It’s recently been pilot season on Amazon, as the site offered up a slate of comedy and children’s programming to be viewed, considered, and voted on by the streaming public. Amongst the selection: the almost universally panned Zombieland: The Series from the same writers as the originally movie, featuring the same characters but not starring any of the original actors.
Legitimately terrible — I’d actually consider this one of those circumstances where it’s possible to argue that something is objectively terrible — the performances, especially by the new Tallahassee but possibly excepting the new Little Rock, are uninspired or just plain bad. The morality both of the script’s treatment of other survivors and of the protagonists’ reactions to their deaths turns it into a spectacle of sociopathy akin to watching the cast of Seinfeld trying to navigate the zombie apocalypse. The four of them all are pretty reprehensible people.
So it was with no small hilarity that I read the tweets of Zombieland writer Rhett Reese in the wake of Amazon’s decision not to take the pilot to series.
I’ll never understand the vehement hate the pilot received from die-hard Zombieland fans.You guys successfully hated it out of existence.
— Rhett Reese (@RhettReese) May 17, 2013
Here’s the thing. Zombieland, the movie, unquestionably had some dark humor, and if you wanted to you could take up arms against the terribly gleeful ways in which it celebrates the destruction of zombies (the running “kill of the week” gag always was great), arguing that while they might be undead now they were actual people once upon a time. But the movie’s humor rarely came at the expense of other actual living people, the sole exception being to some extent its glorious Hollywood cameo, but there it’s a real person playing themselves and fully participating in the joke, so it works.
The pilot, on the other hand, almost entirely is built around the premise of laughing at the demise of other survivors, the joke being that the main characters keep trying to bring in new people, but then promptly and fully ignore them until they get killed. Then they shrug it off or behave as if the affront and the offense is theirs, that they have been put out by the experience. Not, say, the fellow survivors they just failed to protect.
It’s ugly. The characters are terrible people. And the cast mostly is terrible at being those terrible people.
One the darkest sides of fandom is the sense of fan entitlement, in which among other things certain (very vocal) contingents of this fandom or that fandom insist and demand that creators — be they writers or actors — owe them the presence of certain characters, the treatment of them only in particular ways, or the telling only of certain stories and not others. Sometimes they even insist and demand directly to the creators’ faces, even if typically it’s “just” online.
The flip-side to fan entitlement, however, is plainly on exhibit in Reese’s tweet. Zombieland fans own him no particular allegiance, or a least not the unquestioning kind. The disappointment is understandable, but (and it’s important to remember it wasn’t just fans who were down on this pilot) no one owes Reese or any other creator a good review. No fan is obligated to remain silent despite legitimate reservations or criticism. Creating for the public, and therefore creating in public, is a dangerous thing. I’m not completely sure why creators frequently seem to forget this fact.
Fans should be wary of thinking creators exist only to fulfill their whims and desires, but creators should be careful not to take their fans for granted, and should remember that sometimes — sometimes — fans (just like critics) turn out to be right. Sometimes what you’ve made just isn’t very good.