One of the more bizarre projects on network television last year was the CBS summer series Zoo, based on the thriller by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. The series focuses on worldwide animal uprising, leading to what Patterson and the show’s star James Wolk describe as “the animal apocalypse.” Wolk, a TV veteran who’s also starred in Lone Star, Political Animals, Mad Men, and The Crazy Ones, plays the leading role of zoologist Jackson Oz. The show also stars Billy Burke, Nora Arnezeder, Kristen Connolly, and Nonso Anozie as Jackson’s best friend Abraham. Season 2, which starts tonight, adds Josh Salatin and Alyssa Diaz to the cast.
Patterson, who takes a laissez faire approach when his novels are adapted to the screen, says he personally likes season 2 more than season 1, because it’s less cookie-cutter. The first season fell into the trap of feeling like every week had an “animal of the week.” Now that the high concept of the show and characters have been set up, a more continual story about how the entire crew manages to survive can move front and center. And Patterson clearly prefers that approach as “this year all bets are off and you can expect the unexpected. Expect the unexpected for Jackson. Expect some romance where you wouldn’t expect it. In Fuji, for example, there will be no animal attacks, but the question is why there are no animal attacks. That gets you into the world of something more like The Walking Dead or Lost, where humans start doing stuff to each other.”
Neither Patterson nor Wolk are avid watchers of the AMC zombie series, but both see why the show would appeal to similar audiences. Wolk said “I’m not an avid watcher of the show, I’m not knocking the show. It’s obviously a good show and has been on for a long time. But it’s a good comparison because we are living in this post-apocalyptic world, and in season 2 of Zoo, we are watching this crew of people, learning to live in this new world. That’s one of the most exciting elements.”
While this season the show brings more of the main cast together for longer periods, traveling as survivors, there will be snapshots of the rest of the world to see how other people are surviving this worldwide event. But the second season will primarily focus on the crew’s relationships, with Patterson promising “many more emotional highs and lows this season.” He hints that there will be an added focus on Jackson and Chloe’s (Arnezeder) romantic relationship, and Wolk mentioned that the brotherhood between best friends Jackson and Abraham will be strained for the first time.
As for the animal attacks, there will be plenty, including a polar bear. The first episode in fact will start exactly where the season finale of the first season ended when it cut to black as the gang in the car faced a wall of animals about to attack. Wolk, who describes himself as a dog guy, says working on the show has only made him look more suspiciously at one kind of animal…birds. The actor jokes that “They always sort of look like they’re swooping down at you and for a second now I look at them twice.”
As for being part of CBS’s genre summer line-up, the label of being a summer series no longer has the mark of death it did mean five years ago, as more and more networks are moving into half seasons series and summer reruns barely exist in the time of VOD and online streaming. Patterson and Wolk both embrace the show returning to their summer slot, and Wolk sees it as a new opportunity, saying “I’ve worked in television for a few years and summer’s become a really exciting time for television. And it’s a time for shows to distinguish themselves. I’m not a network executive, but it seems to me it’s a time for networks to take more gambles with higher concept shows. So it’s fun to be on something that’s original, finding its own audience, and has distinguishing itself.”
Zoo returns tonight on CBS at 9/8c.