Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy

Halfway through this episode of Z Nation, Doc says, “I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.” That should’ve been the show’s response when presented with the script for “Frenemies,” as it transforms the series into lunkheaded farce. It’s a bit funny, but at the cost of...well, everything else. Last week demonstrated the show could provide the occasional silliness without losing the thread of grounded characterization that has come to play a central role. This time around, any and all sense of reality—let alone narrative coherence—was thrown out the window to make what’s basically a live-action cartoon, complete with goofy sound effects, wocka-wocka reaction shots, and everyone behaving like a Tex Avery animated character. It’s a case study in trying too hard—by hamming it up, the episode becomes exhausting.

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The appearance of Sketchy and Skeezy is always a warning bell that things are about to get ludicrous, and “Frenemies” is no exception. It’s the most lunatic application of the dimwitted duo yet, and it reduces the show to a caricature of itself. It’s not a big a letdown as “Warren’s Wedding,” simply by dint of actually having a few funny lines, but it’s also a tremendous step down in caliber. It’s almost like the two characters function as some sort of quality-vampire, sucking the lifeblood and virtue from the script, the performances, all of it. Even the over-the-top lunacy of their last appearance didn’t come with such an apparent lobotomy of all our protagonists’ mental capacities. People act dumb and dumber here, and it’s off-putting and pointless, resulting in a total shrug of an episode that leaves everyone in the exact same place they were at the start. Even Warren’s vision quest (the only part of this episode that still felt like the new and improved Z Nation) doesn’t change so much as it just gets a minor reaffirmation.

Where to start? Essentially a bottle episode, we follow Doc and Murphy’s entrance into the barbershop, where even season-one Murphy would’ve instantly suspected the beyond-obvious trap being set. Instead, they decide to kick back and relax with a shave, a tan, some weed, pretty much anything other than taking a look around and sussing out what every viewer immediately intuited. There’s a difference between a character being dumber than the audience and an entire structure being dumber. Usually, Z Nation is smart about its stupidity; not so this time, where everyone is intent on out-clueless-ing one another, even the villains Sal and Tiny.

Photo: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy

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Perhaps that’s why we get the pivot to visual gross-out gags, like Sarge’s CGI-aided nose blowing, the droopy tanned Z, or everyone vomiting and then slipping in it later. It definitely doesn’t explain why the narrative is so muddled. So Sketchy and Skeezy were just hanging out there, but as soon as Doc and Murphy are attacked, all four of them get lumped together as the people being robbed? Better still, what exactly was the original motivation for Sketchy to bite Skeezy, given he’s the one who then points it out? Why do they end up voting on how to kill Skeezy and not Sketchy? By the time Sketchy is speechifying and killing time (for, oh, say, 8-10 minutes, nudge nudge), even 10k looks bored. The last-minute arrival of the two other nincompoops who rob everyone and then fall for Sketchy’s idiot Brer Rabbit routine (even while saying they’re not) is just icing on the cake. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Murphy sputters when Sketchy and Skeezy reveal the elaborate plan, and he’s not wrong.

I expressed confidence last week that Z Nation would be able to satisfactorily address the many plots it introduced this season during these last few episodes, but there’s no reason for it to screw around with nonsense like this. One-off installments can be fun, as the previous newsroom-set story proved, but there’s no need to stoop to subpar material, even if it’s just for a money-saving bottle episode that serves to buffer the final arc. If you want to do goofball slapstick and Three Stooges-esque mugging, provide a narrative reason. Otherwise, curl up and dye, indeed.

Stray observations:

  • It’s no fun delivering this harsh of a critique, regardless of how truthful I think it is. So let’s enjoy some of the more worthwhile lines from “Frenemies”:
  • Murphy, on voting: “After Gore V. Bush, it didn’t seem worth it anymore.”
  • Doc, on if the two inventors had switched places: “You’d be eatin’ a crapper and takin’ a sandwich.”
  • Murphy’s shrug of a reaction when Skeezy begs for his life, “after all we’ve been through?” “Mhm. Ehh.”
  • I lost count of the shaving and cutting puns after about ten minutes.
  • The foam storm was a cool idea, but unfortunately the camerawork and design prevented you from getting a good sense of the action in that opening fracas.
  • Everyone agrees the actor who plays Sal looks like he could be Patrick Fischler’s dad, right?
  • So we’re really not getting Anastasia Baranova this season, huh? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next reference to Addy went a little something like this:

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