Syfy’s ‘Aftermath’ puts a slightly new spin on the post-apocalypse survival genre by being about every apocalypse all rolled into one. On a network known for cheese and schlock, this concept is certainly ripe for both. Surprisingly, the show is better than expected, at least so far.
Technically, the pilot episode takes place during the apocalypse, not post-apocalypse, but given that the show is called ‘Aftermath’ I’m sure later episodes will wrap up the destruction and focus on surviving the… you know… aftermath. In the meantime, the world is being devastated by just about every type of natural or unnatural disaster you can think of all at once: earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, plagues, even what appears to be demonic possession that causes victims to turn into psycho zombies with supernatural powers. About the only thing missing so far is nuclear war. Perhaps that will come later.
Our lead characters are the Copeland family. College professor Josh (James Tupper from ‘Revenge’) is an academic who studies religion and anthropology, and is quick to draw parallels between current events and ancient myths. His wife, Air Force vet Karen (Tupper’s real-life significant other Anne Heche), is more of a rational skeptic and dismisses those notions. They have three teenage kids – a boy named Matt and twin daughters Brianna and Dana.
At first, they try to shelter in their farm house in Washington state even as events get weirder and weirder, including fish raining from the sky. The friendly local sheriff asks them to be on the lookout for his missing nephew. The boy turns up on their doorstep later. He acts normal at first, but suddenly turns feral at dinner and attacks the family. Luckily, Karen keeps a gun hidden in a Bible (symbolism much?), which son Matt uses to shoot the attacker. As he dies, a demonic-looking spirit flies out of his body.
Karen doesn’t have an answer for that and doesn’t really care. With phone service out, she heads to the local police station for help, but finds the building abandoned aside from some violent crazies locked in a cell. She grabs a shotgun that was left behind and returns home, only to fight off another lunatic in her own driveway.
As the family tries to clean up some of the debris that has landed in their yard, daughter Brianna is grabbed and dragged away by a zombie person who leaps up in the air and flies away with her. Determined to find her, Josh and Karen pack the other two kids into their family motorhome and drive off in the direction her kidnapper flew. Along the way, they see all sorts of awful things, including bodies hanging from trees. They stop at a gas station that appears to be open, and the creepy weirdo attendant wipes their windshield with a bloody rag, then tries to sop that up with the severed head the blood came from. Terrified, the family speed away just before the attendant drops a lit cigarette into a pool of gasoline and blows himself up.
Brianna wakes up in the woods next to her attacker, who has no memory of what happened and thinks she kidnapped him. Moments later, he goes nuts again and lunges at her, only to get impaled on a tree branch.
Josh and Karen hear a report on the radio about the government setting up an emergency response zone in Yakima and believe that will be their best chance at finding their daughter. When their sporadic cell service comes back for a moment, Karen is able to get a text message to Brianna telling her to meet them there.
Brianna stumbles to a road and flags down a police car with the friendly sheriff from earlier in it – except that he’s not so friendly anymore. He and his deputy are acting crazy. He doesn’t remember Brianna despite having known her family for years, and doesn’t even know his own name. A police sergeant is bound and gagged in their trunk, and they shoot him in front of Brianna. They make the girl get in the back of their squad car as they drive to a diner, where they have an armed confrontation a biker gang. Brianna distracts the sheriff enough for the bikers to kill both cops. The lead biker explains that infected people are called “Fever Heads” and go uncontrollably nuts. Other than their behavior, they can be identified by blood in the mouth. Brianna convinces the biker to give her a ride to Yakima.
Josh and the family make their way to the Yakima quarantine zone. They’re screened for infection at a roadblock when a group of Fever Heads in a pickup try to smash through. Soldiers gun them down. Karen receives a text message from Brianna telling her that she’s on the other side of town. Just as the family is about to be let through the roadblock, a giant flaming meteor plummets from the sky and levels most of the city. The Copelands’ motorhome is covered in ash but they’re unharmed. Brianna survives by ducking under a school bus.
Josh had quipped earlier that the only thing missing from this Biblical apocalypse is the sound of trumpets blaring from the sky. The episode ends with the radio in the motorhome coming on and playing a jazz song featuring trumpets.
Episode Verdict / Grade: B
I’m not about to say that ‘Aftermath’ is the best new TV show of the fall or anything, but I found it unexpectedly entertaining. Unlike, say, Syfy’s new ‘Van Helsing‘ series, the acting here is all pretty good, the production values and visual effects are competent, and both the story logic and character motivations are sound within the parameters of the premise. If future episodes are based around the family traveling through the apocalypse in their motorhome, that should provide some variety in the settings and storylines from week to week. And Anne Heche looks surprisingly badass wearing aviator glasses and wielding a shotgun.
I’m not sure that I’ll stick with this long-term, but I’ll follow it for at least a few weeks to see how it develops.