IN THE FLESH Review; British Drama Gives Fresh Twist to the Zombie Genre

     June 6, 2013

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BBC America is running a three-night special miniseries event that shows zombies as they have not been portrayed before.  In The Flesh, which originally aired in the U.K. several months ago, picks up after “The Rising,” where the recently deceased were brought back from the dead for reasons unknown, ate brains (as zombies are wont to do), and then were somehow rounded up, quarantined, and rehabilitated.  The miniseries follows the story of Kiernan “Ren” Walker (Luke Newberry), as he is given daily shots that artificially restore his brain function, allowing him to return to his former self in personality if not in looks.  For that, the government issues the former zombies — known as suffering from PDS, or post-deceased syndrome — color contacts, hair and face make-up, and other body prosthetics that will make it easier for their communities to accept their return.  Hit the jump for more on this moody, atmospheric series that is a must-watch.

in-the-fleshIn The Flesh plays with the idea of second chances, as most of the featured sufferers of PDS are teenagers and young adults who died prematurely: in war, from cancer, or by their own hand.  For some, this chance to live a “second life” is a blessing, but there are others who feel it’s a curse, or that their lives as the undead were preferable to the ones before or after.  Here is where In The Flesh distinguishes itself in the zombie genre, and shares some themes with shows like Being Human.  The resurrection of bodies has already taken place, and the chaos is over (though some of the horrors are shown in flashback).  There are a few frights and some great use of makeup, but for the most part, the series deals with the idea of coming home again.

In The Flesh, which is surprisingly (though not totally) lacking in gore and fright, is an atypical entry to the genre.  It’s a contemplative work that mostly plays on the idea of second chances, as the majority of the featured sufferers of PDS are teenagers and young adults who died prematurely: in war, from cancer, or by their own hand.   Kiernan’s family, like Daniel’s in Rectify, welcomes him back with open arms (for the most part, and the complications of those relationships are some of the series’ best), but the reaction from the community is largely and sometimes frighteningly hostile.  Who is inhuman now?

It is intimated that during The Rising in England, police presence was largely limited to the urban areas, whereas remote, rural areas like Roarton (a fictional town nestled in the gloomy moors of northwest England, outside of Manchester) were left to fend for themselves.  There, the HVF (Human Volunteer Force) patrolled the area and took great pride in killing “Rabid Rotters,” as they are derogatively known.  But who can blame these militias for abhorring the idea of having the former zombies return to their communities after their loved ones were killed, especially when there are still some “Rotters” out there in the woods?

in-the-flesh-imageYet as some, like Kiernan, return to the community who knew them in both human and flesh-eating-monster form, the lines become blurred, and issues of love, denial, hypocrisy and self-loathing are at the forefront, as is a constantly changing paradigm of acceptance.  Additionally, the reason for Kiernan’s original death and how it plays into the rest of the miniseries is an unexpected and a refreshing non-cliched portrayal of love and friendship that doesn’t have to try hard to be compelling.

The series is at its best with its muted satire — the idea of the government finding a way to institutionalize zombie-ism, promoting “assimilation,” creating pamphlets and support groups, and encouraging PDS sufferers not to see their former kills as crimes, but as a necessity of their condition — is cleverly done without winking too knowingly at viewers.  Details emerge at a natural pace despite the show’s brief run, and while a few subplots do feel rushed or not fully considered, overall the series touches on everything it needs to.  There are plenty of questions about The Rising left unanswered, but it also has some exceptional moments of emotional catharsis in its last hour.

One of the biggest plots left open is the idea that there is an organization who seeks to reestablish zombie control, and allow the PDSs to return to their rabid state, “as was intended.”  By whom or for what purpose is not known, but the local vicar in Roarton quotes the book of Revelation when speaking of a possible second Rising.  Whether that comes to pass or not is unknown, but the fact that there will be a second series of this complicated and perceptive work in 2014 is most certainly great news.

Check out the trailer below:

In The Flesh airs on three consecutive nights starting on Thursday, June 6th at 10 p.m. on BBC America.

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