“Like the Bible says, ‘When there’s no room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”
“That’s from a movie.”
“The hell it is!”
“It’s not even, it’s from the poster.”
That bit of dialogue from the pilot for Babylon Fields is a taste of what could’ve been had the proposed network series been green lit past the pilot stage. In 2007 – three years before The Walking Dead hit television – Michael and Gerald Cuesta and Michael Atkinson brought the zombie-themed series to CBS. Unlike The Walking Dead, Babylon Fields features a mass resurrection of the dead who aren’t mindless ghouls craving flesh, but rather confused revenants who want to return to their lives, with results that range from heartbreaking to horrifying to hunourous.
It’s a premise that was explored previously in the obscure 2004 French film Les Revenants, which spawned two seasons of a 2014 T.V. series of the same name, plus an American adaptation of that series, called The Returned, which was cancelled after one season. Judging by the pilot, which you can watch online here, Babylon Fields, was less haunting, funnier and equally creepy. Aside from the aforementioned dialog between gun-happy rednecks confusing the Bible with the poster for Dawn of the Dead, the episode features a zombie who rekindles his sex life with his wife, a formerly abusive cop who realizes he was murdered by his family when he finds a gaping axe wound in the back of his head, and milky-eyed zombies clawing their way out of the ground en masse.
The intriguing element of the premise, is, of course, how the living deal with the dead they’ve already said goodbye to and who no longer have a place in their world. Some treat then like movie zombies, attacking and shooting them; others struggle to find a way to accept them back into their lives; and others melt down at the thought of the apocalypse coming. At the centre of it is a cop, played by Ray Stevenson (Rome, Punisher: War Zone, Thor) trying to hold the town together, and supporting characters played by several recognizable television actors, including Amber Tamblyn, David Patrick Kelly and Kathy Baker.
Director Michael Cuesta, shot episodes of Six Feet Under and Dexter prior to Babylon Fields, and went on to work on True Blood and Homeland, proving himself adept at helming top tier series. Not surprisingly, given the popularity of zombies on T.V., the show was nearly brought back to life. In 2013 NBC ordered a pilot, which featured Skeet Ulrich (currently seen on Riverdale) and Virginia Madsen, of Candyman fame, but it seems to have fizzled, as well.
Given that several series with similar premises have failed to find an audience, it’s unlikely Babylon Fields will have its day. And that’s too bad because the pilot offered a fresh take on the undead in its day.