In The Flesh
DVD | Instant
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Created and written by Dominic Mitchell
Starring Luke Newberry, David Walmsley, Harriet Cains, Emily Bevan, Ricky Tomlinson, Steve Evets
BBC Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 8, 2013
In a sleepy north England village, without warning or explanation, thousands of dead people reanimate into zombie form and begin terrorizing the area, as zombies tend to do. In keeping with the traditionalist approach to the impending apocalypse, the government, as well as non-government sanctioned circles strike back. Zombies are hunted and killed by militants. The Pale Wars, as it came to be known, rage on for a few years until it is discovered that the zombies can actually be treated. Medicated and rehabilitated, these “patients” suffering from PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) are now ready to be released back into their lives provided they simply adhere to a routine of medication. Thankfully, all of this is told through a series of flashbacks so as not to bore everyone with the familiar zombie origin story. At the end of the day, In The Flesh is about as much about zombies as Halloween is about pumpkins.
To get right down to it, I am tired of zombies. That is not a contrarian statement; I am just bored with them. I gave up The Walking Dead after the first season and can barely handle the barrage of movies and other knock-offs. The character of the zombie itself is pretty pointless, actually. With little more purpose than either “Look out, there’s a zombie. Run!” or “Look out, there’s a zombie. Shoot!” By adding a layer of interest that can only be achieved by bringing back the dead, you have my attention. At the very least it’s something different. For the most part.
The series follows teenager Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry), as he is about to be reintroduced to his former life. He nervously waits his release and the arrival of his parents to bring him home. You get the impression he isn’t terribly enthused at the idea, almost like a kid waiting for his parents to get home after a bad report card. Once home he does his best to resume a normal life. Well, as normal as it can be with the strict instruction to remain inside during the day. Not everyone in the town is readily accepting of the zombie rehabilitation program. The town’s militants that vigorously hunted these zombies while they were dead aren’t exactly excited at the prospect of allowing them to integrate among the rest of the living.
While the conflict is the obvious driver of the story, far more fascinating are the quieter moments. Like the awkward exchanges between Kieren’s family. His mother Sue (Marie Critchley) attempts to carry on like he never left; even going so far as to request that he eat dinner with the family. Paying no mind, of course, to the fact that in his condition he no longer requires consumption. He politely abides his mother’s wish and pantomimes the act of eating – fake cutting his food, fake chewing – knowing he looks as stupid as the pointless act feels. His sister Jem (Harriet Cains), the angsty, left behind sibling, is still angry at Kieren and does her best to throw a fit every chance she gets.
It starts to get interesting when Rick (David Walmsley), the town hero, Kieren’s childhood best friend and eventual love interest, comes home after being killed in action. Rick’s father Bill (Steve Evets), who led the militia during The Pale Wars, convinces himself that he is simply home from war rather than suffering from PDS.
As a whole, the series is barely about zombies. It’s more a story of zealots, bigotry, racism, small-town thinking, and a dash of homophobia, all wrapped in zombie packaging. Imagine being able to interact with your former reality after you die. At some point it is in people’s nature to wonder what sort of legacy they will leave behind. It is an interesting setup that brings up even more interesting questions. Beyond their acceptance post-reintegration, what about their feelings? How will they handle the transition? If you assume everyone who is zombie-fied got that way against their will, you could surmise that if given the opportunity, they’d likely switch back. But what if you didn’t want to come back? More interestingly still, how would the way you die affect your reintroduction process? These competing lines of thought are pretty fascinating.
Once passed the setup, In The Flesh settles in to a more familiar groove filled with the usual suspects: the town hero, the doting mother, the clueless father, the angry sibling, hugs, lessons learned, some harder than others, et cetera. It all works well enough to sustain a 3 episode series and still leaves a lot of angles untouched. It is reported that the series will continue with a new set of episodes in 2014. The premise is strong enough and there are enough unexplored ideas to make another batch of episodes watchable especially now that the pleasantries have been exchanged.