As usual, I'm behind the curve and I missed In the Flesh
when it originally aired its first series last year and its second earlier this summer. I'd heard a few rumblings here and there of it being good, but I didn't really pay attention as zombies are not particularly my thing. A few weeks ago, accordingtomel
told me that it was on her list, so we decided we'd watch it at the same time. She hasn't managed to start watching, as her computer has been giving her a hellish time, and I've been terrible and binge-watched the entire thing, because it turns out that it doesn't matter that zombies aren't my thing. Set in the microcosm of a claustrophobic, small town in Lancashire, the show is an insightful, piercing reflection of human society in all its intolerances, self-aggrandizements, and snide asides. That this mirror includes a few risen undead somehow only manages to enhance its humanity all the more.
But to leave it there would be doing it a disservice, as In the Flesh
covers a damn lot of territory and does it all with a deft hand -- navigating the balance between getting by and taking charge, getting prejudice thrown in your face and exposing your own, earning forgiveness from others and accepting yourself. There are a few moments that are a tad heavy-handed, but many more that are handled with impressive subtlety -- the protagonist's sexuality, for one, is, to paraphrase Orphan Black
's Cosima Niehaus, not the most interesting thing about him; it simply is what it is. Small, mundane moments -- the dreaded and banal task of untangling bunting, a toaster that only works if you have the right knack to it -- bind the show even tighter to reality.
And in that vein, it isn't, either, a blood, guts, and braaains fest one might expect on hearing the word zombie
; there certainly is some of it sprinkled in, but this isn't the usual fare about violence and bare-bones survival. It's about coming home and reconciling who you are and who you've become with the things you remember and the things that have changed, a lesson all the harder when you've been dead a few years and have, for reasons still unknown, risen from your grave, been rehabilitated with medications and daily affirmations, and reintroduced to the living.
The anchor of the show is Kieren Walker, sensitive, artistic, and unsure of himself, who in S1 has just been released from a treatment center; he doesn't want to cause a fuss or stir anything up, and even less wants to take sides. Pulling him in one direction is his loving but emotionally shuttered family (and let me just say, when the dam finally does break, it is a seriously powerful moment), and in the other, his new, undead friends who are vociferously proud of who they are, and all around them, the denizens of this tiny, bleak town where mob mentality can rear its head in a second flat. That being said, any single one of the characters could be us; there's no pure black-and-white in this 'verse. Even the moustache-twirlingest of them have understandable, if horribly misguided, reasons for the havoc they cause.
Of course, the best writing in the world could fall flat without the right cast, but thankfully, the cast is amazing through and through. Kieren's played by Luke Newberry, who very rightly was nominated for a BAFTA for this role (and is an adorable fluffy bunny in interviews and things), and he infuses Kieren with a beautifully awkward energy, mild at first glance, but thrumming with anxiety under his skin. Even the way he lopes along, just slightly off, is wonderful to watch.
Also of note, Emily Bevan, playing Amy Dyer, Kieren's best dead friend forever. I don't know where she came from, but Emily Bevan is a gem
. Amy sparkles every minute she's on screen, with more joie de vivre in her pinky finger than any of the living do in their entire beings. It would be unbelievably easy for her flair and her quirks to shunt her into the substance-free manic pixie dream girl trap, but she's grounded with sympathy and sadness, and I love her. And then there's Emmett Scanlan (on whom I now have a massive talent-crush), who shows up in S2 as Simon, an enigmatic disciple from the undead opposition whose magnetism and whisky-velvet voice earn him plenty of followers himself. His performance in the episode that gives us Simon's backstory is exquisite.
There are admittedly a few logistical and physiological quibbles to be had, but all of the above more than make up for it. An infinity's worth of kudos to the creator Dominic Mitchell for building such an intricate yet familiar universe and populating it with characters who feel all too real. I cannot recommend this show enough.
tl;dr: OMG IN THE FLESH IS AMAZING YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT.