Sunday, November 28, 2010


For the past three years, Dr. Girlfriend and I have initiated a yearly Easter Zombie Film Marathon (you know, to celebrate the Resurrection), and after watching each film, I've written up a blog post about it.  For the most part.  2009 was a rough year, schedule-wise, and all we really got to watch was the UK Zombie TV series, Dead Set.  And I never wrote it up.

So a friend was over last night, and he'd never seen it, so we watched it one more time.  And since we're nearing the end of NaBloPoMo, and my brain is starting to shut down, I figured now was as good a time as any to write it up.  But before we get to that, here's a list of the other Easter Zombie Film Marathon Entries so far:



As you can see, 2009 was a bit of a letdown with just Dead Set and some various television show episodes involving zombies.

Anyway, Spoiler Shields On, and away we go!

Dead Set was a 2008 E4 mini-series created by Charlie Brooker (co-writer of two of my favorite British series, Brass Eye and Nathan Barley and creator of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe and Newswipe) and set in the Big Brother house, where contestants and production staff are stranded during the zombie apocalypse.  It features guest-appearances by past contestants of Big Brother as well as the host, Davina McCall, which made me think that this was somehow creatively connected to the show itself.

Jaime Winstone plays Kelly, an assistant to the show's Super-Prick producer, Patrick (Andy Nyman), who happens to be one of the few survivors when a zombie outbreak crashes a Friday Eviction Night for the show.  Patrick is trapped with newly-evicted contestant, Pippa (Kathleen McDermott), while Kelly barely survives making her way to the Big Brother House.  At the same time, Kelly's boyfriend, Riq (Riz Ahmed, who was fantastic in Chris Morris' brilliant Four Lions, by the way) is stranded at a train station after his car is stolen.

From here on out, it's a pretty non-stop, hard-core zombie nightmare.

Which came as a bit of a surprise to me the first time I watched it, considering that this was made for TV.  Sure, it's British TV, but still, the extent of the gore and graphic violence was way beyond what I was expecting, and the performances by the fictional Big Brother cast, quickly move beyond the cliches that they start out with.  It's a nice bit of commentary about how those people carry themselves and interact when they think they're being watched by the entire country, compared to how they react once the shit really goes down.

For example, Grayson (Raj Ghatak) is an over-the-top campy gay stereotype as the show begins, ignoring the fact that his character is a nurse outside of Big Brother.  But once castmate, Angel (Chizzy Akudolu) is bitten, he really steps up and shows what he can do.  Unfortunately, he also demonstrates, quite graphically, that the most dangerous thing in a zombie film isn't the zombies themselves, but sentimentality.

Marky (Warren Brown, Luther) goes from being a douchebag muscly pretty boy, to someone who's handy with a rifle and willing to risk his own life for the sake of the others.  Even if part of that motivation is guilt over getting Angel bitten, it works to make his character more than what he started with.

My favorite of the house-mates, is, predictably, Joplin, played by the amazing comedian Kevin Eldon.  Eldon is a veteran of some of my favorite British comedies, Jam, Brass Eye, Big Train, Nighty Night, as well as playing some of my favorite guest-spots in series like Black Books, Spaced, IT Crowd, Nathan Barley, Green Wing, and the films Hot Fuzz and Four Lions.

Joplin is older than the rest of the house-mates, thinks he's smarter, and is generally unpleasant to be around.  He's condescending, a bit perverted, and ultimately causes everyone's death, thanks to some psychological manipulation by Patrick.  It doesn't help that the other house-mates call him Gollum behind his back and really don't like him very much.  He's a walking tragedy and you can just see him crumble inside when he realizes that the others hate him.

It's a fantastic performance.

The format of the series (a 45 minute opening episode, followed by four 25 minute episodes) provide a very nice way for Brooker to focus the action and concentrate on revealing character in tightly plotted chunks.  Because we're not dealing with your average 90 minute film format, we don't have any huge set-pieces or overly-forced bits of exposition and attempts at character development.

Those first 45 minutes set everyone up, establish the situation, and ends with things looking pretty bleak.  Each of the following episodes concentrates on upping the tension, introducing simple, but effective, tasks that have to be accomplished (in a sly wink to the format of Big Brother, perhaps?) to ensure their survival.  Although, none of the things they accomplish really helps them in the end.  But it makes them feel like they're doing something to survive, and maybe that's also part of the point.

They move from being characters who passively exist for the entertainment of others, to characters who actively engage with the world outside the Big Brother House.  I think it's a pretty brilliant concept from start to finish, that plays on the conceits of the zombie holocaust genre while also establishing itself as a serious bit of social criticism - at least as serious as Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

Because of all of this, Dead Set is one of my top ten favorite zombie works, ranking right up there with Romero's original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Alive, and the remakes of both Night and Dawn and a few others.  I'd go into that more, but that's another blog post entirely.  Someday, perhaps.  Someday.


  1. The Big Brother producers are pretty game for a bit of spoofing -- a more lethal version also appeared on Doctor Who in 2005 -- so while it's not an official part of the franchise, it's almost there.

    I thought the first episode was brilliant, but after that it just seemed to resort to generic zombie movie stuff, and lost its satirical spark. Disappointing.

    Around the time it was first shown, there was a bit of a brief spat in the editorial pages of The Guardian between Simon Pegg and Charlie Brooker over the "running zombie" phenomenon, with Pegg expressing disappointment at their inclusion in Dead Set, and Brooker coming back at him, You can probably still find it if you look hard enough.

  2. I don't have any issues with the fast zombie approach, particularly when dealing with the newly dead.

    I agree it didn't push many boundaries after the first episode, but I think the quality of work is much higher than the vast majority of zombie films.