'Zoo': When Animals Attack Good Actors

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

The only show in which the words “lion dung” and “pettifoggery” achieve equal importance, Zoo is an entertaining wild-animals-scare-the-dung-out-of-humans adventure series that’s made for pure summer escapism.

Based on the James Patterson-Michael Ledwidge bestselling novel, Zoo toggles back and forth between Botswana and Los Angeles. In both locations, the animals have gotten restless and vindictive. I can understand lions scaring away a bus full of tourists in Africa (territorial rights and all that), but two lions on the loose and mauling a couple of guys in the mid-Wilshire section of Hollywood? Hey, I used to live in that neighborhood — that’s hitting too close to home!

Related: ‘Zoo’: James Wolk Previews the CBS Thriller and Discusses His Facial Hair

Our two protagonists are Jackson Oz (James Wolk, in TV’s continuing, valiant attempt to turn this charmer into a star), an African-based safari guide who loves animals, and Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly), a crusading newspaper journalist whose attempt to post subversive information anonymously on an animal-rights blog is foiled when her editor (Tamara Tunie) notices Jamie’s vocabulary “tell” — she uses the word “pettifoggery” (i.e., to quibble over trivial, petty things) entirely too frequently in her prose in both outlets. 

The theme of Zoo is stated early on in an ominous voiceover: “What if across the globe the animals decided, ‘no more,’ and they decided to bite back?” Pretty soon, we’re deep in the weeds with both deadly lions and deadly exposition, such as Jamie’s theory that animals are misbehaving because they’ve been fed “D-grade beef and pesticides” by an evil corporation — which just happens to have a stake in the newspaper Jamie works for. No one, rebel animals or scared-for-their-jobs editors, wants Jamie to pursue this line of investigation. 

Along the way, Jamie meets a cute “veterinary pathologist” (Revolution’s Billy Burke) who helps Jamie track down a hot story: “Someone’s been abducting cats in the neighborhood." Zoo is going to tie everything together into a global disaster tale, or at least that’s what I got from oracular statements made by Jackson’s dad, played by Ken Olin, who says things like, “Consider the birds and the bees, the bears and barracudas… Will they take matters into their own hands?” Or paws? 

Zoo keeps things moving quickly enough to glide past its more portentous moments. Filled with attractive animals — well, the lions and the black rhinos, anyway; house-cats I can do without — Zoo isn’t profound entertainment, but I’d rather watch wild creatures eating humans than watch suffering people starve themselves on its time-period competition, Extreme Weight Loss.

Zoo airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.