The CBS series “Zoo” is a harmless diversion for recreational TV viewing. It’s a summer series about a global condition that affects a wide variety of animal species causing them to become aggressive toward humans. It is loosely based on James Patterson’s book of the same name, which had the same basic premise.
The show also has the same main character as the book, Jackson Oz. He’s an impetuous but perceptive man played by James Wolk who discovers early signs of the problem among lions in Botswana. Jackson’s father studied the same phenomenon of interspecies animal aggression, but nobody believed him either. Wolk is very telegenic and he may be one of the reasons that the show was renewed for a second season which debuts this week on June 28.
In Botswana, Jackson meets Chloe, a Frenchwoman played by Nora Arnezeder. Unlike the book’s depiction of Chloe as a scientist who becomes a fawning doormat once she falls in love with Jackson, the TV series presents Chloe as a strong, independent woman who investigates the animal behavior for reasons of international security.
The other characters are mostly inventions of the TV show. Abraham, a Kenyan safari guide played by Nonso Anozie, is “the muscle” of the group. He also serves as a rational Spock to Jackson’s risk-taking Kirk. Anozie has a commanding screen presence and makes for fun watching every week. His stature and authoritative baritone would make him the perfect actor to play Professor Challenger in a modern version of Lost World.
Billy Burke and Kristen Connolly play the other two members of the team. Burke is Mitch, a veterinary pathologist who serves as the geeky and irascible Jeff Goldblum of the group. Connolly is Jamie, a crusading journalist cum blogger on a campaign to expose Raiden, a shadowy corporation with questionable products that have found their way into each link of the food chain. As Jackson and Chloe pair off, so do Mitch and Jamie.
The quintet fights their way through at least one hostile species each week, rarely in the same location twice. They take cover from swarming bats in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, dodge man-eating leopards in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and investigate bears on the prowl in Paris. Their work is sponsored by the intelligence agency that employs Chloe, or so it seems, until the group finds out that Raiden is actually pulling the strings. The group has to worry about the humans on their tail as much as they have to worry about the animals.
On occasion, the show slips into a pattern of scenes that are dark or serious. Normally, the focus is on adventure and camaraderie within the team, and that’s where the show is at its best. On paper the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but the actors do a great job of adding depth and conviction, especially when they probably have to do half of their acting in front of a blue screen. The special effects are very good for a TV show—the animal attacks don’t seem computer generated.
You can catch up on Season 1 on Netflix and tune into CBS on Tuesday nights at 9 for Season 2.