Another year, another zombie television drama. Today, Netflix released its latest original television series, Black Summer. Like Fear the Walking Dead is a prequel to The Walking Dead, Black Summer serves as a companion prequel to The Asylum’s Z Nation series. Even just a few years ago, a Netflix zombie series would have seemed like a guaranteed success. But with even The Walking Dead’s ratings sharply declining, the zombie narrative may finally be running out of life. So what does Black Summer’s pilot episode, Human Flow, promise horror fans?
Human Flow Establishes Its Ensemble Narratives
Not surprisingly, Black Summer’s pilot is all about table-setting for the series. Similar to Fear The Walking Dead, Black Summer sets its story in the early days of the zombie apocalypse. Episode 1, Human Flow, divides the action up into separate segments designed to introduce us to the principal characters. Each of these segments is announced with a title card. All of these segments ebb and flow around a military evacuation of a suburban neighbourhood.
…Black Summer sets its story in the early days of the zombie apocalypse.
As an emergency alarm rings out, Black Summer first introduces us to Rose along with her husband and daughter. At the military checkpoint, a solider grows suspicious of her husband who it turns out is injured and potentially infected. Though Roses’ daughter gets evacuated, Rose and her husband are left behind. When her husband finally succumbs to his injuries and ‘turns’, a solider named ‘Spears’ rescues her. Over the course of the 40 minutes or so of the first episode, Black Summer introduces us to an older woman, Barbara, who can’t find her husband, the mute Ryan, and Lance, a young man who loses his partner. We’re also given a bit of mystery to chew on. As it turns out, ‘Spears’ isn’t really Spears. He’s military prisoner who killed and stole the identity of a solider.
Black Summer Promises Familiar But Effective Zombie Horror
Ultimately, Black Summer’s biggest challenge is going to be familiarity and saturation. Aside from The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and Z Nation, there’s been no shortage of zombie movies. Last year saw Cargo, Hostiles, The Cured, Day of the Dead: Bloodline, and Overlord all released. Even casual audiences should have a pretty good grasp on the basic story. Zombies as a narrative for something or other, while humanity’s worst inclinations surface in the absence of social controls – – we’ve seen it before.
…the series will need to quickly distinguish itself in some way from The Walking Dead.
Black Summer is likely to live or die based on its presentation. That is, the series will need to quickly distinguish itself in some way from The Walking Dead. Based on Human Flow, Black Summer flashes the promise of a different tone in its presentation. From that opening emergency siren, Black Summer feels more more atmposopheric than The Walking Dead. In addition, Human Flow has a stripped down quality to it. The episode intersperses quiet moments in between its action. And you kind of feel like you’re immersed in its world. It’s suburban settting looks so familiar and lived in.
Human Flow Does Enough to Earn Some Commitment from Audiences
Based on just one episode, it’s hard to really tell what Black Summer will offer horror fans. Certainly, there’s some promise in Human Flow. In spite of its familiar narrative, Human Flow hints that its aesthetics and approach to the material may make it binge-worthy. Its combination of ‘fast zombies’ and the mystery of its ‘Spears’ character hooks you in for at least one more episode. But if Black Summer is going to keep audiences invested beyond a first season, it’s going to need to take some new directions with its ‘zombie apocalypse’ narrative.