How does Black Summer stack up against other zombie thrillers?


With so many zombies shows out there, viewers might wonder whether Netflix’s Black Summer is worth their time and how it sets itself apart from popular favorites like The Walking Dead and its spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, Z Nation, or even international fare like Korea’s Kingdom and France’s The Returned. Here’s the breakdown of how Black Summer figures into the apocalyptic zombie landscape and what makes it different.

Ever since AMC premiered The Walking Dead back in 2010, zombies have been a hot topic for television shows. With series hailing from all over the world – America, Korea, France, India – and in increasingly innovative adaptations, the market is saturated with these undead shamblers. With so many choices in the zombie horror genre, one would be quick to count Netflix’s Black Summer as just another throwaway addition to the trend, but there’s something different about it.

As meandering and unfocused as Black Summer can sometimes be, it manages an unsettling naturalistic, documentary feel that sticks with you in a way the cinematographic stylings and tight editing of other shows don’t. Black Summer relies on long takes and handheld camera shots that give it that realistic feel. It’s loose plot, uneven pace, and vignette format contributes a lot to this feeling of intense realism, along with the sudden and often jarring departure of characters.

Black Summer was created by John Hyams and Karl Schaefer, who also created SyFy’s Z Nation. For a long time, there were rumors that Black Summer was a sequel or spin-off of this popular show. However, Black Summer is actually a completely unrelated series – just one look between the style of the two shows makes that clear enough – and, according to King, doesn’t even consider itself a zombie story. “Zombies was never mentioned in the script, ever. It’s a sickness, like MRSA or Ebola,” she says.

More. Black Summer season 1, episode 8 recap: The Stadium. light

More from Show Snob

But that’s not even what’s important about the show, because it’s more about the human aspect of a national emergency rather than a plot-driven mystery about what appears to be a zombie outbreak. “This is a story about our country, and about what happens when the fabric starts to rip apart,” explains King. “And what people have to do, in their ordinariness.”  The word zombie is never used in the show and they spend zero time talking about the specifics or origins of the sickness. The whole zombie mythos is largely sidelined in favor of examining the lengths to which ordinary people will go to in order to survive and what happens when society breaks down.

The Walking Dead also examines this sort of human aspect to a large extent. While the “walkers” are a major threat, it’s humans who end up being the most dangerous aspect of the zombie apocalypse. In contrast to Black Summer, however, The Walking Dead spends much more time investigating the mystery of the zombie disease, its origin, how it’s transmitted, and who was involved in making it.

As a series, it is a very carefully and conventionally plotted show, whereas Black Summer meanders in a purposeful way. It isn’t about plot twists or structured storytelling, which makes it a perfect fit for Netflix. “That’s why Netflix is amazing,” says King. “You get to get away with things that you would never get away with. They let you break cinematic rules and television rules, in a way that few people have ever done before.”

The unconventional storytelling of Black Summer comes through especially in how it handles its characters. There is remarkably little personal backstory and almost no character development beyond the choices they make to survive and how much of their humanity they’re willing to sacrifice in order to do so. Characters are often summarily dispatched without warning or ceremony – as is often the case in real life. Character deaths in more conventional zombie shows are usually handled with much more drama and emotional manipulation.

And let’s not forget one of the most important characters in Black Summer, a Korean woman named Sun who neither speaks English nor has accompanying English subtitles for her Korean dialogue. Just like in real life, you won’t be able to understand what someone is saying if you don’t speak the language. But the beautiful thing about this is that lack of a shared language doesn’t keep the characters from feeling empathy or caring for each other. That might just be the most important thing you can take away from the series.

Next. Disney Plus: 5 Marvel characters who deserve their own shows. dark

Perhaps Stephen King puts it best, and much more succinctly than me: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid. Showrunners could learn a lot from this.”

What did you think of Black Summer? Be sure to tell us in the comment section below!