CBS’s new summer drama Zoo combines the thrills of baffling animal attacks with the chills of awful, clunky dialogue. The animals of the world appear to be rebelling, starting with the lions (and some California housecats, which is not a euphemism), perhaps because they can hear what the people are saying and think, No, truly anyone would rather be dead than speak this way. This is a mercy killing. Rawwrrrr. Here is a brief overview of some of the clunkiest, hokiest, phoniest lines from Tuesday night’s premiere.
“How does one get eaten to death?” So asks Distressed French Woman (Nora Arnezeder) of our Noble White Hunk (James Wolk) in Botswana. He doesn’t know, nor does he seize a really golden opportunity to quote Ernest Hemingway and say, “gradually, then suddenly.” Oh, well.
The dialogue Stateside is not better. “Come on, Jamie, don’t take us for fools,” says Jerk Editor (Reid Scott), who appears to be around 30 and a native English speaker without any meaningful affectations. It’s not that this phrasing is incorrect, it just does not sound anything like what someone might actually say. Later, Intrepid Reporter Jamie (Kristen Connolly) spits it back at him, though she does not fare much better in the “sounds like a normal human” department:
Jamie: What situation is that, Ethan? If you’re referring to the situation in which you’re having sex with a junior reporter under your purview, I can assure you that situation has been twice nullified, because I’m no longer under your purview, and you’re no longer going to have sex with me.
Ethan: Jamie, just be accountable. Stop chasing the unicorn that killed Kennedy!
Jamie: … you can let yourself out. I’ve got unicorns to chase.
One can imagine some of this phrasing maybe working on Scandal or The West Wing or Veep — shows where stylized banter is the point, and that style is specific and honed. Not so here on Zoo, where we’re also stuck with clunkers like “Free will is what separates us from the animals! Free will and this truck.” Delivered by Indiana Jones, with charm and a wink? Maybe. Here, it’s meant to feel significant, which it does not.
No one is safe from the curse of bad dialogue. Curious Scientist (Billy Burke) describes himself thusly: “I specialize in diagnosing animal disease through the examination of their tissue … bodily fluids … [holds up specimen jar] other stuff.” It’s clear he and Jamie are going to fall for each other, and that budding chemistry is exemplified in exchanges like, “Oh, you’re one of those.” “One of what?” “One of those scientists who prefers animals to humans.”
Zoo is about animals revolting against humans — at least it seems to be? — and it’s a CBS summer drama based on a James Patterson novel, so I’m not expecting lines to be just short of Shakespeare. Still, forcing actors to deliver lines such as, “As you have said, ‘All men are unknowable, but with animals, you know where you stand’” feels cruel. Those lions are on to something.
There is one good part of Zoo, though, and that is its tree of cats:
This is supposed to seem ominous and eerie, but it actually seems dope and charming! It’s a tree full of cats! Someone turn this into a follow-up to Neko Atsume.