The animal-pocalypse series Zoo returns for another mauling. Russell Baillie reports.

James Wolk was in Mad Men. His Bob Benson was one of the most fascinating characters in the latter seasons of the show.

But now, James Wolk is in Zoo. His character is called Jackson Oz, a zoologist trying to find out why the animals of the world are attacking humanity and how they can be stopped - without just shooting the lot of them.

He's somewhat less fascinating than Bob. But he does get more to do. Especially as his scenes often involve staring down snarling animals rather than facing Don Draper.

No, Zoo isn't exactly Golden Age television as Mad Men was. It's part MacGyver, part Attenborough and just a little bit Sharknado.


Then again, it's taken from a book by James Patterson, who, incidentally, was a former advertising guy at the end of the Mad Men era.

Patterson departed Madison Avenue to sell 300 million or so books - many of them in airports - and inspire a handful of screen adaptations.

The first season of Zoo became a ratings hit, despite mixed reviews, when it screened during the 2015 US summer season. So now, there's a second season in which Wolk and his mates must risk getting snarled at. All over again.

They've already survived their flight home from Africa being downed by angry birds at the end of season one. Now they must regroup and attempt to save the world from the animal apocalypse.

For Wolk, this means facing all sorts of risks. He's allergic to cats for one thing and not all those snarling felines on Zoo are CGI.

"Fear is a really good antihistamine," he says, during a press event to promote the CBS show in New York.

James Wolk as Oz in the television series Zoo.
James Wolk as Oz in the television series Zoo.

Then there are the other guest stars this season, such as a polar bear: "People were like, 'oh, yeah the polar bear'. They talked about the polar bear like it was like an old, grumpy actor ... people were just like, 'oh, get ready for the polar bear, like, he can be a real bitch'."

And among the other deadly creatures, there was a sloth: "They move so slow. If you're attacked by a sloth, that's your fault."


But, you have to ask, doesn't a show that uses so many trained wild creatures undercut the message about humans being nicer to animals and leaving them alone in their natural environments?

Wolk answers with a quote from a trainer who wrangles various animals on the show

"He said 'This is my pet, you know? I treat this animal wonderfully. How is this different than you having a dog?' That was his answer to some people and I thought that was interesting. I don't know that I'm necessarily 100 per cent in line with that, but ... they're treated really well as far as I know and you know, when they are on the set, they're treated better than me."

Patterson, also in attendance in New York, defends the show's credibility by saying the show is a "fable".

He thought it would make for good television when, in 2012, he published the book , which he sees was initially inspired by a series of bizarre real-life incidents and his concern about the environment.

The first season departed from the book. The second looks to part company even further. Patterson is not involved in its scripting but is consulted by the producers.

"I think the second season is better," Patterson says. "Like, just more surprises. I think the actors are better, I think the characters are better developed, I think the way it's written, it's just more dramatic. It moves faster. I'm happy with the way this is working."

So how long can Wolk and his team carry on trying to make peace with the animal kingdom? Or try to cure them of what's bugging them?

"Shows like The Walking Dead, right? Like, that's an apocalypse but it's on season 27 right now or something." he says.

"It's amazing how with a show, when you start to build out the characters and if you have a good writing team, you can make something last in an interesting way.

"There's so much story that's being told in the [new] season and I thought we would burn through story. I was like, how can we possibly sustain this amount of story in each episode?

"And I think it will be exciting for the audience.

"Season two really does have a great story, the stakes are higher ... it feels like it even opens up more possibilities for the future of this show."

Low down


The Zoo season two


8.30pm tonight


The Zone