Zoo Premiere Recap: Purr-fect Summer Treat or Total Cat-tastrophe?

In the rundown of “Wait! What?!” questions raised by the premiere episode of CBS’ new summer thriller, Zoo, “Why are lions waging an organized war against humans?” barely cracks the Top 5.

For starters, after seeing his best friend seemingly mauled to death by a lion in the back of a van, how come handsome safari guide Jackson Oz (The Crazy Ones‘ James Wolk) isn’t a blubbering, wild-eyed mess, but instead apologizing for the quality of the coffee he’s serving to a pretty/traumatized Frenchwoman?

Also, is there any number of fuzzy house cats congregating in a single tree that would cause you to panic (rather than whip out your iPhone and create a viral video)? And would said tree’s proximity to a day camp for children affect your reaction?

What is the definition of pettifoggery? (Don’t feel bad: I had to use a combination of Google and phonetics to come up with the spelling.)

106035_0590bAnd finally, if the lions have (as that final scene led us to believe) mastered the art of pulley technology, is there a chance that next week’s episode will find them cutting letters out of magazines and demanding a ransom for Abraham’s safe return? (sENd fANcY fEAst or AbE bEcomEs TARtarE!)

That’s a show that’d have me setting a Series Recording on my DVR. Zoo in its current state? Well, anything with Wolk, Veep‘s Reid Scott (barely utilized) and Law & Order: SVU‘s Tamara Tunie (reduced to a handful of lines) warrants a second chance, but I’m cautiously pessimistic.

With my two cents cast into the duck pond — fret not, they’re probably saving felonious fowl for Season 2 — let’s do a quick recap of the action from the episode titled “First Blood.”

BOTSWANA | Our opening scene introduces us to hard-drinking Jackson, who fled Boston and his mad-genius dad (Ken Olin) some 12 years ago — and is clearly haunted by the old man’s outlandish theories about when/how animals might band together to say “No more!” and “bite back” against humans who are ruining their planet. He and his best friend Abe head to an outpost of their resort — leaving behind Abe’s teenage son, who spends most of his free time watching… videos of Jackson’s dad?! — and find it deserted. Their only clue is a dropped videocam suggesting some sort of animal attack. “What if it was multiple lions in walking in single file?” asks Jackson, out of nowhere, after finding only one set of paw prints.

Out in the bush, Abe and Jackson inexplicably step out of their jeep — a fool move that ends with Abe getting trapped with a lion in a vehicle and Jackson abandoning (!) him with a comely blonde who staggers out of the tall grass with tales of her entire sightseeing group being reduced to ground chuck. “How does one get eaten to death?” she asks, and I assume it’s some sort of shock/ESL combo that’s causing such a ludicrous query.

106011_0779bSoon after, their vehicle breaks down — the lions “got to the radiator,” Jackson suggests — and they’re forced to finish the journey back to camp on foot. Frenchie* (Chloe Tousignant) sees her worst nightmare come to fruition when a pack of male lions close in on them, knocking them over an embankment — but not before Jackson can spot a “defiant pupil” in the ringleader cat, a trait that dear old dad used to rant about. “Maybe my father wasn’t entirely crazy!” he exclaims, but before he has a chance to investigate further, he’s arrested by the local cops for interfering with lawful hunting. (There’s a whole backstory to that, but I just cahhhn’t right now.) Meanwhile, the lions hoist Abraham up into a tree, and we see his eyes flutter as he’s flung over a limb. (*Not her actual name)

CALIFORNIA | Two drinking buddies peeing in a downtown Los Angeles alleyway get attacked by… lions?! (Side note: Where are the lady lions? Anyone who’s ever watched Wild Kingdom knows the females are the true hunters, even though their lack of dramatic mane may not be as appealing to cinematographers.)

106011_0497bTurns out the beasts were escapees from City of Angels Zoo — and dogged reporter Jamie (House of Cards‘ Kristen Connolly) is convinced that the dangerous behavior leads back to the zoo switching feeds to a subsidiary of Graydon Global, a megacorp that owns pretty much everything, including her newspaper. Jamie gets fired (then kinda sorta un-fired) because she’s running a ridiculously titled side blog called “Girl With the Genie Tattoo” — Tunie’s boss editor says the blog’s use of “pettifoggery” is a giveaway that it’s Jamie’s — but the drama also causes her to put the kibosh on a sexual relationship with her section editor (Scott). Somehow, their conversation includes multiple variations on this never-going-to-happen catchphrase: “Stop chasing the unicorn that killed Kennedy.”

During her investigation, Jamie learns that dozens of cats have gone missing in Brentwood — #SaveCupcake — and when she interviews a flirty animal pathologist (Billy Burke) at the zoo, that side note about the tabbies sticks in his craw. Later that night, he calls her out to a darkened field — gurrrrl, you’re sure he’s not the villain from Season 1 of True Detective? — and tells her he’s cracked the case. ALL OF THE KITTIES ARE IN A TREE RIGHT NEXT TO AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL THAT’S ABOUT TO HOST A SUMMER CAMP. Surely, there’s a “hang in there” inspirational poster to be referenced, but both Jamie and pathologist dude look srsly freaked out.

THE PHILIPPINES | We learn via background news report that people in the Philippines are bracing for largest volcanic eruption ever — and clearly that’s not a simple coincidence, right? More on that in the coming weeks, I presume?

What did you think of Zoo? Will you be paying a return visit? Grade it in our poll below, then sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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49 Comments
  1. Dave says:

    Excellent. Makes me want more

  2. Dr. Opossum says:

    It wasn’t perfect – I am not crazy about the two female leads. But it looks like enjoyably trashy fun that isn’t quite as aggressively dumb as Under the Dome. I look forward to seeing animals attacking every week starting with those tree-loving house cats.

  3. NEK38583 says:

    Base on the previews and the genre; I thought I am really going too love it. The first 15 minutes I was disappointed and almost changed the channel. Halfway through I thought I would give a couple of episodes at the end I started to really enjoy it. I would give 3 stars and say I think it has a lot of potential.

  4. laurelnev says:

    I was not digging this at all and about ready to switch to the backed up DVR when Billy Burke appeared on screen. He’s what kept me watching Revolution, which in hindsight, was a really poor decision. :) So now I’m torn: possibly blame Billy for once again making me waste valuable life hours, or not tune back in and miss several hours watching Billy Burke. Decisions, decisions. :D

    • brandi says:

      He’s awesome. I wish someone would give him a really good gig. I only watched 2 episodes of Revolution and thought it wasn’t going to make it to season 2. It did, then got canceled so I’m glad I didn’t waste to much time on it.

  5. Hayley says:

    If the show follows the book at all then there is an explanation for the missing females. I haven’t watched the show yet, but based on the recap they’ve obviously changed some of the premises as they do with most shows. I still think no females for now will be explained soon enough.

  6. AngelWasHere says:

    I liked it. Well so far. I’m really glad Abraham is alive. I was about to be so bummed! Looking forward to the next episode. :)

  7. bj says:

    ” (sENd fANcY fEAst or AbE bEcomEs TARtarE!)”

    Oh thanks for that, Michael. I am heading off to bed after a long belly laugh.

    Wasn’t “Frenchie” Swiss?

    I actually enjoyed it, but then I watch a lot of science Fiction so I know how to suspend belief. lol I think it will make for some great mindless entertainment.

  8. Ram510 says:

    This will more than likely be canceled

  9. Catlin says:

    Terrible way too much talking and no action at all. I watched a few minutes of it and I got board I hope the show gets canclued

    • nate says:

      I hate when dumbasses do this. You don’t like a show but HOPE it gets cancelled. How bout you idk not just watch

    • graze says:

      You’re not “on board” because you’re bored apparently. I liked it enough to keep watching for now. All those male lions hunting in a pack were weird and those kitties in a tree looked so freaky. I want to read the book now.

  10. Algeez says:

    A lot of reviews find this premise preposterous but one of literature’s most respected authors, Daphne DuMaurier, wrote “The Birds”. So, go with it I thought it was pretty fun. I’ll be watching.

  11. JJ says:

    I like the premise. And the story is good. But the acting…not so great. The indignation and fear from the female leads doesn’t seem sincere or genuine. Don’t like to see “acting”, so I don’t know if I can keep with it if that doesn’t get better.

  12. Sarah_ says:

    I actually like it..i don’t much care for the bomshell blonde that appear out of nowhere but the rest was good…i wonder why they didn’t kill Abraham??!! More questions to the next episode.

  13. I agree with many of you on the acting, and some of the scenes in the premiere, but I’m going to give this show a few more weeks. I thought it was fun to watch and a pretty neat concept. Plus, I love James Patterson and his books. I just hope this does better than Women’s Murder Club.

  14. Mr. Sunshine says:

    Watched the beginning. Will watch the rest tonight. Hope it’s successful. I’m a huge fan of James Wolk!

  15. Joey Padron says:

    like first episode, it was good. will keep watching. happy to have James Wolk back on TV!

  16. Maria says:

    Excellent write-up, Michael.
    Armed with a massive dose of suspension-of-disbelief, I enjoyed the show and will continue to tune in. Mostly though I’m watching for James Wolk.

  17. Drew says:

    Good, solid cast. Everything else was horrible. It was no better than the 90’s disaster B-movies that you can find all over Netflix, except that they expect us to tune in over and over again.
    Even the somewhat political messages were amateurish.

  18. Jess says:

    I liked it. Definitely will be watching it this summer.

  19. The Grinch says:

    This show is going to Netflix immediately after the season is over. Gots to get some bang for my 8 bucks, so I’ll mainline it there in a few months if it’s any good.

  20. This was so bad it went around to being good.

  21. To get an understanding of what this show is about, I would suggest you read the book ZOO by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. The first episode was OK. I had to get over how they really deferred from the book.

  22. Jared says:

    Zoo reminded me of Jurassic World but with Lions. Solid start. Can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.

  23. AM68 says:

    Didn’t watch this. It sounds AWFUL. A show about Lions getting revenge on humans?? Seriously?!

    • Justa P. says:

      You didn’t miss much. It IS awful but, not because the lions and other animals are doing coordinated attacks. Another poorly written soap opera.

  24. Justa P. says:

    Not a fan. First, it is a nighttime soap opera. By that I mean like many of the TV shows these days it is a continuing story that builds with each episode instead of solving all the problems in a single episode and having a new problem to deal with the next week. Compare Star Trek to Lost.
    Second, it is just poor writing. An African wildlife guide carrying what appears to be a .22 caliber rifle? Give me a break. And then they have the guy drop his rifle while being pursued by multiple male lions. Stupid writing. If they needed to have him without a gun to make the following scenes work, maybe they should have have him refuse to take the gun in the first place because he didn’t believe in shooting anything. That would make about as much sense.
    Just a couple of flaws that will have me looking for something else to watch. Another show that was over hyped and doesn’t come close to living up to the hype. An example of what is wrong with TV shows and their writers. It’s crap.

  25. Ash says:

    I thought it was great! Its different which is good. Hope the next episode is just as good

  26. colelk says:

    The only thing scary about it was the number of commercials.

  27. Gary says:

    Very dissapointed. Only 50 min. with ten min. of commercials at the end only to be followed by a crappy repeat of the subparNCIS New Orleans

  28. NP says:

    Enjoyed it more than I thought. It’s one of my least favorite Patterson books and some of the changes they made seemed to improve things. I’ll keep watching

  29. BrianR says:

    They have to stop doing STUPID things like parking 100 yards away from a bus and walking through tall grass with lions on the loose.

    • JJ says:

      Interesting. My daughter and I said the same thing! We, however,came up with a few possible reasons for this ill-fated decision: 1. Everyone knows that wild animals really hate tall grass and prefer to stay on the main road –out in the open where they are least expected to be, 2. the walk created distance between the men, thus necessitating a game of Cover Me — a real guys with guns favorite, 3. they were afraid their vehicle would suffer the same fate if they drove right up to the other vehicle, 4. the men shared a brain cramp. It’s tempting to overthink and second guess the decisions of the characters, so go ahead. That’s part of the appeal. Have fun! We always do. JJ

  30. JJ says:

    Hey, if I can watch Sharknado, I can watch anything! ZOO appears to be the film equivalent of a beach page turner: easy to read, somewhat entertaining, no heavy thinking required. Really, when I want to think heavy thoughts ( ponder the Greek financial crisis, the python invasion in the Florida Everglades, for example) I watch news, science and history channels. I’ve set my DVR! ZOO. Love it or hate it for what it is, not what it is not. JJ

  31. Diane McDaniel says:

    Loved it. What a hunk he is. That was no 22 calibur rifle either. Anyone may have dropped it with 5 lions after them & the girl falling down! Just scary enough for me. Hope they’re all that good.

  32. The worst part of Zoo is that they were totally hypocritical by using real wild animals to illustrate how we misuse real wild animals for entertainment. Sheesh.

  33. zac says:

    lions do actually bring some of their hunted prey up a tree

  34. Gayle Desch says:

    Why are they running the first episode again?

  35. randall shaw says:

    Just a few comments on some of your review:

    ‘How does one get eaten to death?’ is a legit question especially considering creatures who prefer live prey tend to prefer it to live as long as possible while they’re consuming it. And on that note:

    ‘…Abe and Jackson inexplicably step out of their jeep — a fool move…’ How are they going to investigate, much less help anyone, if they don’t get out of their vehicle?

    ‘…that ends with Abe getting trapped with a lion in a vehicle and Jackson abandoning (!) him…’ Seriously, Abe isn’t just ‘trapped’; at that point it’s eminently reasonable to assume he’s food. Jackson has a survivor to deal with and who knows how many lions actively hunting them. Its certainly time for at least a tactical retreat.

    ‘Where are the lady lions?’ The lionesses are where they need to be: with the cubs and/or safe from retaliation. Note the only lions so far exposed to danger are the males (ie the most expendable part of the pride).

    ‘Also, is there any number of fuzzy house cats congregating in a single tree that would cause you to panic?’ Yeah: less than the number I saw in the tree in tonight’s episode. Anyone who spends any time around cats knows that just doesn’t happen.

    And given the French girl’s description of how those tabby’s larger cousins ambushed her party out of the trees…well…one shudders at what 30 or so pissed off house cats could do to elementary students, suspecting or otherwise.

    I’ll be watching this one for a while. I enjoyed the book and this promises to be intriguing enough to hold my attention.

  36. Ms. Jai says:

    Good series. I wish all series are available at once.

  37. Ms. Jai says:

    I enjoyed it. I only wish all series were available at once! !

  38. Jude says:

    James Patterson is the man

  39. Zoe says:

    Wait, hold up. They had Tamara Tunie and only gave her to a couple of lines?! What the actual heck.

  40. Naomi Hartigan says:

    Did not like the ending last night 9/15 will there be more

  41. Ruthie says:

    Great show Love it!!