I have to admit: unexpectedly, this show is growing on me. But it took finding a way to properly process the show's tightrope walk between horror and B-Movie chuckles to get to a happy place with this show. SPOILER AHOY!
First, let me say that the way I view this show is this: it would have been perfect, with a little toning down of the gore, as part of the whole 90's Xena/Hercules/Cleopatra2525/Jack of All Trades crowd. It reminds me a lot of the campy horror/fantasy/sci-fi of that decade. As with those shows, this show starts out as light-hearted as the genre will allow, but eventually gets to actual character development by mid-season.
The show revolves around a group of survivors transporting a possible vaccine-carrier from one end of the US to the other. We are told it is now Year 3 of the Zombie outbreak, and we know there was some sort of horrible period referred to as the "Black Summer" in which food and water were scarce, and we assume the zombie outbreak picked up the pace massively. As we head towards episode 9, we're starting to get back-stories on all the characters, as well as overall plot twists.
It also did a wonderful bait-and-switch with the two most recognizable actors on the show: Tom Everett Scott as Charles Garnett, a bit of a boy scout from the National Guard who is a bit freaked out by his violent nature when it comes to killing zombies, and Lost alum Harold Perrineau as Hammond. SPOILER ALERT: Hammond is toast in episode 1 (the best 'zombie baby' scene I've ever seen), and Garnett bites it in episode 7 (gunshot wound, then 'shown mercy' after he reanimates).
What we are left with is a rag-tag bunch of survivors whoa re trying to the get the only known guy to survives zombie bites, and jackass named Murphy, all the way for NY to CA to the supposed military and medical safe zone there.
Not all of the characters are endearing. Murphy is purposely antagonistic, yet has moments of real humanity, all the while slowly becoming some sort of human/zombie hybrid, thanks to the experimental vaccines/drugs he was injected with before being bitten. After 8 zombie bites, he's still walking and talking, and it becomes an interesting when, by ep 7, he can walk among zombies as one of their own and even sort of mentally communicate with them... or something.
When it comes to likeable characters, we've got 4 in the ragtag group:
* Warren, a female National Guard member who was just letting her guard down with Garnett before he died. She's tough, but damaged now, yet still finding a way to lead this group to CA.
* 10K: a messed up teen who is a crack shot (we assume from hunting with his dad or something?) with a rifle. His name is derived from how many zombies he plans to kill. By current episode he's up over 2,000.
* Doc: The semi-wise hippy older man in the group. He has some rudimentary medical skills, but ultimately is just sort of an aging stoner. Yet, more often than not, he is the voice of reason int he group.
* Murphy: yeah, the guy you love to hate...except he showing some heart and caring for the 'group', while slowly sliding more to his zombie side. He's the most fascinating character to watch.
* One other character stands out, but I get if people don't like him: Simon aka Cictzen Z. An NSA cronie stationed at a fully functioning secret listening post in the Artic. After missing the plane out (which subsequently crashed on take off killing allt he other base staff evacuating) he is left with ridiculous amounts of stockpiled food, booze, and tech at his fingertips. At times this cat, played with scenery-chewing delight by character actor DJ Qualls, is annoying as hell, but you forgive it because the character basically has nobody but a huskie dog to talk to most days. He sits and watches the world descend into chaos and does what he can from where he is to help. (This past episode where the Russian cosmonaut arrives is pretty brilliant for his character, and he plays it to the hilt). Note that DJ Qualls is about the only really regularly recognizable actor on the show at this point.
As for so-so characters, we have two:
* Addy: a cocky red-headed 20-something girl who looks like she should be in college, but instead has a bad-ass baseball bat with spikes in it making it into kind of a brutal mace weapon. She is harboring something dark in her past, however, which we have had glimpses of in the past few episodes. Whatever it is, it's made her almost catatonic at times.
* Cassandra: former cannibal cult member, Cassandra escaped this cult near Philly and is found in a cage at a military outpost in NY state. Not really sure why she was int he cage... anyway, she's rescued, only to be caught by the cult members and 'brought back into the fold'. Garnett and company free her, and she becomes a regular part of the gang, after it is decided that they have all done and seen horrible things, and the "Black Summer" (we assume the 2nd or 3rd summer of the zombie plague) pretty much did everybody in regarding morality. I want to like her more, but her character can be a bit whiny sometimes.
The not so endearing: Really it comes down to one character I really do not care for:
* Mack, played by actor Michael Welch, really doesn't work for me. He sort of acts like he owns Addy, and scenes from the next episode show a rift in their romantic relationship starting. He's a little too white-bread cool guy for me, and even though I'm pretty sure they are pushing that angle of his character on purpose, I find I don't really care about the character when he's on-screen.
Ultimately, this show throws some campy fun at the audience here in there (Amish zombies, a 'zom-nado' (yes, a zombie-filled tornado) complete with a joke about how "it "ain't sharks", and now a Zombie 'tsumani' rolling across middle America. Actually this show seems to have latched onto the Walking Dead/World War Z 'chain swarm' idea in a way that the TV/movie counterparts of the original books never did. The ground actually shakes from the oncoming trampling zombie hoard, and it makes for suspenseful TV.
There are some neat overall plot details being put forth too: how killing a reanimated person is called "showing them mercy", how there are references to things of the past that are only hinted at (The Black Summer", etc), and how the whole mission of the ragtag group revolves on a central theme of hope.
I'll be honest: this show isn't high art. It is, however, becoming more and more enjoyable to watch, in a way that the World War Z movie and the second season on Walking Dead were not at all enjoyable.