It’s seem like the past few years have brought us every kind of Zombie story we can think of. Whether it’s an action drama about the human condition like The Walking Dead, a dark dystopian fantasy like the upcoming World War Z, or even a romantic comedy such as Warm Bodies, almost no stone has been left un-turned. So I was extremely surprised to find a new avenue of thought being explored in the British mini series, In the Flesh, coming to SPACE this Saturday. I was sure I would be watching just another re-hash of what’s come before but instead found a smartly written drama with an intriguing, high concept idea that had relatable elements to our current society. Not bad for a few hours of television, eh?
Originally aired on BBC Three back in March of this year, the premise behind In the Flesh is that zombies (or rotters as they are called within the show) have a treatable condition called Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS). PDS had a one time outbreak among the dead only. Everyone who passed away in 2009 were resurrected in 2010 as the un-dead and began to attack the living for sustenance. As time moved on, the British government was able to round up the rotters and treat them for PDS. Now, the government plans to reassimilate these folks back into society. This is of course getting a great deal of push back from those living in rural communities where groups known as the Human Volunteer Force formed to protect the living, making it harder for those who are suffering from PDS to go back to their former lives. One such sufferer, Kieran Walker, is a teen who is returning home to the fictional town of Roarton, the birthplace of the HVF and the least likely places to accept him. Once home, he must deal with prejudices and misconceptions and in some cases, violent confrontation. Between this hostility and staying medicated to prevent any relaspe in his condition, it will be an uphill battle for him. There’s only so much the PDS protection act can do for him out in the country and with a sister, Jem, who despises rotters and no real best mates to call his own, things can only get worse. What will this second life bring for Kieran and will it go better than his first one?
When I sat down to watch In the Flesh, I expected a straight up zombie story. What I got was so much more. Themes of pathophobia, homophobia and racial prejudice are all explored both through paralells in Keiran’s experiences and through some of the confrontations he must face. Each subject is treated with the proper amount of respect but is also very down to earth in it’s approach. There are moments when the message feels a bit preachy but those moments are fleeting. What really sells this story are it’s characters and relationship dynamics. Each character is dealing with a sort of pain. Pain from loosing people during the “uprising”. Pain from being an outcast in society. Pain from dealing with emotions and feelings that they thought they had buried when their love ones had originally died in 2009. The moments between Kieran and his best mate, Rick, as well as those between him and sister, are well paced and really sell the emotion of the situation. In scenes such as these, it’s natural to take the story to a more comical or melodramatic place. While there are passing scenes that do display these tropes, the story stays grounded in reality and real human emotion. The writing keeps the story on point and the performances do a great job of reinforcing that point.
If this show did not have the performances it did, the series would’ve easily fallen apart. Luke Newberry has the weight of this piece on his shoulders and does a great job of keeping it all afloat. You automatically feel for Kieran and are there with him as he tries to find his way and recconnects with his family. Through all 3 episodes, as his back story is slowly revealed, you really gain an understanding of all he’s been through. It’s further emphasized through his relationship with Jem, played by Harriet Cains, as she tries to come to terms with her anger caused by both her brother’s death and the uprising. Emily Bevan does a great job of bringing a much needed levity to most of the scenes she appears as Kieran’s friend, Amy Dyer, another PDS sufferer who’s embracing her “second life” and sees it as a gift that others should embrace and not be afraid of. The main emotional tale takes place between Kieran and his former friend, Rick, who have many layers to their relationship that need to be ironed out. This element to the story hinged on a believable portrayal and the two actors really brought something deeply moving to the screen. While I commend the script for its nuance and smart perspective on the subject matter, what makes this one of the better pieces on zombies I’ve seen is due to the amazing work of the cast.
Whether your a fan of zombies or if you just enjoy a good human drama, In the Flesh is worth checking out. The first episode airs in Canada on SPACE this Saturday, May 18th at 10pm Eastern and in the States on BBC America, on Thurday, June 6th.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!