Saturday, June 1, 2013

TV Review: Dead Set (2008)

Dead Set directed by Yann Demange and written by Charlie Brooker

ZPAA rating

Adults only

Gore level

10 out of 10--I never thought I'd see more gore than in the Romero zombie movies, but here it is--there's too much to describe, this show is practically an 11 on a 1 to 10 scale.

Other offensive content

Some scantily-clad women with no nudity (though lots of parts are hanging out); lots of foul language; smoking; bad attitudes towards others; human on human violence, including shooting and stabbing; some shadowy scenes of kissing/making out.

How much zombie mythology/content

There is no explanation for the zombie outbreak. They are fast-moving, carnivorous zombies like in 28 Days Later. They are unlike 28 Days Later since the person has to die before turning zombie. A zombie bite is more or less fatal but it takes a little while after death for the ex-person to rise.

How much fun

This is billed as a "comedy/horror/drama" though I didn't laugh all that often. The comedy is more dark satire of reality TV (and the Big Brother program in particular) rather than slap-stick comedy. I'm okay with that, but you have to realize it's no Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland.

Synopsis & Review

The inevitable zombie apocalypse never comes at a convenient time. People stuck at work or stuck in traffic or stuck in the tubes or stuck in the suburbs or stuck outside the pub. Dramatically, that works nicely so instead of hunkering down and waiting it out, people are forced to move around through a completely inhospitable environment to get to where they want to be. What could be more inhospitable to safety and sanity than a reality TV show set?

In Dead Set, a short series for Channel 4 (it's five episodes representing about two and a half hours running time), the British version of Big Brother is having an eviction night, meaning one of the contestants is about to be voted out of the house. We see both the contestants and the behind-the-sceens production crew, though the story is focused on Kelly, possibly the lowliest employee on the set. She's the girl who has to get the coffees and the sandwiches and whatever random things the producers want. And nobody remembers her name, especially the insufferable producer. She's been seeing one of the guys on the set, who apparently has dated just about every female on the crew. Kelly has a real boyfriend in the outside world but she's a little stressed out and confused about her life.

The producer is stressed because, as they come to broadcast time, news reports of riots breaking out across England are taking over all the stations. Will they be pre-empted by real-life drama? He uses his rudeness, bravado, and arrogance  to keep  the crew and the housemates ready to go. The show does go on, but the zombie invasion comes right after the station break. Zombies make it into the production facility but not into the sealed-off Big Brother house. The housemates are completely unaware that the rest of the world is falling apart. Of course, they are clueless and narcissistic to begin with, so hilarity and horror ensues.

The premise is well-thought out. Kelly's ability to scrounge quickly translates to survival skills in the new zombie paradigm. The producer is also a survivor, having guided many reality shows and manipulated many people into doing his bidding. He gets locked in a green room with someone while Kelly has to face the contestants incredulity and incompetence. A side story follows the boyfriend as he tries to make it back to the set.

The zombie gore is full-on and not for the faint of stomach. The satire is also pitch-black and was a little too dependent on familiarity with Big Brother and reality TV (they had actual on-screen talent from Big Brother like Davina McCall). I felt like I missed some of the jests and jabs at the genre. I saw moments that could have been funnier if I'd had the bigger context. The obnoxious yet cunning producer is an interesting if unlikeable character. Kelly and her boyfriend are likeable and keep you hoping for a good outcome. Yeah, right...

If you're a fan of reality TV like Big Brother and zombies a la George Romero, you will enjoy this show a lot.

The show is available from Amazon for instant streaming.

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