The above inner-monologue is likely to be brandied around for pop culture hounds who like their plots boiled down as Altman-esque as is possible. And, as it turns out, all of the comparisons apply to series creator and writer Will Gong’s six part series Bunkheads (now streaming on Amazon Prime) about four people trapped together in a bunker after a zombie apocalypse. And intriguingly enough, none of the inevitable comparisons to the usual tropes of zombie film and literature seems to quite fit either. Here’s why.
Broken down into six separate ten-fourteen minute vignettes, Bunkheads’ story about a struggling actress (Carly Turro), a white rapper (Chris O’Brien), a sweet intellectual (Khalif Boyd) and the requisite smartass (Josh Covitt) thrown together in a bunker awaiting rescue or…something is anything but another filmmaker’s leftovers.
Gong realizes that the real appeal to any movie or television show about the walking dead resides not with the rotting corpses but the flesh and blood people banded together in an attempt to survive the unthinkable. And you know, once you get past the whole “something dead has risen from the grave and wants to eat me” thing, wouldn’t the day to day tedium of just waiting for something, anything to happen become quite surreal and funny?
The creator of Bunkheads uses that thought as his jumping off point and gifts the viewers with a pastiche of laugh out loud character moments such as the episode where the characters ruminate over masturbation in all of its forms in a world they no longer understand. The four principals sound like you or I might in this situation, obsessing on their weight, the food they’re slowly eating through and just what they might have to do in order to ensure survival of the species (Warning: It looks a lot like Deliverance).
The undead are relegated to a mere cameo at the start of the series, chasing one of the four survivors in a lurching Boris Karloff/Frankenstein’s Monster sort of way. But their presence is always felt even if they are primarily off camera. Gong wisely fleshes (ahem) out his four leads and there is a certain sort of economy and shorthand that the brief running time of each episode uses to its advantage. Less can sometimes be more and with very little time to indulge in superfluous extras, the writer tightens up the old narrative belt and wastes no time in getting to the most important aspect of Bunkheads: The four characters in search of an exit.
Propers should be extended to the actors, all of them perfectly cast in what are deceptively simple “types.” It is a credit to not only Bunkheads excellent writing but also the versatility of a perfect ensemble that keeps us watching. Very quickly we realize these characters are layered and even complex as is evidenced with the aptly titled episode five, Dreams. Suddenly, Josh Covitt’s wiseacre is shown as a real person who has suffered a tremendous loss and this revelation brings four unlikely survivors closer together and makes us invested even more in their fates. Oh, and we get to laugh a lot in this particular episode, too. Don’t want to get too grim and gritty on you, do we?
Although initially slight, stick with Bunkheads as there is more meat on this plate than first appears.