The Freeview channel BBC3 hasn’t been one to attract me with previous programming, but this three-part zombie story from Dominic Mitchell sounded intriguing and promising, so I decided to take a look.
At first, it seems this show is firmly in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ territory, with white-eyed undead chomping on the brains of the recently deceased in a supermarket – but quickly we discover that these are flashbacks in the mind of the central character, Kieran (Luke Newberry), who has been rehabilitated in a second life as a government-defined ‘partially deceased syndrome (PDS)’ sufferer. With cover-up make-up and contact lenses and regular shots to the spine of medication, these people are placed back with their families and expected to take up their lives where they left off. They can’t eat or drink but otherwise they can’t be distinguished from anyone else – which makes the finale to episode one so shocking.
The first episode sets up the ‘bad’ people as those who are intolerant and bigoted against those with PDS (perhaps echoing homophobia, misogyny, and racism) – the vicar (Kenneth Cranham) and army man Bill Macy (Steve Evets). When Bill’s son Rick (David Walmsley) ‘returns’ there is a descent into denial and lots of questions to be answered, while the introduction of sassy undead Amy (Emily Bevans) who chooses not to hide her zombie state with make-up, in episode two, makes the story even more interesting, although with only three episodes her character has to remain somewhat peripheral and sketchy.
By the third episode we can see that Kieran and Rick have a history, possibly romantic, while Kieran’s relationship with his angry sister Jem (Harriet Cains) evolves as she starts to see him not as the ‘thing’ who murdered and devoured the brains of her friend, but as her brother, the boy she grew up with, looked up to, and loved. There is no happy ending to ‘In The Flesh’ though, although there is some closure for the shocking event which closed episode one, and a sense that justice has been served. And in the words of Kieran’s mother Sue (Marie Critchley), what you do in such circumstances is ‘you live, you don’t leave, you stay’. Steve Cooper also impresses as Kieran’s confused father, whose breakdown at Kieran’s death blocked him from relating to his son on his return.
I should also mention a small but pivotal performance from Ricky Tomlinson as Ken Burton, a man conflicted by the events which ripped his village of Roarton apart. His quiet performance is totally believable and gives the final episode something of an emotional arc between the living and the ‘rotters’ (those given a chance for a second life).
No news yet on whether a second series will be commissioned. I hope so, as this series has proved to be intelligent and original drama, with some lovely career start showcases from its largely young and little-known cast.