THE ONE WHERE Kieren’s former boyfriend Rick returns to Roarton after dying in action in the army, but seems to be in denial about his undead state.
VERDICTI Was A Gay Teenage Zombie – it’s the Roger Corman film that never was.
Except, of course, In The Flesh isn’t lurid exploitation. Despite the odd moments of melodrama, mostly it’s all very earnest, and turning into a quite extraordinarily intriguing show because of it. Not always entirely successful, but definitely worthy of praise for a trying to do something a little bit different without resorting to nudge, nudge, wink, wink, we’re-all-in-on-the-joke tactics. It’s got the courage to embrace its outlandish concept but treat it like a good old-fashioned character drama. You could argue The Walking Dead does the same thing, but The Walking Dead remains an action adventure series at heart, albeit driven by well-written characters; In The Flesh is a true character piece. We would say soap opera, except we know the very mention of that phrase will have half of you sticking your fingers in your ears and going “La la la la…” very loudly. So let’s call it ’60-style kitchen sink drama – that somehow sounds cooler.
At the same time, it’s not as if In The Flesh is in any ashamed of its central concept; the hunt for the two zombies at the end of the episode – and especially the child zombie having a meal (see below) – prove that the show is happy to creep us out with some trad horror. But what it’s actually doing is telling us a personal tale set in this world; it’s not a show about The Rising or the government’s attempts to combat it – that’s just the backdrop. It’s a show about how this altered world affects one family, or one community at most. So, as a piece of drama, it succeeds or fails on how far you believe and buy into that personal story.
Of course, the big revelation this week is that Kieren and Rick were having a gay relationship (although there were clearly hints last week) before Rick went to war and Kieren topped himself. Or more likely, they were in a friendship that was bordering onto blossoming into a fullblown gay relationship, which was something Rick was having trouble coming to terms with, just as he’s in denial about being undead.
The parallel between being a zombie and being homosexual is an absolute minefield of interpretation. Series writer Mitchell may not be trying to make a direct metaphor, but by making a gay character the centre of the show – gay character who now has another reason to feel like an outcast – viewers are going to start spotting the parallels; he’s making it inevitable. And it’s a brave move.
Because on a superficial level it could look like In The Flesh is saying that homosexuals are all diseased and unnatural.
However, what it seems to be trying to say is, “Hey, they’re just like everybody else, but with different tastes… they’re only monsters if you don’t understand them.” Puts a whole new spin on sins of the flesh, doesn’t it?
On the other hand, the zombies in this show need to be “cured” to be more “normal” and accepted by society… Hmmmm
Maybe this inherent irony is the point, and it’ll be something Kieren (or Mitchell) addresses before the series is over. I’m not suggesting at all that Mitchell is peddling some subtle anti-homosexual message (he clearly wouldn’t have made the main character a sympathetic homosexual if that were the case) but I’m hoping that he was at least conscious of the potential hornets’ nest he was poking a stick into.
Whatever you think in that respect, the fact that Rick is so vehemently in denial about being a zombie and seems to think that pleasing his dad is more important, is an unexpected development that fuels the second half of the episode, right up to its intensely gripping conclusion. You truly cannot tell if Rick will shoot the zombies or not.
The first half of the episode is more concerned with Kieren’s encounter with the hedonistic Amy, a character who certainly injects a bit more fun into the show after the near wall-to-wall dourness of the first episode. She’s certainly a force of nature, has some great lines and is a good dramatic device to draw Kieren out of his shell, but occasionally she feels a little bit too broad – like she’s thought she’d been cast in Being Human. However, when Amy gets Kieren to reveal how he killed himself, Emily Bevan pulls the performance right back to create an achingly tender moment. This series is managing to imbue the most simple scenes with tremendous emotional clout without laying it on thick with manipulative dialogue.
Amy’s not the only source of humour this week though. Dean (the HVF member with the permafrown) is now the token village (declaring his love for his mate’s girlfriend when he thinks he’s going to die from a zombie bite) while Kieren cheerily congratulating a flustered-looking Philip on attaining his political ambitions (on the parish council!) is amusingly mundane.
On the other hand, Kieren’s family is beginning to feel a little contrived and artificial. Sure, okay, Kieren’s parents don’t want to face facts. We get it. But having them simply shut up or changing the conversation all the time is rapidly becoming irritating. The rest of the characters are so well drawn, it’s a shame such central characters are so two dimensional. We really need to see some little hints of different shades to their portrayals before the inevitable meltdown that’s bound to happen in the final episode; moments when they let their guard down and come across as human, and not just embodiments of a point being made.
Also disappointing are a couple of things aren’t in the episode – much, anyway. Ricky Tomlinson is on screen for about a second, when you’d expect some follow-up to the climactic events of the first episode (presumably this will happen in the final episode as you don’t hire an actor like Tomlinson for the amount of screen time he’s had so far). Plus, there’s only a passing mention of The Undead Prophet. As much as we’ve argued that In The Flesh is a character drama, and the Undead Prophet threatens to take the show into action/adventure/thriller territory, it was such an intriguing element in the pilot it’s a shame to see it on the backburner.
Especially, as we said last week, since the main problem with In The Flesh is that it’s only three episodes long, and it still feels like we’re watching the first couple of episodes in a much longer run.
BEST MOMENT The moment when In The Flesh truly earned its stripes as a zombie show: the little girl zombie eating raw meat. It’s both gross and strangely sweet at the same time. Great to see the show have the balls to do something this freaky.
NO GO ZONE Part of the joy of this series are the little details of how the world has changed post-Rising, that aren’t unsubtly rammed home with reems of explanatory dialogue. Of course graveyards would be off-limits – it makes sense – and all the show does to alert you to this fact is show you a sign on a gate, leaving you to make the obvious leap of logic. Another clever visual scene that says far more than any dialogue is a seconds long shot of Kieren throwing his tea out of the window.
TALKING POINT Have you ever tried having a conversation on one of these? You have to shout very, very loudly (and even then it difficult) which is not a good idea when you’re nattering about zombie matters.
WRIST ACTION Good to see someone in a TV show cut their wrists the correct way for a change, along the vein and not across (not that we’re suggesting either way is a good thing mind.)
OH EMM GEE! In a show that’s packed with impeccable acting, this gormless piece of overacting from David Walmsley (Rick) – was truly grating. You half expected a heart-shaped frame to appear around his face and the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo And Juliet to well up.
IN MEMORIUM The words on Kieren’s headstone are of unknown origin (we suspect a greetings card verse writer), but are from a poem called “Gone Are The Days” that’s a fave on just about every “Most popular verses for remembrance” list. It’s an interesting choice and you have to wonder if it was scripted, or just chosen by whoever made the prop. Either way it suits what we know of Kieren’s parents, who seem incapable of putting their thoughts into words; it’s completely believable they would look for something on the internet and come across this verse.
BEST LINES Mrs Walker: “Would you like some tea, because I’ve got some leftovers?” Amy: “No thanks Mrs Walker. My insides are pretty decrepit. Eat solids and it goes straight through. Tried eating a Mars bar a couple of days ago. Had to throw away my knickers and my skirt.”
In The Flesh currently airs on BBC THREE at 10pm on Sunday nights