TV: In the Flesh seasons 1 & 2 (2013-14)

IMG_2169.JPGCreator: Dominic Mitchell
Language: English
Length: 3 episodes and 6 episodes respectively, around 60 minutes each
Finished watching on: Sep 5 and Sep 11 respectively

The first I heard of this show was, perhaps ironically, through an article linked on my Facebook arguing the case for it to be renewed for a third season, so far an uncertain fate. To be fair, it’s quite possible that I’d heard vaguely about the “gay zombie show” before, but this was at least the first time I’d been made aware of it explicitly.

The words “BBC Three series” don’t fill one with much hope, to be honest, but this surpassed those expectations. As I alluded, the main character has gay relationships, making the show perhaps most famous for actually being one of the few on modern television to include them, and moreover to do so without this being the biggest plot point, and without it being a show only about gay people. Thus it stands in contrast to other BBC shows that are more content to make gay jokes about their protagonists, who constantly protest their eternal heterosexuality.

The zombie aspect of the story is actually not as central as such a title would make you think though, as the zombie apocalypse has already been and gone, and those who weren’t killed, including the main character, have been rehabilitated into society by the government. They take drugs to fix their minds, and wear makeup and contacts to disguise their undead status.

But not everyone’s happy about that. Most of the fictional Lancashire village where the show’s set vehemently hate the zombies, who are known in the show either as the euphemistic “PDS sufferers” or the offensive “rotters”. Thus the show becomes, for the most part, a metaphor for oppression.

The other main metaphor seems to be for mental illness. The acronym PDS seems to be deliberately selected by the creators to be reminiscent of PTSD, which the main character visibly suffers from, especially in the first season, when he gets violent flashbacks a lot to his time as a zombie, or to the fact that he had committed suicide before the opening of the series. A large part of the first series deals with the way he and his family react to his return, and more generally, how people deal with the aftermath of suicide.

The final main theme is religion. It’s not surprising that when the dead start to rise, people become very religious, as it coincides with what’s taught in the bible. So especially in the first season (in the second, a year has passed and the situation has sort of settled), representatives of the church plays the part of the main antagonists. The undead, too, have their own prophet and religion predicting similar things to the living church, such as a second rising.

I’m not going to get anywhere recapping the plot, however. Suffice to say the show is brimming with ideas and tales about all the different families affected in different ways, so much so that it feels like it’s overflowing, especially with such short seasons. And yet there are so many questions left unanswered. Like, was this phenomenon confined to the UK, or was it worldwide? How did other cultures deal with it?

The main thing I took away was how emotionally draining it was to watch, actually. The situations feel very real, and the characters are very well portrayed and identifiable, so seeing them often in pain is very affecting, and can be difficult to watch.

I also had a bit of a heart-wrenching realization moment when I noticed how many of the undead characters are so young – only one or two of the PDS characters are in their old age – and how it seems like just about every family we see in the village has been affected in some way by a recent death. Of course, this has to do with conservation of detail. Even though the story is about them getting their second chances, it was a sobering moment.

Notwithstanding the difficult emotional aspect of the show, it is also heartwarming and has comedic moments too, and I really enjoyed watching it. Since it ended on a cliffhanger, I do really hope they make the next season. And I’d definitely recommend it. Having a cute lead also helps.

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