National Geographic is debuting their limited series The Hot Zone on May 27 and you should be warned, it will make you look at “germs” in a whole new way. Inspired by the real-life events that are detailed in Richard Preston’s book of the same name, the series stars Julianna Margulies as Nancy Jaax who is doing whatever she can to protect Washington D.C. from a potentially catastrophic virus.
The six episodes air over 3 nights, which is great news, as each episode will leave you wanting for more. The series features two stories. The first is the Ebola outbreak in 1976, which took place in Africa and had a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. The second story takes place in 1989, just outside of Washington D.C. This documents Ebola’s first known appearance in the United States while documenting why most of us had not heard about this incident until now.
While the 1989 story is the prime narrative, the 1976 story shows the impact that Ebola can have. This helps raise the stakes as the team goes to great lengths to ensure the virus doesn’t take out most of the D.C. area. There are also interesting character moments that show the tension and hard choices that inevitably rise out of such a dangerous environment.
The Hot Zone does rely on standard “viral thriller” tropes such as lingering shots on water glasses. But these are standard issue techniques because they work. Turning a glass of water into a lethal enemy hits home how scary these invisible killers are.
There are two things that really sell The Hot Zone. The first is that it is true. Without spoiling the history, this incident could have been a major turning point in american history if just a few things ended up happening differently. The second is the superb cast led by Margulies. The supporting cast of Noah Emmerich, Topher Grace, Liam Cunningham, Paul James, and James D’Arcy really sell the diverse reactions that happen when faced with a potential outbreak.
The Hot Zone is just another example of how National Geographic can showcase narrative storytelling in a way that expands our knowledge and understanding of scientific fact. Science is at the key of this series and isn’t bent for cheap narrative tricks. The Hot Zone shows us how many exciting stories exist in the real world.
I give The Hot Zone 4 ½ stars out of 5.