When CBS's Zoo returns tonight, expect that things are going to get "batsh** crazy" as the world deals with lab-created animal hybrids and humanity's extinction via sterilization, said executive producer Josh Appelbaum in an exclusive interview with SYFY WIRE. Zoo returns at 10 p.m. ET.
With a 10-year time jump since the animals were cured, mankind is feeling the effects of a decade in which no children have been born and parts of the world that have been overrun by hybrids. While our heroes are not working together anymore when the season opens, they will join forces again in an attempt to save the world, said Appelbaum.
Appelbaum (Revolution, Alias) chatted with us about Zoo's third season, using CG animals, and what James Patterson -- who wrote the book, Zoo, and is an EP -- thought when it was suggested they do a "slow burn" storywise for the series.
The way you ended Season 2 could have been the end of the series right there. What do you want to tease us about the premiere?
Josh Applebaum: I will say this. The big picture, one of the signatures of the show has become the twists and turns. I think we double down on that this season. The first hour ends with a massive cliffhanger. The way that the end of the season was a massive cliffhanger; we're not just coasting on the idea that, okay, it's 10 years later and Mitch is missing. There are tons of twists and turns. We love Mitch, I think, as much as the audience does, so we don't take long to explain where Mitch is and what sort of situation he's in.
In the previews we see him in a big tank.
You see him in a tank. I will say this, that tank and what was happening in that tank will have repercussions. We just wrapped the finale, actually. And that tank and what he was doing in that tank have repercussions that last all season long.
Hopefully he doesn't stay in the tank all season long. That would be sad, and we'd miss Billy Burke.
No, no, no ... we know how beloved he is. So sooner than later he's out of the tank. What was happening in the tank, why he was in the tank, is a mystery that will be unpacked over the first couple of episodes. But amidst that there are some major ... again, 10 years have passed. So we're having a lot of fun in the writers' room. The rule we had when we were figuring it out was for everything we explain about what one of our characters has been doing these 10 years, or where they've been, there's also a secret that the audience doesn't know. So each one of the characters will have something you'll be told pretty quickly on about what they've been up to and where they've been, and then there's a secret that nobody knows, or maybe only one other cast member knows ... And here's my little thing, it's cryptic, but I'll put it this way: Keep you eyes out for Clementine.
Well, we know Mitch's daughter, Clementine, is all grown up now.
She's all grown up. I'll say no more.
After the finale I had no idea where you were going to go with another season.
On the one hand, in terms of cast, we felt like how long, in terms of the animals, was that going to go on. It took two years to tell that story. We felt how much longer could our guys be "looking for the cure." So we wanted to shake that up. But we also felt like if the first two years were about bringing this team together and solidifying these relationships and the dynamics, what would be more fun than -- and I think sooner than anyone would have expected -- to tear them apart, jump 10 years and redefine who they are, where they are and what's going on in their lives ... The goal we've had, if you're a Zoo fan, you'll feel right at home and can jump right in. But at the same time it's a completely new show. Everybody's spread out in different ways. They have different stations in life. What they're trying to solve is different, which we think is very interesting, and yet it will feel very Zoo-like with the animals, in this case hybrids.
It does seem like a new show. They can't be doing the same things with a whole different world 10 years later, with humanity facing extinction and with all these hybrids popping up and civilization losing its foothold.
One of the things that I'm most excited about for audiences to see, and I take zero credit for this, but the production team, including Michael Katleman, our directing producer ... and just the whole team in Vancouver. It was scary to do 10 years in the future, because it's easy to do the bad version of that, where it becomes a little corny and a little something you've seen before. And they found a really beautiful sweet spot in terms of how they built out the world where it does feel like 10 years in the future. It's not apocalyptic, because civilization hasn't fully come to an end, but it's getting there. It's ominous, but there's also great hope, because there's people out there like our team that are trying to figure out the problem.
Also the way we've done it [with the hybrids is] they've currently overrun the West Coast, but a barrier has been built to contain them on the West Coast. The West Coast is pummeled. A barrier has been built to contain the hybrids so they can't move farther east. So the farther you go east the more okay things are. The middle of the country there's some hybrid incidents, but by the time you get to New York things are fine. Except for the reproduction problem, they're almost living like normal. They're not living in fear of the hybrids. So you just get a lot of different worlds and a lot of specificity to the world. We spent a lot of time building it out. There was a lot of world-building in terms of how things were working and what was going on in the last 10 years. And I think they pulled it off in a really elegant way.
Why should people tune in who've never seen the show before?
If you've never seen the show before, this was built for you. You could dive right in. If you're a fan you'll enjoy it because you know all these characters. Hopefully you love them. If you've never seen the show before, it was written and built to bring you right in. We learned over the last two seasons what our sweet spot was and what works best about the show. We said the formula for Zoo is genuine human emotion plus batshit crazy. And we've kind of doubled down on that this season, if not tripled down ... and so you'll be able to dive right in, and I think in some ways in terms of just the insanity of it ... between the insanity of how things turn and twist on themselves, the character dynamics of this wonderful cast that we have, in the summer it's exactly the kind of thing that I would want to watch.
Are you going to answer some of those cliffhanging questions fairly quickly?
We really don't torture you too much. You'll get those answers in the first two or three weeks. You're going to have answers that in typical Zoo fashion will only lead to more questions (laughs). The other thing that I'll say is that like the first two seasons, but particularly last season, this season is built as a 13-hour experience in the sense that by the end of episode 13 this chapter of the story will be told. There will be great resolution by all the threads that we've started. There will be a fun launch into Season 4, if we're so lucky. I think we made a conscious effort to reward the audience. If you jumped on in the first season, we're not going to jerk you around. When we get to our season finale, you're going to get answers, you're going to get closure for all the big issues we've brought up by the end of the 13 episodes. It's definitely a crazy new chapter in the saga of Zoo.
What challenges have you faced this season?
One of the things that was both a challenge and a blessing was, from the beginning on this show we wanted to use live animals as little as possible. And now the technology three years later finally caught up. With very minimal exceptions we were able to do that. It's kind of extraordinary. That's where the idea for these hybrids came from, and it's been incredibly challenging, but it's also been incredibly rewarding in the sense that we pulled it off. You'll see in the premiere these CG creatures that we built are incredible. We upped our ante in terms of how we do CG animals, and in some ways for broadcast for network television, we've set a new bar. That was challenging to figure out, the design of them, and it appeared that we weren't going to be able to pull it off. But now, seeing the finished result, I think it worked.
And what's great about it is working with live animals, as great as they could be, you can't get a performance out of them. They're just animals, and they're not going to give you a performance. And now I think you'll see we've been able to really direct performances with the CG creatures. We can get them to snarl just how we want. If we want them to snap, we can get them to snap the way we want. If we want them to … give a menacing glare, we can get all these great things that we were never able to do when it was a real bear on set [laughs] or a dog or whatever.
And a CG bear isn't going to bite anybody.
Correct, and it's also like these are more monsters. We're all animal lovers, so when it was like a bear and it turned bad, it was something mankind had done to it. It was hard to see our guys pulling guns and firing at it. It was tricky. But now these hybrids are mean sons-a-bitches (laughs), and we're in that sort of Jurassic World territory where these guys are villains and they're trying to kill us and tear us to shreds, so we can engage with them more in combat, so to speak, and not feel like, "Oh, no, you're shooting Bambi." It ups the action quotient on the show too, I think.
You had humans really causing the problems with animals before, and it sounds like humans are going to continue causing the problems. You have now lab-created hybrids, so people have to be behind this.
For sure. That's right. I won't say exactly who, but all I'll say is that the other thing this season that's unique to the first two is we have a human villain this season that's a real villain. In Season 1 Reiden sort of floated out there as an antagonistic force. In Season 2 there was definitely Davies and the Noah Objective and that whole idea, which we thought was great, but they were just ideologically split. Davies just had a different approach and philosophy as to how to deal with the animal problem. So he was a villain, but he wasn't true evil.
Our bad guy this year is fu**ing evil (laughs), right. And hell-bent on the destruction of mankind vis-à-vis the animals or the hybrids. It's been fun to have a true unrepentant villain.
Well, you have to have a little mustache-twirling to have a fun villain.
Thank you! A thousand percent. Yeah.
There also seems to be the hint that Jackson has some serious powers.
All I'll say is when you've spent your whole life being injected by your father and experimented on and given ghost genes, triple helixes and all this stuff that's happened to him in his life ... yes, it's had some effect on him, that gives him some enhanced abilities. That is all I'll say.
And then there's Abraham and Dariela and their child. From the preview it looked like things were happening in that direction as well.
Again, in typical Zoo fashion nothing can go too well for too long. What I love about these promos is they are showing a bunch of stuff, but it's stuff that's played out relatively early on, and we have so much crazy stuff that comes after that. Things start so crazy this year, and boy, they only get crazier by the end of the season.
Well, you certainly haven't been afraid to take the story to extremes and go there quickly, judging by past seasons. You've covered more in two years than some shows would in 10.
Well, I'll give James Patterson the credit. He's not on the show day to day, but he checks in, and he's very supportive. I remember we talked about it in Season 1, like, "Jim, we're thinking about moving like Jaws and talking about the slow burn. There's something kind of fun where you do things and step it out a little bit more. Like maybe we tell the story in more of a slow burn." Patterson goes, "How about no slow burn ... How about just burn burn. Why slow burn?" And we heard him and we're like, he's right. It's a summer show, and in that spirit this should just be a fun, wild, unexpected, emotional ride for the audience. Let's not be too precious with it. Let's not torture the audience with waiting for things. Every time we pull a card, let's just flip it and pull the next. Just flip it and pull the next. It's challenging in the writers' room, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Again, it does make for a unique experience for one of these kind of shows, because it's not the way they normally play out.
Here's a sneak peek of tonight's episode: