Netflix Just Quietly Dropped the Weirdest Show of 2023
If you ever wondered how you'd fare in a zombie apocalypse, this reality show is about as close as you'll get.
In professional wrestling, “kayfabe” is the shorthand term used to acknowledge the scripted nature of the sport and the constant acceptance of it as reality. When wrestlers act furious with each other even outside of the ring, they’re not really rivals, they’re just keeping kayfabe.
This term has now broken into the mainstream, and is especially helpful in reality TV. With “structured reality” shows like Bravo reality dramas, the producers do whatever they can to keep from breaking the fourth wall — and breaking kayfabe.
But on Netflix, one Korean reality show is taking kayfabe to a new level, and the results are fascinating and hilarious.
Zombieverse starts with a haunting scene of our zombie apocalypse survivors stranded on a Ferris wheel, and then we flashback to how this entire adventure started. A group of celebrities join together to be commentators on a dating show called Love Hunter, but the fun is interrupted when a suitor on the show gets very ill. Surprise! It’s the zombie apocalypse. The group of commentators now must fight their way out of danger through a series of (quite obviously engineered) challenges and tasks.
Watching the survivors slowly figure out the “rules” of how the zombies work is like watching someone who has never touched a controller first play The Last of Us — it’s a bit infuriating, but also hilarious. They panic over a rewards card at a gas tank, at making fortresses out of shopping carts, at who can really be trusted. It may not be a great survival tactic, but it’s amazing TV.
Of course, the most important part of this show is the kayfabe. These “survivors” know they are being filmed, they know their lives aren’t really in danger, and they know the other people they meet along the way are actors, but that doesn’t keep them from completely buying into the situation, tearfully worrying about their families and some even falling to the zombie threat themselves. Because of this dedication, it’s hard not to get swept up in it yourself.
Though there are disclaimers — every episode starts with a warning that the survivors act of their own accord and to “please be advised of their immersion in the game” — it’s difficult to peg this as “reality” or not. In fact, it’s difficult to categorize it in any genre. It simply exists as its own novelty, one that has to be experienced to be truly understood.
These survivors aren’t zombie hunters (though one played one on TV), but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of survival. If viewers can buy into Pedro Pascal skulking his way around Clickers as Joel Miller, then zombies with harmonicas strapped to their faces aren’t that much more unbelievable. The plot may seem engineered, but it’s just as engineered as any Real Housewives show — carefully structured to be as entertaining as possible.
Zombieverse may seem ridiculous, but it’s the rare example where taking itself incredibly seriously makes it all the more entertaining. Much like similar shows like Jury Duty or The Rehearsal, figuring out what’s “real” and what’s not doesn’t do you any good. Just buy into this show’s world, and it will reward you with sitcom-level situations but prestige-TV level heart.