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Nothing compares to Zoo: a tribute to TV’s dumbest joy, and my greatest love

CBS’s animal uprising drama can’t live forever, but here are 10 beautifully silly reasons it should.

This is a vulture beast trying to attack a drone above an active volcano. This is Zoo.
CBS

When I first started watching Zoo, I joked that the CBS drama about a determined group of brilliantly stupid misfits fighting a violent animal uprising was my favorite show on television. Three seasons later, I think it might actually be true.

If you haven’t already gleaned as much from the aforementioned synopsis, Zoo is an entirely ridiculous show. So in the interest of maintaining some level of professional dignity, I will be upfront and say Zoo probably won’t blow your mind so far as thematic nuance goes. But let me be clear when I say Zoo will definitely blow your mind with a chaotic swarm of kamikaze bats, telepathic lions, 70-foot invisible snakes, and so very much more. And I can safely say that if its third season — which wrapped on September 21 — turns out to be Zoo’s last, I will mourn it with all my jaded heart.

This is around the time when my editors will ask me to explain in more depth what Zoo is about for the many readers who inevitably have no idea what on earth I’m talking about. I’m happy to try (seriously, if you mention Zoo around me at any time, I will hastily drop whatever I’m doing to gush about the origin story of hybrid razorback wolves). But I will warn you that there is no point in trying to make heads or bushy tails of this beast. Zoo is, by both design and fortuitous accident, the most illogical show on television. Taking it apart doesn’t reveal how it works, but rather how it’s held together by gum and curling packing tape, trying desperately to keep itself in one piece.

The basics are these: Zoo began as a stupefying adaptation of a James Patterson novel that focused more on corporate conspiracies than its rebelling animals, the obvious stars of the story. It united a team of renegade zoologist Jackson Oz (James Wolk), his right-hand safari man Abe (Nonso Anozie), snarky “veterinary pathologist” Mitch (Billy Burke), intrepid blogger Jamie (Kristen Connolly), and a French romantic interest for Jackson who died unceremoniously in season two, so that is all you need to know about her. Together, they bumbled through the world trying to quell a virus that was making all the animals of the world rise up against humans.

But by season two, the show had burned through Patterson’s novel and was free to go truly nuts — which was the best thing that could have ever happened to Zoo and the world at large.

The show has since evolved into something far more stupid, and much more spectacular, than its initial premise. The second season packed the crew into a giant plane to fly around the world and hunt down a variety of mythical creatures, ranging from a sabertooth tiger to a sloth whose yawns caused earthquakes. In the second season finale, they managed to cure the animals of the virus — but then the show’s random new villains released a toxin into the atmosphere that sterilized all human beings and released their lab-grown hybrids (the aforementioned razorback wolves) for good measure. Also, the show then leaped forward 10 years — yes, a full decade! — to better live in a real dystopia for season three.

Still with me? No? Great! Now you know what it’s like to be a fan of Zoo, though to be frank, all of this is just scratching the surface. Season three introduced the show’s most nonsensical twists yet, from a series of secret family reveals to Jackson putting all of humanity at the mercy of hordes of vicious zombie animals. (Oh, yeah: Season three for real ended on the reveal that the hybrids can now turn animals into zombies.)

So, look: I could be here all day explaining the confounding ins and outs of this show (in fact, I spent a full hour trying to do so with Uproxx’s own Zoo expert Brian Grubb — who is responsible for many of the glorious gifs to come — on the TV Avalanche podcast just a few weeks ago, if you’re truly curious). I could talk to you about Jackson’s heretofore-unknown past as a teen dad, Jamie’s new role as a billionaire author who spies by night and tortures bad guys by day, and how Mitch spent 10 years in a stasis tank and came back with an evil alter ego named “Mr. Duncan.” I could talk to you about how Jackson’s secret evil sister plotted to take down all of humanity because she was mad at her brother for being their dad’s favorite, and about Mitch accidentally shooting his daughter before she revealed herself to be pregnant with humanity’s last hope.

But since we can’t pull a Zoo and fast-forward through the decade it would take me to explain it all, I shall instead share with you the 10 best creatures Zoo’s bloodthirsty menagerie introduced in season three, in honor of what may be their final ride into the apocalyptic sunset.

10) Abigail Westbrook

Jackson and Abigail have so many family secrets that neither I nor Zoo bothered to keep them straight.
CBS

“But Caroline,” you might be saying through a skeptical squint, “this doesn’t look like a creature at all! Why, this looks like a human woman!” That’s where you’re (apparently) wrong, friends. Abigail, a.k.a. Jackson’s evil sister and the world’s most wanted terrorist, is revealed to be not just the monologuing mastermind behind the hybrids taking over the world but one of the hybrids herself. (I’d explain the logistics of this, but Zoo never felt a need to, so that is all you get.)

Jackson realizes Abigail’s true nature as the team is trying to hunt down and collect spinal fluid from each of the different hybrid varieties — which, yes, is pretty much exactly the plot of season two’s global animal-hunting quest. They manage to capture and collect a sample from Abigail, and she eventually dies in their custody. But then she springs back from the dead (a development that is never once explained) and shoots almost every single cast member on her way back out into the world.

Again, I could explain how they all came back from their injuries, but who has the time when we still need to talk about:

9) Razorback wolves

Rawr.
CBS

These creatures — which look something like a hyena crossed with another, mangier hyena — first appear in the season two finale before the time jump. Their introduction was startling and beautiful, especially as they dragged Mitch’s body offscreen, leaving a trail of blood and a pair of glasses behind. (I was not a fan of Mitch.) But after watching the third season, the way I feel toward the razorbacks is about how I feel toward crispy M&Ms. When they first came out, they were a game-changing revelation; now I can’t bother giving this basic variety the time of day when there are so many weirder ones to know and love. (Have you ever had a raspberry M&M? Pretty good!)

Take, for instance:

8) Ostrich(?) vultures(?)

The fact that this beast ranks this low should excite you for the road ahead.
CBS; GIF by Uproxx

We meet these enormous birds a few episodes into season three, and every time they show up thereafter is a guaranteed good time. They burrow underground only to pop up randomly elsewhere; they snatch unsuspecting dumbos out of cars by their heads; they dive-bomb volcanoes in hot pursuit of the beacon that summoned them (a plan executed by our heroes that results in one of the best moments on Zoo or television, period).

At the end of the day, however, these hybrids are pretty much just giant birds. And trust me when I say, oh, man, can Zoo do better than that.

7) Pedro and Samson

One of these is Pedro and another is Samson. All of them are some janky CGI.
CBS

At first glance, Pedro and Samson may just look like lions. And to be fair, they are. But what you can’t tell at first sight is that they are, in fact, under the control of one Jackson Oz. In the season three premiere, this is explained with — as his new bland blonde lady calls it — a “clickity-clack machine” that he uses to interrupt their brain frequencies, or some such mumbly science nonsense. But in that very same episode, it’s suggested that Jackson may, in fact, be controlling them with his mind.

By the end of the season (bless this show), it is confirmed: Jackson Oz, renegade zoologist, can control animals with his mind.

For as cool as mind-controlled lions are, however, there’s no way they could beat the simple majesty of our following creature.

6) Woolly mammoth rhino(?!)

I maybe love you most of all, you prehistoric weirdo.
CBS

Our tufted, armored friend here quite literally pops up in the season premiere and surprises the hell out of Jackson and his fellow hybrid hunters, who have spent the past decade defending Portland, Oregon, from razorbacks. It crests the hill, majestic and barely clinging to the CGI afforded to it, before charging at Jackson in a snorting rage. Wolk has had to act opposite many a blank space on this show, but his sprint from this creature is like Indiana Jones running from the rolling rock, except the rolling rock is an armored woolly mammoth rhino.

Hurting this particular hybrid’s standings in the season three rankings is that it never appears on the show again. But the reason it ranks this high is because once it’s captured, Abe discovers through Science — because Abe is a reproductive endocrinologist in the future — that the hybrid’s blood can grow into a fetus.

Zoo on CBS
Yup.
CBS

Take a moment to absorb this. Take all the time you need. And when you’re done, let’s move on to the show’s final reveal, which is much more straightforward (at least as far as Zoo goes):

5) Zombie dog

Fearing that Zoo was nearing its end with the third season winding down and no renewal in sight, I doubted that the show could pull off a finale that could delight me for years to come. But Zoo made quick work of my doubt, because oh, yes, there are zombies now. Real live(ish) zombies! The second it seems as though the team has saved the day by corralling all the hybrids behind a barrier, a service dog who fell in the line of duty fighting a razorback fully comes back from the dead in order to rip his grieving owner to jagged little pieces.

Zombie dog > ice dragon.
Uproxx

This means, as everyone realizes with dawning horror, that the hybrids can turn any animal into an undead version of itself — a possibility Jackson turns into a probability when he steers their huge plane through the barrier and unleashes the hybrids back upon the world at large to prey upon the living.

(If you think this sounds at least a little like the Game of Thrones finale, you are not alone, and you are correct.)

Is “zombie dog” pretty basic when it comes to Zoo creatures? Absolutely. Does it portend a wonderfully weirdo season four to come, if only the renewal gods would allow it? Absolutely.

Please don’t take this away from me, CBS. How could you possibly deprive me of this show when it gives me such things as an undead hybrid army, not to mention a:

4) Giant octopus with razor tentacles capable of hacking a plane’s mainframe

I......
Uproxx

I don’t have much to add here, except that Game of Thrones does not have this, so in conclusion, Zoo is better than Game of Thrones.

Also in this “your fave show could never” category:

3) 70-foot invisible snake

Halfway through the season, the team learns about a 70-foot invisible snake lurking deep in the Peruvian jungle, taking unsuspecting prey by surprise. When Zoo first told us this, I straight up cackled. An invisible foe was an ingenious way to get around the show’s obviously shrinking CGI budget, I thought. That had to be it, right?

WRONG. At first, the snake sticks to slithering around and flashing glimpses of its formidable scales as the light shifts. But we eventually get to see the entire thing in all its basilisk glory when Jamie takes advantage of the fact that the snake swallowed her and cuts herself out of its body with a sword like some Grecian hero, if Grecian heroes sported corporate-chic bob haircuts and leather pants (as more of them should have, in my opinion).

Did I mention that they find this snake in an abandoned funhouse?
CBS; .GIF by Uproxx

Literally the only thing wrong with the 70-foot invisible snake is that when Jamie and Mitch go to find it, they first see a wolf leap into the air and seemingly get sucked into the ether, at which point they naturally assume that they’ve just seen a wolf teleport. Therefore, I am left with the painful conflict of both loving the dearly departed stealth snake and grieving the teleporting wolf that never was.

(If season four can introduce a teleporting wolf and pretend it’s a callback, however, I will not only rescind my displeasure but also commission an artist’s rendering of a half-teleported wolf to enjoy in my life forever.)

2) Pizza the dog

This is the only picture I have of Pizza the dog.
CBS

Pizza the dog is not a hybrid, nor does he have special abilities. But he is a dog, and his name is Pizza; ergo, he is perfect.

(Bonus points if he is named after Pizza the dog of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comic series, for that was also a very good boy, 14/10 would follow to the ends of the scorched earth and back.)

Still: Pizza the dog is not quite emblematic of how beautifully depraved Zoo can be. For that, we have to turn to:

1) Abendegos

This is Abendegos. He is .... Abendegos.
CBS

How can I describe Abendegos?

No, seriously. If you’re out there and have also seen Zoo, please send some sample descriptors my way, because trying to convey what this show hath wrought here is something of a herculean task. At first, Abendegos is some classic Zoo, a long-lost hybrid hiding somewhere in the depths of the Mexican jungle. But when he’s found by Jackson and that blonde who I swear probably has a name, what appears to be a gorilla-adjacent hybrid croaks, “... Jackson?”

One shootout and telepathically ordered lion attack later, both Abendegos and my heart were captured.

Abendegos’s deal, so much as the show ever attempts to define it, is that Abigail (again, Jackson’s evil sister/world’s most wanted terrorist/inexplicable animal hybrid) created him from her own DNA, which makes him Jackson’s … nephew, maybe? Point is, approximately nothing about his origin makes any kind of sense, and once the show reveals it, it promptly loses interest and leaves him behind in the graveyard where thousands of stray Zoo plot points go to die. (Miss you, Tokyo! Oh, did I forget to mention that Zoo vaporized Tokyo? In my defense, the show also forgot as much the instant it happened.)

Anyway: Abendegos’s confused origin story, halfhearted CGI, ludicrous visage, and inexplicable disappearance make him Zoo’s most perfectly ridiculous, representative hybrid. Wherever he is now, I just hope he’s happy — or at the very least, that he knows how happy he made me.

When you are ready to dive into the madness that is Zoo, the first two seasons of are available on Netflix, and the third on CBS All Access. Happy hybrid hunting!

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