While I try to read the book before the movie or tv show, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. In the case of Zoo, a tv show of which we finally finished the first season this year, I didn’t even realize there was a book before we started the tv show. It took us forever to finish the first season, not because it was bad, but because we were watching it on tv and the show suddenly changed stations. Later we bought the first season on dvd. We liked it. So of course I was curious to see how the book was. And how the book and tv show compare to one another.
Beware there are a few minor spoilers here and there. Nothing too big.
All over the world, brutal attacks are crippling entire cities. Jackson Oz, a young biologist, watches the escalating events with an increasing sense of dread. When he witnesses a coordinated lion ambush in Africa, the enormity of the violence to come becomes terrifyingly clear.
With the help of ecologist Chloe Tousignant, Oz races to warn world leaders before it’s too late. The attacks are growing in ferocity, cunning, and planning, and soon there will be no place left for humans to hide.
While the book and the tv show start of from the same starting point, brutal attacks by various animal species over the world, the plot takes a very different turn rather quickly. A lot of that has to do with the difference in characters which I’ll get into more in the next section.
In the book we focus on one character, Oz, who figures out what the animal attacks mean before anyone else. In the tv show we follow a team of 5 people from various walks of life. You can imagine that this changes the overview of a story significantly. In the tv show we get a lot of different point of views on things and a contrast between the characters. Something that wasn’t in the book because Oz was THE man the whole book.
One of the things I really liked in the tv show was how they had to be so smart about doing things under the radar because they had no support. Of course one can question how believable some of it is but I felt they were truly discovering things and working with actual science. In the book Oz is the supposed scientist, but he is a drop out with an undergrad in science. He doesn’t do any tests himself and gets any answer because he accidentally walks in on things the animals do. It is too convenient. I’ve also read some reviews of people who know more about science than I do and that suggested that the research was severely lacking.
Even so there are some (small) similarities in the plot. For instance after about halfway the book has a 5 year time jump. The tv show also does a time jumper later on in the first season. There are some scenes that the tv show clearly took or was inspired by from the book like a bat attack and the lions attack. Or even how the dogs took on a roll in places (though in the tv show there roll is sized down to about an episode).
Even more important than the plot to me are the characters. From the book there are three characters that make it into the tv show. Jackson Oz, Chloe Tousignant and Abraham. But all three are very different from their book selves.
In the book the characters are quite honestly badly developed. Oz who thinks he is THE man and who keeps a chimp in his apartment even though he knows the behavior of animals are drastically changing. He thinks he knows better than everyone else and is absolutely not a joy to follow throughout the book. Chloe is a fellow scientist who he rescues in Africa. But instead of being a scientist she becomes his ‘delicate’ love interest and his supporter. The one who sits home with their kid.
Drastically different from the tv show where Oz moved with his mom to Africa where he works with Abraham. His father is the one that discovered the animal behavior and wasn’t believed. Not even by his own son. Oz is more down to earth though prone to impulsive behavior that he gets called out on by Abraham a lot. He clearly has a lot of experience and knowledge about animals through his background but also because of his work in Africa. It is quite a bit more believable than the Oz we get served in the book.
Chloe is even more different. Not a scientist but a French intelligent agent who stars doing field work for the first time. Oz still saves her from an animal attack but she certainly doesn’t start catering to his needs. She kicks ass and has to set aside her insecurities to get the job done. Abraham also gets a bigger role in the tv show where he is a big teddy bear. He is my favorite character for sure.
The two other additions to the team are not in the book. Jamie Campbell, a journalist, and Dr. Mitch Morgan, a vetinary pathologist. I suspect Mitch is slightly inspired by Dr. Charlos Groh based on a slight paragraph about his family that has become the focus for Mitch’s family in the series. Plus the dog. But other than that there is very little comparison, not the least of all because Groh is in a wheelchair.
As you can imagine the two new additions give an extra element to team dynamics and how the problem is viewed.
As you might have guessed from the above, the book did not make an impression on me. However there is one thing that the book does and that is diversity. Abraham is an African man from Botswana. Chloe has anxiety. Groh is in a wheelchair. And there were a few chapters with the point of view of a lesbian.
I am going to be honest and say that I don’t think it is done very well in some places. The way Africa and the politics there are viewed are reminiscent for how the average western person viewed Africa back in the nineties, filled with intense prejudice. This book was released in 2012 so that is completely unnecessary. Oz also implied that Abraham was a racist (towards whites) if I recall that scene well and that is a big no. Also the author tries very hard to make Oz’s child special. Highly gifted (young) children deserve representation in media but it has to be done well. In this case saying in the same paragraph that your 2 month premature born son could spell words at the age of 18 months (uncorrected) is really pushing it.
The tv show doesn’t try for as much diversity I feel. Of course there is Abraham and the way Africa is treated is certainly with more respect. There is also an episode with a lesbian relationship that I think was inspired by the above mentioned lesbian point of view in the book. There is also a bit of grief that is being dealt with. Grief in the way of a death of a loved one but also grief for the loss of your child’s good health. Even so I don’t think they really try to come out of their comfort zone with any of it.
Stick to the tv show. The characters are better developed. There is more thought given to the science and the story is better written than in the book.
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