Jackson Oz, an American ex-pat safari guide living in Africa, discovers a link between strange animal attacks on people occurring around the world and his late father’s controversial theories about an impending threat to the human race. Also, journalist Jamie Campbell and veterinary pathologist Mitch Morgan team up to investigate similar abnormal animal behavior in Los Angeles, on the summer series premiere of ZOO, Tuesday, June 30 (9:00-10:00PM, ET/PT), on the CBS Television Network.
The above represents the CBS Television Network’s tasteful soft sell of Zoo — which we have come to pragmatically retitle ZOO! to better reflect the urgency of its zoologically apocalyptic subject matter — a prime-time series that kicked off last night, giving viewers unsatisfied with summer fare like America’s Got a Severe Juggling Problem or the always popular Super-Dangerous Crash Diet Organ Failure Competition Hour something more ambitious to watch between True Detective episodes.
And a soft sell it is. Based on James Patterson’s highly researched animal-uprising textbook, Zoo!1 posits this thrilling question: What would happen if all the world’s animals decided to rise up and overthrow the humans that have oppressed them for millennia?
1. Not to be confused with the harrowing, identically titled documentary about a man who is killed by the horse he has sex with.
And it’s a question worth asking, because (1) to ignore it is to leave ourselves vulnerable to a coordinated, extinction-level attack by the proud creatures we humiliate through undignified captivity in our nation’s animal-enslaving theme parks, and (2) it’s Tuesday night, and we want to see some dudes get eaten by lions. Murder-lions, yo!
So we watched last night’s premiere of Zoo! and kept a minute-by-minute running diary, because the knowledge recorded therein seems too important not to share. The future of humanity hangs in the balance. And also the future of television shows about lions eating people.
1:00 DATELINE: BOTSWANA.
“There’s nothing out there.”
We open with an owner reassuring his skittish dog that everything is OK as it stares nervously out into the twilight. This is a show about animals rising up to kill their human enslavers. You are on the right track, dog. Don’t listen to that idiot whose throat you’ll soon rip out at the command of your new pack leader.
1:10 Wait. That “idiot” owner is Mad Men’s BOB BENSON. (1) We take back the “idiot” thing. And (2) please do not rip out his throat when the uprising begins, dog. Bob Benson is a national treasure. If you must take his throat, do it gently. Perhaps under an anesthetic.
1:30 These are the ominous words of a gravel-throated narrator as Bob Benson — we cannot stress enough that the first person we see in this show is BOB BENSON — and his dog retreat:
“For centuries, mankind has been the dominant species. We’ve domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But what if all across the globe, the animals decided, no more. What if they finally decided to fight back.”
Oh, it is so on, ominous, gravel-throated narrator. WHAT IF, INDEED.
2:00 The second human we see is Ducksauce of Qarth from Game of Thrones, at a safari camp. No disrespect to ole Saucey, but we are significantly less invested in his well-being than Bob Benson’s. We’ve already seen this dude die once. We can handle it. Nobody spent that GoT offseason writing “Is Ducksauce of Qarth really dead?” articles.
2:30 A kid at the camp watching a YouTube video of an apparent crazy person ranting about a “defiant pupil” asks Bob Benson — character name Jackson Oz, but that is the last we’ll speak of it, because he is Bob Benson — what the crazy person means. That crazy person is Bob Benson’s father, and also the gravel-throated narrator of the first scene, and Bob Benson doesn’t know the answer. WILL THIS BE SIGNIFICANT? We’re thinking it’ll be significant.
3:30 Ducksauce hands a bleary-eyed Bob Benson a hangover cure, which he regards suspiciously. “Come on, don’t be such a coward. It’s just lemon, nutmeg, grapeseed oil … and two heaping tablespoons of baboon dung.” YA BURNT BY DUCKSAUCE OF QARTH. Enjoy the monkey-poop smoothie, Bob Benson.
4:30 Establishing shot: various steppe stampedes of elephants, antelopes, giraffes, what-have-you. Please let the giraffes be killer giraffes. TV needs killer giraffes, serenely chewing some unlucky tour group’s entrails.
5:00 Bob Benson — a safari guide with a conscience — stops a sport hunter from killing a rare black rhino by hoisting a boom box playing “Get On Up” above his head and scaring the animal away. Don’t even try that weak shit on Bob Benson’s watch; he will go Say Anything Plus James Brown on your ass, even if you allegedly spent 200 grand on a license.
6:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES.
Two drunk douchebags pee in an alley behind a bar, where they are immediately killed by two lions that had been hiding in a Dumpster.
We have achieved ZOO!
ROLL ZOO! CREDITS.
7:00 Obligatory local-news hit reveals it’s three dead and five wounded. The lions escaped the “City of Angels Zoo” (note for out-of-towners: not an actual zoo) and went on their rampage in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles (note for out-of-towners: an actual neighborhood where drunken douchebags are periodically mauled by escaped jungle creatures).
7:30 Jamie, a local reporter for the L.A. Telegraph, talks on the phone while watching video labeled LIONS ESCAPE LA ZOO (INSANE FOOTAGE!!!). She is convinced the lions were acting out of character by eating their trainer, probably because of the zoo’s recent change in food supplier to the not-at-all-shadowy-sounding REIDEN GLOBAL corporation.
8:00 DAN FROM VEEP IS HERE! Oh, god. He’s going to be eaten by wolves, isn’t he? Maybe not right there in the newsroom. But somewhere.
8:15 Uh-oh, Reporter Jamie is called into her editor’s office and confronted with an anonymous blog written by “The Girl With the Genie Tattoo.” She denies involvement, even when presented with a pretty damning printout of a blog post railing against Reiden Global’s connection to the lion-maulings, and the threat of checking her naked person for potentially damning genie tattoos.
AND OH BY THE WAY, Reiden Global is owned by the same parent company as the newspaper. Neither is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which owns this website.
AND OH BY THE WAY BY THE WAY, this is deathly boring. More lions eating douchebags, less newsroom conflicts of corporate interest, please.
9:30 DATELINE: BOTSWANA.
Bob Benson and Ducksauce of Qarth are flying a very small plane, as Ted Chaough the Drowned God intended. Bob Benson assures Ducksauce his ranting-on-video dad from earlier was just a brilliant old coot coming unhinged, not a prescient genius with something useful to say about the impending zoological apocalypse nobody else sees coming.
“All men are unknowable, but with animals you know where you stand,” offers Ducksauce Hart.
“Animals are predictable. They want food, they want shelter. They don’t have egos, they don’t have insecurities,” responds Bob Benson-Cohle, looking down at the soon-to-be-ravaged earth-sewer below them.
12:00 Having landed, the pair comes across a hastily abandoned luxury lodge. Bob finds a video camera. Some unlucky Australian tourist’s camcorder has captured the chaos of a mysterious attack. No one has added the INSANE FOOTAGE!!! chyron yet, probably because they were all too busy being horrifically devoured by unseen predators.
15:00 Ducksauce finds lion dung. This is a crucial clue to the nature of the lodge attack, and perhaps a new and exciting feces-additive for future hangover cures.
16:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES.
CLOSE-UP ON REPORTER JAMIE’S GENIE TATTOO.
Note to the world: Editors are always right.
There’s a knock at the door. It’s Dan from Veep. We learn:
1. She is a reporter “under his purview.”
2. They have been “having sex.”
3. They are no longer “going to have sex,” because he didn’t stick up for her in the editor’s office earlier.
4. Of COURSE they were having sex. This is a CBS show, stay with us.
5. Editors are always right — we can’t stress that enough.
Dan from Veep tells the conspiracy-minded genie-reporter to “stop chasing the unicorn that killed Kennedy.” Somewhere, Armando Iannucci doubles over as if stabbed in the gut by a rusty ghost-knife.
They bicker just long enough for the camera to angle on a TV showing a breaking report from KVXT’s Timely Exposition News Team about the parks department director’s assurance they’re looking into zoo security failures that led to the fatal douchebag-maulings.
CUT TO: Jamie accosting the parks guy at a children’s birthday party to push the evil Reiden Global food supply connection. He informs her that “more than half the zoos in the country” use that same food.
Oh, dear. Lock up your douchebags, municipalities surrounding more than 50 percent of the nation’s zoos.
AND ALSO: A bunch of cats in the neighborhood have gone missing, including his daughter’s beloved Cupcake. WHY DON’T YOU INVESTIGATE THAT, MISS ANIMAL-FEED CONSPIRACY LADY? MY PRINCESS IS RIGHT OVER THERE, CRYING HER EYES OUT OVER HER MISSING PET.2
2. It is at this point we seriously considered abandoning this project to go outside, find the nearest missing-cat flyer stapled to a telephone pole, and spend the rest of our days trying to reunite the world’s princesses and Cupcakes, because it has been a HOT GODDAMN MINUTE since anyone has been eaten by renegade wildlife. The show is called ZOO! not OBSESSED BLOGGER RUINING A PERFECTLY GOOD BOUNCY CASTLE DAY.
20:00 DATELINE: BOTSWANA.
Bob Benson and Ducksauce come upon an abandoned safari bus. They grab their rifles and approach through the tall grass.
Ducksauce boards the bus alone. Did we mention the bus’s windows are drenched in blood? The bus’s windows are super-drenched in, like, so much blood.
A hysterical tourist, presumably rattled by whatever incident gave the bus’s windows their dramatic blood-drenching makeover, appears from nowhere to accost Bob Benson at exactly the moment a lion climbs into the vehicle.
Bob Benson fires his rifle at the lion on the bus. But now there are other lions approaching from the grass, and the hysterical tourist lady very sensibly demands they flee to the safety of his truck. Bob Benson grudgingly leaves Ducksauce to what will almost certainly be a fatal, douchebag-style mauling, because playing the self-sacrificing hero in this unwinnable scenario would mean surrendering any hope of one day reuniting with his beloved Manolo, whom we assume exists somewhere in this Mad Men/James Patterson crossover universe in which we now find ourselves. He’s probably on a breathtaking Caribbean island, living off whatever embezzled car-account money Bob Benson didn’t waste on safari-guide grad school because the indolence of the beach-outlaw lifestyle was making him restless, painful truth be told.
And so they run, away from danger, toward the delicious possibility of Manolo. There are so, so many lions now, coming from every direction.
They escape in the truck. Whew.
Anyway: RIP Ducksauce, it really was easier to say goodbye this second time, and the first time actually wasn’t so bad, tbh.
28:00 Hysterical tourist Chloe fills in Bob Benson about the horrors of the bus attack. Shit got real, lion-mauling-wise.
“How does that even happen? At what point do you die? How does one get eaten to death?”
We would never profess to be experts in the subject — and the show is maddeningly vague about the specifics here — but we imagine that mauling-death occurs shortly after the moment a lion eats one’s heart, but well before it vomits the heart back up because the beating mass was not chewed thoroughly enough.
We also would entertain the possibility that Chloe was looking for a more philosophical answer there.
30:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES. CITY OF ANGELS ZOO.
Reporter Jamie is hot on the trail of zoo-food-supply corruption. The African mammals exhibit is closed for obvious reasons, but that’s not stopping the Girl With the Genie Tattoo from strolling right past the total absence of security around this recent and nationally famous crime scene to get her answers.
She confronts the “zoo coroner” — but he quickly corrects her. It’s “ANIMAL PATHOLOGIST,” and he shows her the container of lion dung he’s harvested for examination. “‘Coroner’ suggests they have to be dead to be of interest to me. They do not.” And it is at this moment we realize this not-so-humble expert in mammal-leavings forensics is none other than Billy Burke from Revolution, the show about what will happen when all the world’s electricity goes away. This man knows from humanity-threatening events. This man is also the spitting image of Rick Springfield.3
3. Classic Rick Springfield, not the Lynchian ascot-monster from this season of True Detective.
31:00 Billy Burke from Revolution takes her to his room to show her some dead lions.
“I don’t just prefer animals to humans. I also prefer pizza and beer to humans. Torrential rainstorms. Traffic.” This animal pathologist is a misanthropic delight.
Guess who wants to keep talking about the Reiden Global food supply? Wow, you got it on the first guess. We get it, unicorn-chaser, the food is the problem.
34:00 DATELINE: BOB BENSON’S TRUCK IN BOTSWANA.
Chloe sews up her leg as they drive. This safari was the honeymoon she’s taking solo because her husband had an affair. Bob Benson wins the brief sad-off, revealing that Ducksauce — “The man who went into the bus?” she asks. “The man who went into the bus,” he sighs — was his best friend. We feel like we should note we never saw the mauling actually happen, so Keep Ducksauce Hope Alive.
The truck lurches to a stop. Mechanical problem.
“It seems that the lions have gotten to the radiator.”
Now not only have the world’s lions developed a seemingly highly coordinated taste for human flesh, they have also gained rudimentary knowledge of automobile sabotage.
Humanity is doomed.
40:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES. CITY OF ANGELS ZOO AGAIN.
Reporter Jamie and Billy Burke from Revolution wrap up their business. Oh, hey, did you hear about the missing cats in Brentwood, Billy?
“How do you know they’re missing? Maybe they just couldn’t get into a good private school?”
43:00 DATELINE: BOTSWANA. ON FOOT.
Bob Benson and Chloe have left the stalled truck behind. There is small talk about him having left Boston for Africa 12 years ago, but this is obviously a lie to cover up his controversial past as a grifting ad man from Manhattan in the late 1960s.
They are promptly beset by VERY ANGRY LIONS. They choose to throw themselves down the kind of steep hill that keeps crash-test dummies in fashion-forward safari wear steadily employed. They survive the impact, because injuries sustained in the course of an awkward escape-tumble would be a strange way to dispatch two characters who could very easily be eaten by possessed lions.
48:00 Back at camp, Bob Benson thinks his maybe-not-so-crazy father may have had a point with the theories that ultimately drove him insane: “Why did animals continue to live in fear of their predators, when in theory they had the ability to coordinate and kill whatever species was a threat?”
Great question, Bob. You may be on to something here.
Do you remember the “defiant pupil” from earlier? What if it’s not a reference to a sassy-mouthed fourth-grader? What if it’s the self-aware, menacing glint in the eye of the lion that almost ate both of them just minutes ago? DEFIANT. PUPIL. EYE-PUPIL NOT STUDENT-PUPIL.
Maybe Dad Benson wasn’t so crazy after all.
50:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES.
While Bob Benson is unlocking the wild-eyed secrets of the rampaging-lion universe half a world away, Dan from Veep is trying to cajole the Girl With the Genie Tattoo into a sexcation in Ojai. Never stop winning, Dan.
She gets a text.
It’s Billy Burke from Revolution.
Can you talk?
I FOUND THE CATS.
52:00 A late-night rendezvous on a dark Brentwood street. She’s hoping the cats thing was not just something Billy Burke from Revolution uses on girls in bars.
“I don’t go to bars. ”
“Right, you don’t like people.”
“I like people. I just prefer it when they’re not around.”
This guy. This delightful guy.
The mass cat kidnapping seemed to defy reason, so he dug deeper into the mystery. Via a cat-stakeout. That turned into a hot-cat-pursuit of a fleeing Siamese.
So where are the cats? Right over—
53:00 DATELINE: BOTSWANA. NOOOOOOOOOOO WE WERE SO CLOSE TO FINDING THE CATS!
Bob Benson and Chloe share a coffee and some meaningful eye contact. Are they connecting in the midst of global, lion-based cataclysm? Or is there something about Chloe’s antelope mug that reminds him of the long-ago vacation with his beloved Manolo that first ignited his interest in the safari arts?
We don’t have time to think too deeply into their tender moment, because it’s interrupted by the lights of several police SUVs. Safari cops seize Bob Benson for “interference with lawful hunting,” which is apparently a thing you can be arrested for in Botswana. The monied sport hunter from earlier emerges from the darkness. “The next time you pull a Say Anything on the rare black rhinos I want to kill for my rich-guy jollies, at least have the courtesy to use the original Peter Gabriel song,” says his shit-eating grin.
54:00 Back at safari HQ, the kid from the beginning of the episode continues to be mesmerized by Dad Benson’s crazy-person videos. A transcript: “Our ability to think, to interpret, to imagine — in the end, that’s what distinguishes humans from other animals. Abstract thought. Poetry. Analogy. But what’s the measure of our cognitive advantage over the lesser species? Humanity’s progress has guided our world to the edge of destruction. Consider the birds and the bees. The bears. The barracuda. As mankind sails the world toward the tip of the iceberg, what survival strategy will they employ? Will they man the lifeboats and die on the stormy seas? Or will they perhaps take matters into their own hands and toss overboard the captain of the ship?”
We have deliberately withheld the fact that Dad Benson is played by Thirtysomething’s Ken Olin until these final moments for maximum dramatic impact. MICHAEL STEADMAN ALL UP IN YOUR YOUTUBES WITH CONFUSING MARITIME MAN VS. BEAST METAPHORS, SON. NOT EVEN PATRICIA WETTIG CAN SAVE US NOW.
55:00 DATELINE: LOS ANGELES. A TREE FULL OF MISSING CATS.
Billy Burke from Revolution shines a flashlight into a tree’s branches. They’re lousy with cats. Missing cats. This is definitely weird, agrees the Girl With the Genie Tattoo, too overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance to bring up zoo food.
“This is an elementary school,” she points out.
“Yeah … but in summer, it’s a day camp,” he adds, ominously. “And camp starts tomorrow.”
… and then what, Billy Burke from Revolution? The kids have about 50 new cats to play with? The cats summon a pride of homicidal lions to devour the campers? The cats become the homicidal lions? The cats—
56:00 DATELINE: BOTSWANA. NOOOOO, HE WAS GONNA TELL US WHY CAMP STARTING TOMORROW WAS IMPORTANT!
An unseen force hoists a body into a tree.
And that unseen force is … a lion?
THE LIONS HAVE HOISTING TECHNOLOGY. THEY CAN STALL OUR CARS, AND THEY CAN LIFT OUR BODIES INTO TREES. NOT TO MENTION THEY CAN ALREADY EAT DOUCHEBAGS IN LOS ANGELES ALLEYS WHENEVER THEY PLEASE.
It’s happening. It’s all happening.
Are we done here? Wait. A close-up on the body’s face.
Keep Ducksauce Hope Alive! Everything is coming up Ducksauce! Except for the fact that his crippled, mauled form is now draped over a tree branch just inches from a guard-lion who knows how to use ropes.
But in the aftermath of this fleetingly happy moment, let us not forget the enormity of humanity’s deadly predicament.
Or that Bob Benson is in jail for playing James Brown jams to an endangered rhino.
Or that a tree full of lost cats is ready to unleash animal-kingdom hell on some unsuspecting Brentwood day-campers.