It’s safe to say that the zombie craze which dominated nearly all forms of media for years now has more or less run its course. Like humanity in the face of the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead’s ratings are in decline, aside from a few interesting twists on the same scenario (The Girl With All the Gifts, Train to Busan, and Cargo, for instance) it’s been a minute since a zombie movie felt like a necessary part of popular culture, and, for the most part, television seems more concerned with aping the Game of Thrones model than hopping aboard a train that has clearly left the station. As such, the web comedy turned Amazon Prime Video series, Bunkheads, not only fails to execute a fresh take on the genre, but the series is so woefully unfunny it makes sitting through an actual zombie apocalypse seem preferable.
Creator and writer Will Gong and director Lauren Kilxbul have a sound idea: four people trapped in a bunker a year into the zombie apocalypse find it’s as difficult dealing with the living as it is the dead — walking or otherwise. But, while the idea is a solid one, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, the only way someone watching Bunkheads would know its a comedy is by reading the logline, which describes the four survivors as “zany” (spoiler: they’re not), but instead should just label them as what they are: intolerable. Bunkheads suffers from a problem common among many comedies today: it equates obnoxious with humorous, and thinks characters flinging barbed observations at one another is the same as following a joke through from setup to punchline.
Films like Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, and Zombieland all stand as proof that there’s humor to be mined in worlds ravaged by the undead. Bunkheads however, treats its biggest selling point — i.e., the zombie apocalypse — as an afterthought, focusing instead on the interpersonal squabbles of its four survivors, Cash (Khalif Boyd), Matt (Josh Covitt), Kip (Chris O’Brien), and Dani (Carly Turro). Again, the idea is full of potential: the relative safety of a fully stocked underground bunker mitigates the danger of the hordes of undead skulking around outside, but, as the saying goes: hell is other people. At times it almost seems as though Gong is aiming to make that the joke of the series, suggesting that, for any one of these characters, facing the end of the world alone would be preferable to spending another minute with the other three. But the writing never fully commits to that idea — or any other idea, really. Instead, Bunkheads is content being a mundane sitcom that unfolds within a very specific setting. The problem is, the series only occasionally wants to acknowledge its backdrop, as if zombies were tacked on at the last minute as a way of drumming up interest for its crowdfunding efforts.
That Bunkheads only occasionally offers evidence of its characters’ dire circumstances stems from what is clearly the series’ very limited means. But in more capable hands, having what appears to be one-tenth the production budget of a public access television show could have worked in the show’s favor. Unfortunately, Bunkheads demonstrates none of the creative inventiveness born of such necessity. Instead, the series most often settles for non-jokes, like Matt being excited about finding fish sticks (never mind the obvious questions of why someone would think perishables would be viable a year into the apocalypse), or worse, Kip. Yes, Bunkheads manages to turn an entire character into a litany of bad jokes. Kip, an obnoxious white guy who moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a famous rapper, is obsessed with Dani, and, as the show reveals in episode 2, is also a virgin. Even in the most skilled hands it would be a challenge to turn any of the above into serviceable comedy, and Bunkheads handles the material about as well as you might expect.
A very generous read would suggest Bunkheads' aim is to mine humor from the idea that each character’s one-dimensionality makes them particularly ill-suited to survive in such a harsh environment, and that therein lies the crux of the series. But time and again, the show’s writing works in opposition to any idea larger than: people in close proximity to one another tend to get on each other’s nerves. Credit is due to everyone involved for making a go at this project with such limited resources, but the fact remains that Bunkheads doesn’t work as either a comedy or fresh take on the zombie genre.
Bunkheads is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.