———————————–[We’re now following the show nightly – click here to see the first of our five reviews of Dead Set]———————————–
Journalist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker’s brilliant new E4 series Dead Set could easily usher in a new era of TV horror. For all the Mail’s moaning about violence on the small screen, there’s precious little in the way of proper gore slopping about, a sad state of affairs Dead Set corrects with gusto.
The premise is deliciously simple: a zombie outbreak sweeps across Britain. It just so happens to be eviction night at the Big Brother house. Two worlds collide. Traditional horror tropes – the ballsy heroine [a committed performance from Jaime Winstone], the seemingly unstoppable odds she faces, the clueless folk who don’t know or want to believe what’s happening – are woven elegantly into a modern media landscape laid bare.
Fans of Brooker’s journalism are unlikely to be disappointed. Classic Brookerian phraseology is present and correct, revelling in its warped new context, with one character describing the experience of picking shards of a friend’s skull out of her jumper like “cats teeth.” And that gorgeously macabre imagination gets a chance to come to life visually too, with guts galore and a messy second episode sequence involving a fire extinguisher that wouldn’t necessarily look out of place in a Gaspar Noé film.
Viewers tuning in expecting a Shaun Of The Dead-style rom-zom-com will be in for a shock: the romantic entanglements of the first five minutes are something of a red herring. Equally, don’t listen to Brooker when he claims in interviews that it’s not a funny show. I was cackling throughout with delight that someone had dared to dream all this up – but it’s true enough to say that it’s not a knockabout romp.
Like a bloody Rorschach test, those looking for a comment on brain-dead reality TV will find it, but this isn’t ‘issues’ programming. The excellent Andy Nyman’s character, Patrick the producer, probably comes closest to Brooker’s voice, encapsulating the ambivalent mixture of despair and contempt that people sometimes display while doing a job they actually love. “You… specimen!” Patrick rages at a not-knowingly over-educated Big Brother contestant, perhaps justly far more annoyed with her reaction to their terrible situation than he seems to be with the zombies themselves.
The challenge for Dead Set will be maintaining the requisite tension over five episodes. But with Brooker admitting that his inspiration was the marathon white-knuckle rides of 24, this suddenly seems not only plausible, but probable. Bring on the next helping.
Also, check out our interview with Charlie Brooker, talking about Dead Set, here.
Catherine watched Dead Set in the hope of seeing reality TV carnage. She was not disappointed. Catherine Bray is currently commissioning editor of 4Talent Central at Channel 4. She writes a blog here.