Monday, June 03, 2013

In the Flesh: Welcome Back to the Land of the Partially Living

Here’s the good news: the zombie apocalypse is over and humanity won.  Gracious in victory, we have developed something of a Marshall Plan for the undead.  The proper term is now “Partially Deceased Syndrome.”  With proper treatment, those afflicted can regain their consciousness and eventually be reintegrated into society.  At least that is the theory.  Reality is a lot trickier for one PDS teenager in series writer-creator Dominic Mitchell’s three part In the Flesh (promo here), which premieres this Thursday on BBC America.

The small town of Roarton suffered heavy losses during what is now called “the Rising.”  The Human Volunteer Force (HVF) militias were first founded here and Roarton’s unit has yet to disband.  It is the worst place a rehabilitated zombie to re-enter society, but it is where Kieren Walker’s family lives.  His parents are walking on eggshells, determined to keep his homecoming a secret, but nonetheless overjoyed to have their son back.  His younger sister Jem is a different story.  Active in the local HVF, she now considers their militant leader Bill Macy a mentor.  Kieren Walker already has some complicated history with the Macy family and it will soon get even thornier.

Following the lead of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Flesh employs zombies as a vehicle for social commentary.  However, this approach is always limited by the nature of the genre.  We see through Walker’s flashbacks the terrors he wreaked in his feral state.  It was not his fault according to his doctors, but it still isn’t pretty.  With rumors swirling of rehabbed PDS cases deliberately going off their meds, it is hard to blame the good citizens of Roarton for being slightly on edge.  Nonetheless, Mitchell stacks the deck against them, casting the fire-and-brimstone Vicar and the unhinged Macy as paranoid demagogues.

Flesh works considerably better on the micro level when it focuses on Walker’s guilt for both his zombie atrocities and the circumstances that led to his initial death.  There is also an interesting relationship that develops between him and Amy Dyer, a more free-spirited PDS teen.

Luke Newberry is adequately morose as Walker, but he is frequently upstaged by other Walker family members.  Harriet Cains shows potential star power as the forceful Jem, but Steve Cooper really gets to lower the emotional boom as Kieren’s still reeling father.  Unfortunately, Steve Evets (so engaging in Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric) and Kenneth Cranham largely portray Macy and the Vicar as crude caricatures.  In contrast, lefty comic Ricky Tomlinson nicely humanizes anti-PDS activist Ken Burton, while Emily Bevan adds some energy to the dour milieu as Dyer.

Already renewed for a second season in the UK, In the Flesh ends its first outing with some intriguing avenues open for further exploration.  Yet, it faces an obvious dilemma.  To satisfy genre fans, eventually the show must produce the shuffling hordes, but to do so would undercut their peace and tolerance soap-boxing.  Notable as an original premise, imperfectly executed but showing promise for future development, the first season of In the Flesh airs this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (6/6-6/8) on BBC America.