Judge Gordon Sullivan is dining vegan tonight.
Life is hard. Death isn't any easier.
There are few of the darker aspects of human nature that the horror film has difficulty with. We seem capable of imagining an almost infinite variety of monsters to stand in for our fears and foibles. From the fear of foreigners (Dracula) to concerns about infection (zombies) and humanity's animal nature (werewolves). However, most monsters are best with external threats. Even fears about our animal nature are really fears about being like those things out there. Horror, however, is less able to deal with existential horrors and the question of suicide. In the Flesh, a BBC zombie series (which would have seemed oxymoronic even a few years ago), takes a man who committed suicide as its protagonist. Though it has little that's new to add to the conversation, it provides some solid zombie entertainment for the ravening masses.
In the Flesh takes place a few years after the zombie apocalypse. The dead rose from their graves, and the Human Volunteer Force rose up to squash them. Luckily, though, scientists found a cure for the undead, and now they've been converted into citizens again, and as our story starts they've just been reintroduced into their homes. Our protagonist is Kieran (Luke Newberry, Anna Karenina), a suicide who wanted to stay dead. Now he's back, though, and he must confront his past, his actions as a zombie, and the new stresses of the life of the formerly dead.
The smartest decision In the Flesh makes is to have a man who committed suicide as the central protagonist. Reanimating a guy who chose to be dead gives the story an inherent tension that other zombie shows haven't cottoned onto yet. However, much like other zombie shows, the zeds shown by In the Flesh are usually a metaphor for something else. Kieran's past as one of the undead gives his flashbacks a bit of the "wounded soldier" feel to them as he (and other zombies) struggle to come to terms with their former brain-eating now that they don't need to anymore. The reintegration of the undead also smacks of social commentary. Considering the ongoing spasms of anxiety the British are feeling vis-a-vis immigration, it's not hard to read the zombies as the suspicious foreigner—and they're all the more foreign for being those who were once close.
Which is all an elaborate way of saying that In the Flesh is sort of post-apocalyptic melodrama. It's central character is an unhappy young man dealing with the problems of the world—trying to fit in, dealing with prejudice, and struggling with relationships. Though it happens that he was a zombie, the basic stories could lose their undead theme and be stories of immigrants, or criminals, and it would still be the same basic plot: boy feels alone in the world and struggles to fit in. In that respect, the stories themselves are well-told, but they're not anything new for either zombies or melodramas.
Though there's no indication of it on the DVD art, this is the first series of the show, which ran for three episodes. As of this writing, the show is scheduled for another, longer series sometime in 2014. So, while the box doesn't specify "Series 1" or "The Complete In the Flesh," this is all there is so far, with more expected.
This DVD set from BBC Home Video does the show justice. All three episodes are included on a single disc. With no substantive extras, the three episodes have a decent amount of room for their transfers. Video is generally bright and clean, with muted colors appropriate to a zombie tale. Black levels are pretty deep and fairly detailed, but this is not reference-level video. The stereo audio track keeps dialogue clean and clear, well-balanced with the show's music and effects. The disc also includes English subtitles for those who have difficulty parsing British accents.
The lack of extras is a bit of a disappointment. This kind of set seems ripe for commentary by the creator, or at least some behind-the-scenes footage of the zombie-fication of Britain.
The market for zombie popular culture seems to be expanding by the day, with the success of shows like The Walking Dead adding to those who love the undead. In the Flesh is a show designed to appeal more to casual zombie fans. Those who were raised in the era when zombies weren't the subject of numerous popular movies and TV shows might find In the Flesh a bit boring. Certainly those used to seeing lots of gore with their zombies, or who only associate zombies with horror will find the rather tame melodrama of In the Flesh more frustrating than interesting.
In the Flesh has the potential to use zombies as a great way to create drama and comment on the current realities of British culture. Though the show isn't quite there yet, these three episodes offer some interesting characters and situations that provide some serious zombie face-time. The DVD itself is solid enough to recommend a rental to curious fans of the undead.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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