover.
For centuries mankind has been the dominant species. We’ve domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But what if, across the globe, the animals decided, “No more”? What if they finally decided…to fight back?
See what I mean? This is Marenghi level what-iffery. I had to keep on watching.
We go to a safari camp and meet Abe and his son Daniel, and also Jackson, a white boy in Botswana who Daniel helpfully informs us is ‘laid out cold with a hangover’ on account of some rowdy carousing with some Swedish tourists just last night. Weird, because the very first time we saw Jackson – a scene ago – he was wandering around last night playing with his dog, with not a Swede or a Jagerbomb in sight. Get used to this kind of thing, by the way.
Anyway, Abe scrapes Jackson off his hammock by way of a hangover remedy that contains baboon poop. Naturally Abe doesn’t tell Jackson this until he’s almost drained the glass, prompting a predictable spit-take that tells you that whoever wrote this bit thinks they are very funny indeed. Which is nice for them. Meanwhile Daniel is watching some rambling YouTube screed on a laptop, in which some old scientist – you can tell he’s a scientist because he has a chalkboard behind him – is saying some vaguely sciencey stuff about extinction events and what if animals had anticipated them? He then rambles on to say something about ‘we can even ignore the defiant pupil’, which prompts Daniel to ask Jackson what his father – the rambling YouTube nutbag – meant by the ‘defiant pupil’. I know this sounds like a lot of fluff and nonsense, but trust me, this is actually important. And you will never guess how.
Jackson says that his father was a professor and the ‘defiant pupil’ was probably a stroppy student. Then Abe announces that, on their way to pick up the on-Safari Swedes, they’re going to stop by Simon’s place.
“The radio at Simon’s place is on the blink. I thought we could fly out there and help them fix it. I haven’t been able to reach him for two days.”
You already know that Simon and friends are chopped in in flyblown lumps; it’s just that kind of show.
Then we get a couple of attractive shots of gazelles and galloping giraffes that serve to hammer home early just why this show is doomed to fall hilariously flat on its face before it’s just three minutes in; they’re not scary at all, just awe-inspiringly beautiful. Nobody is going to watch this show for the animals, not when they could be watching David Attenborough instead.
Jackson and Abe then head on out to show some Swedes the rhino, then Jackson thwarts a nasty rich guy with a game license by holding up a boombox and playing James Brown, prompting the rhino to run away. I suppose I have to give him some points for conservation, and for his excellent taste in music. Although not so much his taste in movies.
Then THWOOSH – more large urgent white letters, this time saying LOS ANGELES. And what do you know, we’re in LA. In a piss-stained alley, to be precise, where two guys are doing their best to make it more piss-stained while having a completely irrelevant conversation about open relationships. Then two lions jump out and eat them.
No, really. That’s what happens. Welcome to the world of glorious stupid that is Zoo. Roll titles.
In theory this shouldn’t be too horrible. It’s got Kristen Connolly and Billy Burke, both of whom I like as actors. And it’s based on a best selling book by James Patterson, a writer whose turbine-driven work ethic you have to admire, if nothing else.
Titles over, we go straight back to LA to a newsreader explaining that two lions escaped from a zoo and ate two guys in an alleyway. Apparently the lions made it all the way to Wilshire without anyone noticing; I’ve heard people in Hollywood were self-absorbed, but this is ridiculous.
Anyway, here’s Kristen. Hi, Kristen. I’m so happy your character got written out of House of Cards – she was entirely too sweet to hang around DC and have her soul scooped hollow by creatures like the Underwoods. I like to think she went off to some cuddly granola place where her niceness is appreciated and nurtured, like Vermont or Portland.
Except now she’s in LA, talking urgently into a phone in one of the few remaining crowded print newsrooms in the world. Apparently she’s looking into the lion attack, which means looking up video of people who are running around screaming next to a swimming pool in broad daylight, ostensibly running from a pair of snarling lions. So someone did notice the lions running around Hollywood but apparently it took them until late at night – when the alley attack took place – to grab a tranq gun and take down a couple of huge snarling carnivores. The LAPD are very bad at lions, it seems.
Jamie – Kristen’s character – says that the lions were behaving oddly (really?) and that they’d only started behaving oddly since they started being fed beef that had been raised on grain that had been treated by pesticides that had been developed by a company called Reiden Chemical. Got that? Good. Because there’s a test.
Then Dan from Veep – sadly not sporting the sexy hobo beard that Selina made him shave off – pops up over the side of Jamie’s cubicle and hauls her off for the kind of boss chewing out scene that we have to have for all maverick characters just so that we know they’re mavericks in their field. Never mind that this girl was seen in the very last scene purporting the kind of conspiracy theory that would make even Fox Mulder scrunch up his nose and go ‘Yeah, it’s kind of a reach.’
Boss lady tells Jamie to knock off the conspiracy theories because the newspaper operates under the same corporate umbrella as…wait for it…Reiden Chemical, and then directs her attention to a blog called Somewhat Damaged, written by someone whose alias is The Girl With The Genie Tattoo. Which…is every other blog by a well-off Millennial girl anywhere on the internet, isn’t it?
Only it’s not. So there. It’s actually a conspiracy theory blog with a particular beef about…wait for it…Reiden Chemical.
Jamie naturally denies all knowledge, but boss lady and Dan are sure they’ve got her bang to rights on the grounds of her using words like ‘pettifoggery’ in her writing both on the blog and for the newspaper.
“And based on that flimsy logic,” says Jamie. “You think I’m the person who’s writing this blog?”
Well, yeah. That and you seem to spend every minute of the working day having loud phone conversations in your cubicle about the nefarious doings of Reiden Chemical.
Boss lady says she’s not going to ask Jamie to strip down to reveal the tattoo of a genie, but she needn’t have bothered, since in a couple of scenes from now we discover that the genie tattoo is on the back of Jamie’s shoulder. And she lives in LA, world-famous as the home of year round long-sleeve weather. Get used to this, too. Everyone in this show acts so stupid you’d think their brains had been removed with ice-cream scoops. It’s great.
THWUD – more huge white letters – and we’re back in BOTSWANA. Jackson and Abe are flying in a tiny plane while Abe complains that his son wants to be a scientist like the ‘great Robert Oz’. This is Jackson’s mad dad, by the way. That’s his name. Robert Oz. And Jackson’s name is Jackson Oz. Hoo boy – we’re off to see the wizard.
Abe gives a bit of canned bio in which he reveals himself as a loveable hedonist and they ramble onto animals and the predictability of same. Also animals don’t kill themselves, a line that prompts Jackson to do some solemn acting for some reason.
Predictably they swing by Simon’s place and find nothing but a flyblown breakfast. Then Jackson finds a digital recorder and Abe discovers the radio was working all along. Then Jackson plays the recorder and it’s full of running and screaming, and there are lion tracks and lion shit nearby. Abe and Jackson squat down and look serious for a while, mystified as to what could have happened here. See what I mean about ice-cream scoops?
Then we return to LA with nary a thud or the urgent white letters, just a brief establishing shot of palms and cut to a TV. See how easy that was, showmakers? There’s a plot point on TV – a volcano is erupting in the Phillipines. I don’t know it’s a plot point, but I’m guessing it is. This show is not exactly the home of subtlety.
And here’s Jamie again, with her genie tattoo clearly visible. She mutters ‘pettifoggery’ at the mirror – as you do – and then Dan’s knocking at the door of her apartment and she throws back his line from their previous encounter at the Ritual-Boss-Chewing-Out-Scene. And it’s a great line. A lovely line. I want to cross stitch it on a pillow.
“‘Don’t take us for fools, Jamie’. Really?”
Kristen, I hate to break it to you, but you’re in a show where most of the characters combined IQ’s would barely reach room temperature. There are still titles appearing on the screen and so far both main characters have demonstrated the kind of towering intellects usually seen on Celebrity Big Brother.
Then Dan says “You should have known from the start that this blog was idiotic and that sooner or later you were going to get caught,” and that was the moment I knew I loved this stupid, stupid show.
Dan and Kristen were banging, by the way. But it’s probably irrelevant. And then he says “Stop chasing the unicorn that killed Kennedy,” and she says “How long have you been saving that one up?”
Not nearly long enough, I think. I love Dan and Kristen.
Kristen makes vague reference to something that happened in Folsom, but I’m guessing she’s not talking about Johnny Cash. Then she turns back to the TV, which is still conveniently babbling plot points, this time an interview with the park director who says they’re still investigating what happened with the lions. Kristen snarls back that he knows what happened – “You hired Reiden and people died.” This is a universe where people think its unusual for escaped large carnivores to kill people.
She then heads off to Brentwood and crashes the park director’s party. Apparently the lion attack happened yesterday and Kristen says she thinks it callous for him to be having a poolside barbecue after three people died. I’m not sure who the third was, but it probably doesn’t matter. Again, he’s baffled as to ‘what brought about that lion attack’. They got loose, you dingbat. What were you expecting lions to do when they got loose? Dress up in caps and bells and take up morris dancing? They’re fucking lions.
This guy is the worst park director since John Hammond.
Naturally Kristen starts on about the food supply because REIDEN CHEMICAL. No, I can’t imagine how they figured out she was writing a blog about Reiden Chemical at work. She almost never talks about REIDEN CHEMICAL.
Also there have been a lot of missing cats in Brentwood. Cat-napping or something. The park director says “Including my daughter’s cat…Cupcake,” and delivers the line – especially the ‘Cupcake’ part – like he’s auditioning for the part of a Bond villain.
But it gets better. No, I didn’t think it was possible, but wait. Listen. Kristen says “Who would steal cats?” and Bond villain park guy says “No idea, but when you find him, let me know. Because I wanna smash his face in.”
Is he talking about the guy who stole the cat, or is he talking about Cupcake? Did this guy just confess to being an actual cat puncher? Oh God. It wasn’t the fever or the lack of food messing with my mind – Zoo really is this amazing.
Anyway, back in Botswana, Jackson and Abe are in a jeep (Wait, what happened to the plane?) and talking about how some army used to walk in single file so that nobody knew how many of them had been there. And that maybe there was more than one lion in Simon’s camp, but many lions walking in single file.
Does anyone in this show have the first fucking idea how lions work?
Apparently not. Abe and Jackson spot one of Simon’s vehicles (surely the plane would cover more distance?) then get out and walk through the long, straw-coloured – or some might say ‘lion-coloured’ – grass. This will end well.
Obviously it doesn’t, because lions. Then a frightened French blonde leaps out of the grass at Jackson and a lion hops into the truck with Abe. There are two gunshots then the lion shakes his mane all Pantene Pro-V and the blonde screams at Jackson that they have to go. Somehow they outrun four or five huge male lions and get back into the jeep. The lions bounce around on the roof for a while and then go all bad CGI as the jeep drives away, leaving poor old Abe for dead.
Jackson hands the blonde a hip flask, telling her it’s Kentucky Bourbon. That piece of meaningless detail was brought to you by ‘huh?’ If I’d just outrun several snarling lions and someone handed me a hip flask I’d have taken several belts before maybe checking that it wasn’t neat methanol.
Blonde reveals that her name is Chloe (bad luck, dear) and they were out looking for animals. On safari, no less. Then lions showed up and started eating people. Unfortunately this is told in such flabby writing (“The bus driver – he was getting attacked…”) that it has no emotional impact, and Chloe just compounds the hilarity by saying “How does that even happen?”
LIONS. God, do you people need a chart or something? A slideshow?
“How do you die? How do you get eaten to death?” she says. “I don’t know,” says Jackson, who has apparently been hanging out observing lions for years and has no idea how a lion takes down its prey. Jesus, I know how a lion takes down her prey just from watching wildlife documentaries. They go for the throat. It’s lights out pretty quickly, I would imagine.
Back to LA, where Kristen is at the zoo. She hops over an ‘exhibit closed’ sign and finds Billy Burke, who is a vetinary pathologist. He’s currently exploring wolf behaviour, specifically the thing that makes them child molesters, hoping to find some insight as to why his whiny, whey-faced daughter has gone all Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo when it comes to keeping pedo-wolf away from the grandkid.
No, I’m kidding. He’s not. But hey, maybe he knows how lions work? Someone has to.
“You want to know what incited the lions to kill the zookeeper? And the two men downtown?” he says. “Well, that makes two of us.”
Oh well. He doesn’t know how lions work either. Dammit.
Then he takes Kristen to the animal morgue. We learn she grew up in Louisiana in a clunky attempt at conversation, then Charlie Swan whips off the plastic covering from a couple of dead lions. Also he doesn’t like people very much, but that’s understandable given that he spent eighteen years of his life raising miseryguts Bella. Kristen then reels off some statistics that people are more likely to die choking on hot dogs than die in lion attacks, and says that’s proof that something caused this. Something like a large escaped carnivore, most likely frightened and corner…oh, fuck it. I can’t do this any more. Just for the sake of argument we’ll pretend that normal lion behaviour, when cornered and afraid in an unfamiliar environment, is to bust out some form of interpretive dance. Or take up needlepoint. Anything but attack people, okay? We’ll just go with that.
You know you’re watching a timeless work of art when the plot demands that you bend reality to suit its purposes.
And back to Botswana. And no thuddy white letters! Well done! You see – you can do establishing shots! Whosa clever director then? Is it you? Is it you? Yes, it is.
In the jeep, Chloe and Jackson have an already annoying conversation in which Chloe reveals she is on her honeymoon but she came on her honeymoon alone, because she found out her fiance was banging someone else. This is so obviously a precursor to a Chloe/Jackson (Chlaxon?) relationship that I want to puke, mainly because the flyblown breakfast at the safari camp has so far revealed more raw personality than Jackson.
Then the jeep stops because lions…got to the radiator? They dismantle radiators now. Jackson says “I know one thing about lions,” which is clearly a lie. If you showed him flashcards depicting a lion, a backhoe and a large bar of soap I’m not sure if he could actually pick out the lion.
“They recently fed,” he says, concluding they won’t be hungry as they had five Swedes and a bus driver that morning. On the strength of this information Chlaxon (shut up, I like it and it’s staying) agree to walk.the remainder of the way to the camp.
Meanwhile, back in LA there’s a marmoset front of shot and now I want a plotline in which marmosets assemble tiny Rube Goldberg death contraptions with their itty-bitty adorable little paws. You can do it, Zoo. I have faith in you.
Kristen and Charlie talk some more about lion attacks and then this happens.
Her: “Maybe I’m just chasing the unicorns that killed Kennedy.”
Him: “Should I know what that means? Is that, like, a saying?”
It means that whoever wrote that turd of a line thought it was such a sick burn that it was worth bringing back for an encore.
Charlie then says that “Sometimes a mystery is just a mystery,” a line straight from the M. Night Shyamalan School of Annoying Audiences With Pointless Bullshit and Kristen says “Yeah, like missing cats in Brentwood.”
Oof. I felt that clunk.
Back in Botswana, Chlaxon are wandering along the edge of a river. Jackson reveals he’s from Boston, although – like Lousiana-born Kristen – has no trace of an accent whatsoever. But we don’t get to hear any more because the lions come back, trapping Chlaxon on the edge of the steep slope that leads down to the river and negating the one thing that Jackson thought he knew about lions.
They teeter on the edge for a second as the lion comes closer, then Jackson stares into the lion’s eyes and – I am not even kidding – sees that lion has a weird, keyhole-looking pupil.
Yes, really. At this point we were hooting like gibbons and throwing popcorn at the TV, just as Jackson murmurs “The defiant…” and falls off the edge of the slope.
Yep. Oh yeah. You read that right. That’s the defiant pupil. I told you it would be worth it.
Chlaxon tumble Princess Bride style down the slope to the river and somehow escape without broken bones. Then there’s a water level shot that hints of a crocodile leaping out to eat them, but sadly it doesn’t. On the way back to camp Jackson expounds on his father’s theories, which are really, really dumb. Apparently his father’s theory was that animals had the ability to coordinate attacks and eliminate whatever species was a threat to them, but didn’t because…reasons. The failure of this theory to make any sense whatsoever eventually drove Oz Senior completely la la, but while frothing at the mouth he made a whole bunch of tapes in which he rambled about a ‘defiant pupil’.
“This defiant pupil was indisputable proof that his theory was correct,” says Jackson. “Up until today, I thought it was a student. But now I think that what he was talking about I saw back there in that lion’s left eye.”
Somewhere M. Night Shyamalan is weeping that he didn’t come up with this pile of shit first. It’s not quite Lady in the Water levels of ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ but it’s definitely getting up there with The Happening.
And LA again, where Kristen is clearing out her desk, despite Dan’s efforts to smarm her out of it. Then Charlie calls and says he’s found the missing cats of Brentwood.
Boom, back to Botswana. And somehow it’s night in Africa at the same time as it is night in LA. Interesting. Jackson gets arrested for making a rhino run away by playing James Brown at it, and I love this show more and more with every passing second because it makes me type things like ‘Jackson gets arrested for making a rhino run away by playing James Brown at it.’
Cut to Daniel – who has no idea that his father has been eaten by a lion – who is still watching the vaguely sciencey pronouncements of Jackson’s very, very mad dad. “As mankind sails the world toward the tip of the iceberg, what survival strategy will they employ?” says Oz Senior, who has clearly been reading from the same Terrible Metaphors and How To Stretch Them Thinner Than Gum book as Dan and his Kennedycidal unicorns. “Will they man the lifeboats and die on the stormy seas? Or will they perhaps take matters into their own hands and toss overboard the captain of the ship?”
This bit of drivel is the ominous voiceover as Charlie and Kristen X-File their way across a Brentwood playground, flashlight in hand. Then he raises the flashlight to reveal a tree full of cats. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, but with cats. It’s every bit as hilarious as it sounds.
Then it’s time for a parallel shot in Botswana, with Abe being hauled up into a tree by lions…who have apparently developed thumbs and used them to build ropes and pulleys? I’m not sure lions actually do that. In fact I’m reasonably sure that’s only leopards that do that, but here we are. Abe’s alive and there’s an ominous tree full of cats. Am I watching the next episode? You’d better believe it.