In The Flesh is a drama which originally aired on BBC 3, and the second series of which finished a month ago. I, however, only started watching it about a week ago and I’m so glad I did.
In The Flesh is about the aftermath of the “Rising” where everyone who died in 2009 came back to life as zombies. A cure has now been found for their state and the series begins as PDS sufferers (as is their politically correct name in the series – standing for people with Partially Deceased Syndrome) are reintegrated into society. There is however a huge amount of prejudice, especially from those who fought the zombies in the rising.
There are so many tv shows which you can watch absent-mindedly, whilst on your phone or doing something else, and there are others (such as Reign which I reviewed a few weeks ago) which are addictive, even whilst you are aware of the ridiculousness of the programme. In the flesh is not one of these programmes. It’s of a much rarer breed; the kind which leaves an immediate emotional impact which lasts, and is a subtle and excellently executed show with a strong message. The programme is very bleak, as it focusses on the prejudice the protagonist faces as well as the emotional impact for the family of having a loved one return to them. The first series, especially, is slow burning and is tragic in so many ways. The second series, with more episodes, athough there are still only six, has larger, more ambitious plots, as well as having the occasional side plot (such as the fascinating one between Freddie and Haley) to further develop this world. Each plot point is done so perfectly, focussing on the emotional impact, rather than the shock factor, and the show is courageous in the plot choices they make. The script manages to be poignant, without hinging on melodramatic, and is at points, especially in second season, humorous despite the serious issues discussed.
The show and it’s protagonist act as a metaphor for minorities and the prejudice they face. The show was actually originally imagined as the stigma a mentally ill man faced when returning home after attacking someone. This isn’t the only way that this stigma is challenged however, as the characters also belong to other ostracised minorities as well. Because of this, the show is uplifting, and it has been called both an anti-suicide and an anti-bullying show because of the strong messages it both depicts and implies.
The characters are the strong point of the show, and on which the show focusses. Each character is entirely three-dimensional, with no complete “good guys” or “villains” and all of the characters have done morally grey things, making the viewer question what is right and what is wrong.
Keiran Walker is the protagonist, an introverted, artistic character who you just want to wrap up in blankets and shield from the cruelty around him. He doesn’t, and never did, fit in Roarton, where the residents hate him not only because he’s a PDS sufferer, but also because he’s not as macho as the other men. Keiran deeply regrets what he did in the Rising, and hates his condition, which leads to interesting character development as the show continues. There are other important qualities to Keiran’s character which are hugely significant to the message of the show and the plot, but I won’t mention them so you’ll have to watch the show and see!
Amy Dyer is another PDS sufferer, who is funny, quirky and much more confident in her state than Keiran is. Whereas Keiran is rather shy and accepts much of the cruelty he gets, Amy is much rebellious against the prejudice towards PDS sufferers. Amy is one of the most likable characters in the show.
Gem Walker is Keiran’s sister, who during the Rising was part of the HVF, a force which fought against the zombies. The struggle between these two alliances carries through both series and is a very interesting conflict. Gem struggles with PTSD after what she saw in the Rising, and her actions motivated by this add to the complicated feelings the viewer has for her character, as with all the others.
Simon Monroe – played by the fantastic Emmett Scanlan, who never fails to make a complicated character likable – is a member of the ULA, an extremist society which protects PDS sufferers. He is unashamedly proud of his condition, believing it to be a gift and holding resentment against the living. Although he only showed up in series 2, he is one of the most interesting characters, especially as the motivations behind his actions are unclear for the majority of the series. Ultimately though, his charm and charisma win the viewer over.
These are only a few of the characters, as there are so many more, such as Keiran’s parents who struggle to be honest about their feelings about his return as well as with the truth of his condition.
Despite the complexity of each character and the combinations of emotions they have to express, as well as having to pull off zombie scenes without making them melodramatic or cheesy, the acting in this show is absolutely fantastic. Luke Newberry, who plays Keiran, the main character, was even nominated for a Bafta for best actor for this show. It is clear that In the Flesh hires their actors based on talent rather than just attractiveness, which is become rarer on tv.
The romances are handled perfectly in this show – whilst there’s only one depicted in the first season, it is incredibly touching and heart breaking to watch. The second series has more relationships to root for, and each are important to the show because, as well as being interesting in their own right, they make clear some of the conflicts between the PSD and the living, as well as the difficulties of having loved ones returning from the dead. I absolutely adored the relationship between Keiran and Simon, as although it was complicated – in numerous ways – and unexpected, it seemed very authentic and genuine.
Despite receiving great reviews and numerous awards, the life of In The Flesh does slightly hang in the balance, because of the cancelling of the channel it was aired on, BBC Three. I personally am hoping with all my heart that there is a third series, as the second demonstrated that the writer still has lots of ideas which he can deliver without sacrificing the emotional resonance which made the first two seasons so powerful.
I highly recommend watching this show, and whatever you do, do not write it off as “just another zombie show” as this concept only adds to the intrigue and is used to bring interesting issues to light whilst focussing on very human issues.