Review: ‘Curfew,’ the Zombie Plague-Death Race Mash-Up You’ve Been Waiting For

By Mike Hale

A new series from Spectrum Originals has all of its genre elements in place, including Ned Stark in a muscle car.

ImageFrom left, Guz Khan, Billy Zane and Jason Thorpe in “Curfew,” premiering Monday on the on-demand channels of Spectrum cable systems.
From left, Guz Khan, Billy Zane and Jason Thorpe in “Curfew,” premiering Monday on the on-demand channels of Spectrum cable systems.CreditCreditGareth Gatrell/Tiger Aspect Productions
Mike Hale

The new British series “Curfew” sounds as if it were created in an infernal lab where horror fans are strapped to gurneys and hooked up to pleasure receptors. It imagines a plague of fast zombies running around at night, forcing the government to institute a permanent 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew. (Even worse things have happened to Scotland.)

Then it adds what you never realized a zombie story needed until now: an ultraviolent cross-country road race whose winner is to be whisked away to a peaceful island where scientists are working on a cure for the undead.

So: “28 Days Later” and “The Walking Dead” meet “Death Race” and “Mad Max,” with bits of “The Purge,” “The Terminator,” “Escape From New York” and “Children of Men” thrown in. With an evil pharmaceutical corporation lurking in the background.

And we haven’t even gotten to the cast. Sean Bean is the angry guy in the muscle car with the much younger and pregnant girlfriend played by Rose Williams. Miranda Richardson is the stressed-out mom in the big truck. Billy Zane, with a cowboy hat and a bottomless martini shaker, leads the crew of wannabe Merry Pranksters in the beat-up Volkswagen van. Waiting for them on the island is the mandatory sinister American corporate type, played by Adam Brody of “The O.C.,” or perhaps just a hologram.

It’s a genre sundae with several extra helpings of cherries, and while it’s not as wildly delightful as it sounds in outline — what could be? — it’s not a bad binge for viewers who don’t mind B-movie production values and dialogue, and who like their zombie heavy-metal shoot-em-ups grounded more in sentimental family drama than blood-spattered excess.

If they can find the show, that is. “Curfew,” whose eight episodes premiere Monday, is the second series under the banner of Spectrum Originals (the first was the cop show “L.A.’s Finest”). That means it can be seen only on the on-demand channels of Spectrum cable systems. The company is pointing out that the shows are “free on-demand” — no Netflix or Hulu subscription needed — but that’s true only after you’ve paid for Spectrum cable service, which is what this whole cord-cutting thing was about in the first place. The idea is to reclaim video-on-demand from the streaming companies, turning their own original-content strategy against them as a way to persuade people to keep paying for cable. Best of luck.

ImageSean Bean plays an angry street racer in “Curfew.”
Sean Bean plays an angry street racer in “Curfew.”CreditGareth Gatrell/Tiger Aspect Productions Limited

“Curfew” isn’t a reason to keep the cord intact — maybe that will be Spectrum Originals’ “Mad About You” reboot with Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser, promised for later this year. But it has some appealing characters and it’s sufficiently tongue-in-cheek to keep you engaged. It was created for Sky in Britain by Matthew Read, who as a former commissioning editor for the BBC has an impressive list of producing credits on other people’s distinctive TV series: “Happy Valley,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Taboo,” “Doctor Foster,” “McMafia.” He’s clearly learned things along the way about pace and plotting — “Curfew” has its mysteries, which are gradually revealed through flashbacks, but it’s always clear who’s who and what’s happening.

Read has also developed a thick skin when it comes to killing off characters, or perhaps it’s just a producer’s trick: Save money by putting your most expensive actors on short contracts. The major characters — preponderantly heroines, rather than heroes — are played by less well known performers like Phoebe Fox, as a level-headed paramedic who enters her ambulance in the race at the last minute, and Ike Bennett as a digital-native teenager trying to navigate the course using handwritten notebooks compiled by his father.

The various crews rumble through the night, alternately hindering and helping one another and being picked off by the extremely mobile undead. There’s a lot of collateral damage, but there are frequent respites, during which someone’s concerned mother is liable to announce, “I’ve got egg mayonnaise, or cheese and pickle.” There’ll always be an England. Well, probably.

Premiering on Spectrum on Monday

Mike Hale is a television critic. He also writes about online video, film and media. He came to The Times in 1995 and worked as an editor in Sports, Arts & Leisure and Weekend Arts before becoming a critic in 2009. @mikehalenyt Facebook