TV

A Eulogy For ‘Zoo,’ Television’s Craziest Show


Zoo is dead because it was too beautiful to live. Also, because it got bad ratings. But mostly that first thing. Probably. Just let me have this. I’m grieving.

That the show even lasted three seasons is kind of a miracle. It was insane. I mean truly, profoundly, gloriously insane. What started as a show about animals mutating and trying to overthrow the human race mutated itself into a show about secret siblings with decades-old vendettas shooting planes out of the sky after their original plots were foiled, even though their original plots involved 60-foot-long invisible Peruvian snakes.

And as that happened, the way I consumed it mutated too, from ironically hate-watching it into legitimately enjoying it. Once the show realized what it was and what it was doing, it became so much fun. Anything was possible. Plots were tossed aside the instant they lost value, characters were killed off and then never mentioned again, the laws of science and storytelling were bent and broken. It was freeing, in a way, watching a show that just cackled at anyone who tried to make sense of it. It’s almost perfect that the show ended on a cliffhanger involving a remote-controlled jumbo jet crashing through a barrier for reasons that were only somewhat clear at best. It died as it lived, creating rubble and confusion.

I could go on (and on and on, as anyone who listened to the entire podcast I did on the show with Vox’s Caroline Framke can attest), but there’s really only one way to eulogize a show like Zoo properly, and that is by listing a bunch of the craziest stuff it did.

Below, please find my ten favorite moments. It says a lot about this show that I never even mentioned the Slovenia dog ambush. Because that was also something that happened. What a show.

10. The time a character said the greatest line of dialogue in television history

We start at the beginning, in season one, with the moment I got hooked on the show. Look at those words, just unfurling on the screen piece-by-piece like a beautiful flower revealing its petals.

“I don’t know which was worse… being attacked by lions… or discovering my sister is sleeping with my fiancé.”

Perfect. Also, the answer is definitely “being attacked by lions.”

9. The time a pack of wolves broke a mass murderer out of prison

My favorite part of this was that you’d think, after orchestrating a wolf-led jailbreak to free this guy, he would have become an important character on the show, possibly some sort of big bad who speaks to animals and terrorizes our heroes. Nope. He was killed off a few episodes later and never mentioned again. Zoo was the greatest.

Also, I say this every time I post this GIF, but it’s way funnier if you pretend the button the guard smashes at the end is labeled “WOLVES,” like they had seen this coming when they built the system.

8. The time kamikaze bats killed two Britpop-loving bird scientists in Antarctica

A quick rundown:

  • Two married bird scientists were living in a remote laboratory in Antarctica
  • A swarm of bats flew down to terrorize them, for reasons
  • One of the bats flew face-first into their generator to knock out the power
  • The bats all sat on the solar panel to block the sun from reaching it and supplying power
  • The scientists froze to death in each other’s arms while listening to “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis on repeat

Yup.

7. The time a group of peopWHOOAAAA GORILLA

I’m gonna be honest here: I have zero recollection of this moment or why it happened. I suppose I could go back and look it up, but I feel like that kind of defeats the purpose of the show. A gorilla charged through the lobby of a fancy building and started banging on the door of an elevator. Let’s just roll with that.

6. The time an octopus with razor tentacles tried to crash the team’s plane using some sort of electro-ooze that disables power sources

Right. All of this happened, I promise. And it wasn’t even the weirdest part. The weirdest part is that the octopus was placed on the place by Jackson’s secret sister (Jackson, of course, played by James Wolk, perhaps best known as Bob Benson from Mad Men), who invented all these monstrous hybrids to get back at him for killing their dad, which he didn’t really even do, and even if he did “making a demon octopus with science and trying to take over the world” seems like a heck of a leap in a sibling rivalry.

We should also discuss the plane itself, actually. The team flew around the world on what I lovingly referred to as a “science plane,” which was given to them by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, who also happened to be the ex-girlfriend and ex-stepmother of team member and misanthrope alcoholic veterinarian Mitch Morgan, who later developed an evil split personality and was conned by an impostor pretending to be his daughter, because Zoo never once said “Okay, that’s probably enough.” The plane was outfitted with a laboratory and jail and carport and, for some reason, on a government-issue airplane, a fully-stocked bar. By the later seasons, it was controlled via tablet computer. It was a good plane.

5. Everything that happened with Jamie

When the show started, Jamie was an investigative reporter who blogged under a pseudonym. Then she joined the team and began fighting an animal revolution, which included, among other things, stealing a zebra from a zoo. That was season one. She spent most of season two in the wilderness fighting off possessed beavers. (No, I am not joking.) At one point she got frostbite and had someone chop off her toe with an axe. Jamie had already been on a journey.

But then something incredible happened. At the end of season two, the show leaped forward ten years — ten years! — into a future where the human race was sterilized and somehow the only character who aged a single day is Mitch’s daughter, who was now extremely attractive. (And secretly pregnant!) Some of the characters became doctors. Some were in hiding. Mitch was floating in a goo-filled tank that was keeping him alive. Jamie? Jamie was now a bestselling billionaire author who flew around the world in the tablet-controlled science plane and spent her nights wearing leather and beating up secretive villains in dark alleys. The way I described it at the time was “like if J.K. Rowling was Batman.” It is my favorite arc any character has ever had during the course of a television show and I didn’t even tell you about the part where she also became a hacker, because everyone on Zoo is an expert at everything.

4. The time electrocharged ants tried to blow up Switzerland

The short version here is that millions of ants summoned the power of blue pulsating electricity to form themselves into what looked kind of like a huge arm and tried to short out some sort of atom smasher thing and create an explosion that would have turned Switzerland into a crater.

Two additional ant-related notes:

  • A small collection of ants was collected and saved for research and was later used to restart the heart of an evil four-star general who had been poisoned during an interrogation, all of which was necessary because a sloth with the power to cause earthquakes by shrieking had thrown the plane into chaos and the defibrillator got wet
  • God I am going to miss this show

We will be discussing the sloth again shortly.

3. The time they threw a car into a volcano

Stay with me here. The evil secret sister created screeching vulture/pterodactyl hellbirds that were capable of burrowing underground and vibrating with such a frequency that it caused volcanoes to erupt. She sent them to Manhattan to bring terror to New York from the skies. To lure them away, two members of the team loaded a beacon into a drone and sent it away from the city, and Jackson and the members of the team on the science plane harpooned the drone and towed it behind them, with the goal of heaving it into a volcano in Mexico so the hellbirds would follow it in and commit mass suicide by lava.

But.

The beacon and drone weren’t heavy enough on their own, so the team put them into the trunk of a car that was in the plane’s carport, then opened the hatch and shoved the car out of the plane and into the mouth of a bubbling Mexican volcano. And it worked. The hellbirds all flew face-first to a fiery death. I still can’t believe it happened.

Also, there was a person in the car, which you think would be important, but I assure you was not.

Also, all of this happened before the opening credits. They threw a car into a volcano during the cold open.

2. The time they discovered a giant invisible snake living in an abandoned funhouse in Peru

I feel like this is oddly self-explanatory. Like, that bolded text is exactly what happened and that GIF gives you the necessary visual. I guess the only thing I really need to add here is that at one point the invisible snake swallowed Jamie whole and she killed it by cutting herself out from the inside. This, as some of you may realize, is also something that happened in the first Sharknado. But instead of sharks flying in wind storms, this one featured a giant invisible snake that lives in an abandoned funhouse in Peru.

1. The time Bob Benson from Mad Men slapped a four-star general while shouting “WHERE’S THE SLOTH?”

This is Bob Benson slapping an evil four-star general while shouting “WHERE THE SLOTH?” I still can’t believe it happened. He really did it. He slapped a four-star general — backhanded — while demanding to know the location of a sloth. There is backstory to it all, which we touched on earlier (this was the sloth that can shriek an earthquake into existence, and this is the general who will later get his heart restarted with the electrocharged ants), but, I mean, why? Why would I ruin a perfect moment of television by trying to give it context? Doing so would be an affront to the legacy of Zoo, a show that never let context get in the way of a good mauling or general-slapping. We can’t have that. Not today.

Good night, my sweet insane prince.

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