British zombie drama In The Flesh never made big waves in America. It aired quietly on BBC America and developed a small, but passionate fan following to add to the similarly rabid, yet relatively small fanbase already in love with the show in the U.K. It did well enough numbers across the pond (not to mention winning a BAFTA for Best Mini-Series), but was unceremoniously cancelled at the beginning of the year as part of BBC Three’s budget cuts as it prepares to transition into a solely online channel.
But In The Flesh is not a show one easily forgets and, months after its cancellation, there are still rumblings about adapting the story into a film to tie up many of season 2’s loose endings. Earlier this month, In The Flesh creator and showrunner Dominic Mitchell even took to Twitter to discuss the possibility of an (at least partially) crowdfunded follow-up movie to the beloved drama.
So what, you may ask? What cancelled series isn’t inspiring talk of a Kickstarter reboot these days? I would argue that few deserve it more than In The Flesh, which continues to be like nothing else on TV — a character-driven zombie drama that uses zombie-ism as a metaphor for any oppressed “other,” for the ways in which we treat those we consider less-than. Here are some of the many reasons why In The Flesh deserves a second life…
A true thematic follow-up to Night of the Living Dead.
There is a plethora of zombie dramas currently on TV — but how many of them make the zombies themselves the protagonists of the plot? How many of them make zombies into characters at all? Sure, you have your iZombie (which is enjoying a creatively great second season), but, in Liv Moore’s case, her nature as a zombie isn’t well known; therefore, its hard to make comments on zombie-ism on a social level.
And what good is a zombie if you’re not making some kind of social commentary with it? George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is lauded for the ways in which it commented (though not necessarily intentionally) on racial tensions of the time. In Night of the Living Dead,the surviving humans become more dangerous than any slow-moving, slow-thinking zombie horde.
Though some might argue The Walking Dead is a more natural choice as paying homage to Romero’s work — after all, the undead in the AMC drama are much closer to “Romero zombies” than the Partially-Deceased Syndrome (PDS) sufferers of In The Flesh — I would argue that In The Flesh is much better at paying homage to the Romero classic. Not in its depiction of the “rules” of zombie-ism, but in the way it uses zombie-ism to make some serious social commentary.
If Night of the Living Dead set out to prove that the real danger comes not in mindless hunger for brains, but in how the living handle this broken world, then In The Flesh takes that exploration one step further, giving us the perspective of the zombies themselves. In In The Flesh, it isn’tsome mysterious undead virus that kills people. (At least not anymore.) It is the way that tragedy and trauma has pulled at the social fabric of a small northern England town and the larger country. Here, Roarton is a microcosm for the disintegration of the institution, an example of how ill-equipped our society often is for dealing with difference of any kind.
In The Flesh has some of the best character drama on TV.
Let’s take a second to talk about the protagonist of this story: Kieren Walker (played beautifully by Luke Newberry). In a pop culture age of greedy, violent, self-serving male anti-heroes, Kieren is a breath of fresh air. He is introspective and kind. He is caring and compassionate. He thinks about how his actions affect and have affected others (he did eat people, you know). And he does all of this while struggling to move past his own depression. The first season is all about Kieren’s slow acceptance of his life as having value, of being something that he chooses rather than an endless struggle that has been forced onto him. And that story is so sad and so beautiful and so inspiring.
When we first meet Kieren, he is coming home from the militaristic compound that has been holding and treating him and other PDS sufferers. He hasn’t seen family since before his death a few years prior and, though he misses them and they miss him, he still feels an alien in his own home. This is a story for anyone who has ever watched TV family drama and wondered where the awkward, sometimes irreparable cracks are. For the person who wants to see a critical examination of how family can strain, even while being a touchstone. As I mentioned before, this show doesn’t shy away from the ways in which instutions can fall short. This doesn’t just include the state and church, but the institution of family itself. This is more true in other characters’ respective cases than in Kieren’s, but In The Flesh is very much an ensemble drama, taking time to develop other characters in this narrative past Kieren and his relationship to them.
Kieren also happens to be gay, and it’s refreshing how little a deal In The Flesh makes of this fact. Gayness isn’t Kieren’s defining characteristic. Though of course it partially defines him, he has a complex, multi-faceted identity. In addition to telling a story about family, small town social dynamics, and the conspiracy behind a country-wide zombie outbreak, In The Flesh somehow manages to weave Kieren’s love life into the narrative in organic, compelling ways — representing only a few of the many relationships that define Kieren’s existence. At its heart, In The Flesh is a character-driven drama, and the interpersonal dynamics of this town, family, and PDS community are the best part of this show.
Zombies as a blanket metaphor for “the other.”
It continues to impress me how In The Flesh manages to use its zombies — excuse me, PDS sufferers — as such a blanket metaphor for “the other.” Though some reads work better than others — for example, PDS as a metaphor for mental illness and/or addiction — the way Roarton and the U.K. treats the PDS sufferers being integrated back into society is all too real. They are immigrants. They are people who look visibly different than the “norm.” They are anyone who has been deemed “less than” by the people in power.
We need more stories like this on our TV screens. The ones that not only creates three-dimensional characters — both good and bad — of “the other,” but that tell the story from that group’s perspective. And, yes, it highlights just how narrow the representation of “the other” is on our screens that my example of a story that does this well has a white man in its lead.
It’s exquisitively shot in the rural British countryside.
Sometimes I watch British shows just so I can see something that isn’t filmed in L.A., NYC, or Vancouver (OK, or Atlanta). Don’t get me wrong — the set designers on America shows do an amazing job dressing up these cities to look like other parts of the country and world — but the brain recognizes patterns, even when you’re not partically paying attention.
In The Flesh has more than its beautiful locations and exquisitively-shot cinematography going for it, but those things don’t exactly hurt. The show was filmed in rural northwestern England and, as cliche as it is to say at this point: the setting really is a character. It is desolate, but beautiful. Vast, yet often cast as hollow. If, like me, you are sick of watching shows set in the same character-less Anywhere, U.S.A., check out In The Flesh.
The story was left unfinished.
Sure, this could probably be said of any story, but the season 2 finale of In The Flesh unlocked some major secrets about the source of the zombie outbreak and teased the return of a much-loved deceased character in some form. Not since the also prematurely cancelled British drama The Hour has a show left me with so many unanswered questions and so eager to return to a fictional world.
If you’d like to learn more about creator Dominic Mitchell’s efforts to kickstart an In The Flesh movie, check out our article on the subject.