Why the Zombieland TV Show failed so hard

Back in 2009, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick created something special, they took an over saturated genre, littered it with humor, and gave birth to the movie Zombieland. Originally, the creators had wanted to create a television show and four years later they had their opportunity. Sadly, if you strip away the title “Zombieland” and the names of the characters, nothing about the television pilot even remotely resembles the movie. To be fair, comparing a movie and a TV show is like the old cliche of apples to oranges, but even evaluated on its own the Zombieland pilot fails on so many levels.

In this case, HD stands for highly disappointing.

In this case, HD stands for highly disappointing.

I’ll give the Zombieland pilot some credit, it does establish its tone early on and you’ll be able to determine rather quickly whether or not you’re going to enjoy it. From the very beginning when you’re introduced to the characters Ainsley and Sheila you pretty much know what you’re getting into. The first kill count of the show, Ainsley, is bitching about his obnoxious first world problems, completely oblivious to the zombie apocalypse raging outside of the window right behind them. The zombie attacks are over-the-top and plenty bloody, which should be entertaining but they feel too forced. The dialogue and the acting feel even more forced, to the point where it becomes distracting. The level of acting is what you would expect to see in a cheesy commercial, not a TV show.

Ultimately, this opening isn’t a completely failed attempt at humor. When the guy with the food cart shows up to deliver their lunch and Ainsley rages over getting pickles on his sandwich, which he expressly requested to not have. I laughed. Not only because it was funny but because it was relatable. He explains that when you add pickles, it makes everything taste like pickles so even after removing the pickles, the damage has been already done. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much downhill from there. Ainsley asks the cliche “can this day get any worse?” and as if on cue a zombies dives through the window. The show freeze frames and asks the audience which character they think will survive. Well, kill count one is gobbled up and his co-worker runs off. And then, *gasp* the mild mannered food delivery dude turns out to be none other than Tallahassee who beats the zombie to death with a leg of the food cart. The show pauses again to give a nod to the movie, mentioning that if you had known which state that scene was taking place in you would have known who was going to survive. They spell out that it takes place in Florida, Tallahassee, Florida. This leads to the title sequence as Tallahassee struts out of the building into the chaos exploding in the streets.

It doesn’t take long to realize that any feeling of danger for the characters is utterly non-existent. When the first thing you see the survivors of a zombie apocalypse do is blow up a fireworks factory, it’s clear that they’re not in the least bit of danger from the zombies who have taken over the planet. Look, I understand that this isn’t The Walking Dead but I admittedly expected at least a smidgen of suspense and for the zombies to actual pose somewhat of a threat.

So if the zombies are more of an afterthought in Zombieland, then we should assume that the focus of the show is the characters, right? They’re the same characters from the movie so you would think that we could expect them to at least resemble their movie counterparts. Well, if those were your expectations then prepare to have them woefully unfulfilled. Again, I understand that the TV show doesn’t have the same caliber of actors as the movie but even with their acting ability aside, the characters themselves are a far cry from their namesakes.

What we can expect from Tallahassee is summed up pretty early on. I mean if blowing up a fireworks factory wasn’t enough of a giveaway, that is. Just about everything that comes out of his mouth is idiotic and painfully unfunny. Here’s an example from a forgettable scene, as Tallahassee exits the restroom he jokes, “Woo, talk about the post-Apocalypse”. It’s terribly corny and just downright awful. Tallahassee was transformed from a bad ass to an oaf who we’re supposed to believe is not only capable of surviving a zombie Apocalypse but is also a bad ass zombie-killing machine to boot. Columbus is a whiny dweeb, who still has his list of rules but there’s no charm to his character. A good chunk of the pilot is spent with him whining about his relationship with Wichita. It’s difficult to care even a little bit when their relationship isn’t really developed. It just sounds like someone crying for the sake of crying. Wichita herself and Little Rock for that matter went from being clever and formidable in their own right, to just being down right boring. I really couldn’t tell you much about their personalities because there wouldn’t be anything to tell. Wichita is the generic, interchangeable pretty face while Little Rock could have been swapped with a different actor halfway through the episode and I wouldn’t have notice.

This show will make you miss Jesse Eisenberg. It's that bad.

This show will make you miss Jesse Eisenberg. It’s that bad.

Ultimately, Tallahassee is the only character who stands out at all. And that’s faint praise at best. Tallahassee more greatly resembles a bumbling Peter Griffin type character, than, well Tallahassee. In truth, comparing him to Peter Griffin is actually a slight to Peter Griffin because Peter Griffin is capable of making you laugh at the idiotic things that he does, rather than cringe.

Apparently the only character who has any sense in their group is the all knowing On Star in Tallahassee’s Truck. Seriously, they refer to her as the guardian of Zombieland. Of course it doesn’t make any sense, nothing else in this stupid pilot has, so why upset the apple cart now? They’re looking for other survivors and she helps direct them to a “safe community” they hope they can call home. So very touching I know. If only she could direct them to a writer who’s capable of making a decent joke. 

On Star helps them navigate to a character named Regina. It’s pronounced re·gi·nae but I’ll come back to that later. Regina’s team-up with the with rest of group is very short lived. She treats them to some delicious boysenberry pie, which they all greedily indulge in. As Tallahassee explains to her the perks for joining the group and rules they live by, a zombie essentially t-bones her and sends her plummeting to her death. The group continues walking completely oblivious to what just happened. Apparently that’s suppose to draw laughter. Once they come to realize that a member of their group has been killed, Tallahassee sulks over the fact that he’ll never taste her delicious boysenberry pie again and instead must continue his life of surviving on Hot Pockets. I mentioned that the zombies in the Zombieland pilot are reduced to an after thought. In truth, it’s more accurate to describe them as being punchlines to very bad jokes.

This brings me to the lamest joke of the show, the “vagina counter”. When they first encounter Regina, pronounced re·gi·nae, she explains that her named is actually pronounced like “vagina” but with an “er”. Okay, that’s a fair explanation. But the writers want you to know just how clever they are so from that point on, anytime anyone says the word vagina, something that rhymes with vagina, or even any slang word for vagina, a counter keeps the score. I’m tempted to say that joke was written for thirteen year olds, but I wouldn’t have even laughed at it when I was that age.  

So after that they encounter Eugene, Oregon. Har, har, har. Tallahassee gives everyone a pep talk that Eugene will not die on their watch. You smell that? That’s the aroma of an awful joke that’s on its way. Of course before Columbia can even give Eugene a run down of their rules for survival he plummets to his death; falling through several floors before being put of his misery. If only we could be so lucky but there’s still about nine minutes left of the episode.

So with Eugene dead, On Star leads them to their next two victims, Bubbie and Pee-Paw. Only, what a surprise, they’re already zombies. They greet Columbus while he’s washing his hands, because even at that point Tyler Ross was ready to wash his hands of this show. Columbus puts his amazing survival skills on display as he gets bitten by Bubbie. Only she has false teeth, so we’re still stuck with Columbus for the rest of the episode. Tallahassee shows up and kills Bubbie and Pee-Paw with a fireplace poker proclaiming it to be the Zombie Kill of the Week. But he’s one up’d by a guy who killed a zombie with a giant 76 ball. Sure why not?

The irony is that it only took me 76 secs to realize that show would be terrible

The irony is that it only took me 76 secs to realize that this show was terrible

So the Zombieland television pilot comes to a close, with the foursome set out for Detroit as they gorge on the rest of the late Regina’s boysenberry pie. Sadly, not even the credits provide a haven for idiocy of this show, because they continue the “vagina counter” as the credits roll. Until at long last, it’s over!

The Zombieland television pilot was honestly painful to watch. Prior to watching it I had heard that it wasn’t very good. I heard it criticized for its bad special effects and some questioned the decision to use the same characters as the movie version. I naively assumed that these criticisms were unfounded and that it couldn’t have been that bad, especially with the same creative team behind the Zombieland movie. As I’ve illustrated, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Rhett Reese ironically posed the question on Twitter that he didn’t understand why fans of the Zombieland movie hated the TV pilot so much. Had Reese simply asked why people in general hated the pilot there would have been any number of reasons why. But to specifically ask why fans of the movie didn’t like it. Well, there’s one glaring reason. The show is nothing like the movie. So why would fans of the movie be expected to enjoy it? Tallahassee is an idiot. Columbus is forgettable and the other two are practically wallpaper. The zombies are a joke and not one that’ll actually make you laugh. Seriously, pick a random scene from the movie version of Zombieland and I guarantee you it’s better than absolutely anything that happened in the TV pilot.

While it’s nice that Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were given the opportunity to try their idea in television format, like they had originally intended, it’s truly a marvel that they were able to make the movie that they did. It’s equally as unfortunate that they weren’t able to recreate that magic. I did not write this review to kick them while they’re down but to dissect just what went wrong. But my opinion is not absolute and you’re free to watch the pilot episode for yourself and come to your own conclusion. (It’s available below) Maybe you’ll see what Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick had intended. Or maybe you’ll see what I saw, an unfunny comedy draped in the corpse of the movie called Zombieland.

– Prometheus

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About the author

No one cared who I was until I put on the monocle... You can follow Prometheus on Twitter @PrometheusPtwor Or contact him at Prometheus@punchingthewallsofreality.com