National Geographic has in recent years moved into original Drama titles, including Genius and Mars.
The latest is The Hot Zone, a 6 part virus drama “inspired by real events” and based on a book of the same name by Richard Preston.
Julianna Margulies stars as Nancy Jaax, a lieutenant colonel with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in the late 1980s. She is a mother and wife to Army veterinarian Jerry Jaax (Noah Emmerich), who constantly frets about the risks she faces every day in the lab.
His fears prove well-founded when a suspect new virus arrives at work with links to Kenya years earlier. Despite Nancy’s meticulous testing precautions there is spillage, but she is well-trained for such dangers. Undeterred by the initial scare Nancy is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery virus, especially when colleagues Dr. Peter Jahrling (Topher Grace in a distracting wig) and Col. Vernon Tucker (Robert Wisdom) are convinced it is a routine primate infection, simian virus.
Nancy throws out the rulebook and perseveres with help from her mentor Dr. Wade Carter (Liam Cunningham) to uncover the truth. One scene involving monkey carcasses in the boot of her car is really pushing the danger line, given everything we’ve learned thus far. I’m soon left to wonder which parts of this tale were inspired by actual events and how much was concocted in the script lab (Nancy Jaax was a real USAMRIID army veterinarian).
The script by James V. Hart, Jeff Vintar, Kelly Souders & Brian Peterson is sometimes patchy, but works overtime to explain the science behind everything and the derivation of the virus through flashbacks. This is National Geographic after all.
Yet it has assembled some name actors including Julianna Margulies and Liam Cunningham who manage to elevate some of the material with their conviction. Robert Sean Leonard, James D’Arcy and Grace Gummer also appear, which together with some filming in South Africa, reminds us that Nat Geo is throwing a deal of money at making its mark in this space.
I tend to think the virus genre is more successful as B-grade popcorn fare rather than B-grade serious drama. Leave the science to the docos.
Overall I didn’t find this quite as successful as Genius and it was only regard for the cast that kept me watching.
The Hot Zone is now streaming on Foxtel on Demand and screens in a marathon Monday June 10 from 12.30pm on National Geographic.