'Dead Set' - Zombie Series Review
Many years before the existence of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker wrote and presented TV programs such as Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe, in which he dissected and analyzed different TV shows in a style that could be defined as a more academic or snobby The Soup.
Screenwipe didn't limit itself to the mockery, but it took the task to break down very well how a TV show was made. Brooker really wanted audiences to know what it took to make a show, so they knew how (and why!) to ask for better content.
Screenwipe covered shows ranging from The Shield or Doctor Who to old documentaries like The World At War. Above all, reality shows occupied a special place in Brooker's acid criticism.
So it makes perfect sense that Dead Set, the first entirely fictional series created by him, is placed on the set of the reality show Big Brother and includes a wildly bloody zombie invasion. It's a brazen personal catharsis against a genre he openly despises.
Dead Set starts its story in one of the Big Brother eviction nights. Everything is on point. Presenters, operators, producers, actors and a big crowd of fans outside the studio wait for the decision on who will leave the show.
Inside the reality show house, we meet some of its inhabitants. Among them are jock clown Marky (Warren Brown), bitter cynical 40-year-old Joplin (Kevin Aldon), hollow-headed models Veronica (Beth Cordingly) and Pippa (Kathleen McDermott) and chilling-cool-boy Space (Adam Deacon).
Dead Set sticks very well to the concept of the reality show, using many cameos of celebrities who have actually been on the show before, as well as its real presenter Davina McCall, who not only has a recurring role but ends up committing deeply with the horror gore of the story.
Dead Set, of course, also shows us who is behind the reality show. Patrick Goad (Andy Nyman) is the detestable, scum-of-the-earth producer. Kelly (Jaime Winstone) is one of the assistants, with illusions of being a producer in the future. Although she has a boyfriend named Riq (Riz Ahmed), Kelly has a casual sexual relationship with a co-worker named Danny (Elyes Gabel).
Everything seems normal, except for the news reports about various riots in different parts of the city. Patrick's concern is limited to the fact that the news will steal some screen time to his reality show.
Of course, the epidemic unfolds at an incredible speed. The crowd of fans quickly becomes a horde of hungry zombies that end up devouring everyone inside the channel's broadcast building.
After all is said and done in that building, there will be only three survivors left: producer Patrick, Kelly, and Pippa, who had just been evicted from the Big Brother's house.
Inside the reality show house, everybody, disconnected from reality, haven't even realized what has happened out there. They continue to live their televised life normally, at least for a few more hours. After all, the channel has accidentally left one of the reality cameras on national air.
Dead Set focuses on telling the story of the survivors of the TV channel and that of Riq, who after getting a badass partner named Alex (Liz May Brice) and confirming on TV that his girlfriend has survived, decides to make the journey to rescue her.
The five episodes are written by Charlie Brooker and directed by the talented French director Yann Demange, with a straight-up horror drama tone quite bloody that, it must be said, was groundbreaking and more ahead of its time than TV shows such as The Walking Dead.
Cinematographer Tad Radcliffe does a perfect job combining dizzying cinematic handheld shots with the style of the static reality show cameras that show us that bubble in which some of the characters live (including the confession room and everything).
When Dead Set becomes violent, it does not skimp on quality. Matthew Smith (Into the Woods, World War Z, Byzantium, X-Men: First Class, Sherlock Holmes, Nanny McPhee) and Emma Scott (Les Miserables, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) make one hell of a team, assembling one of the most gruesome and realistic makeup and prosthetic designs in recent memory. Of course, Dead Set manages its carnage very well. The full-blown bloody-meaty savagery only comes on the last minutes.
Now, what is the social commentary of Dead Set?
During the beginning of one of the episodes, the housemate Veronica, facing the news about the zombie epidemic going global, only manages to complain about it with the absurd question "Does this mean we're not on the telly anymore?"
The question tries to be a reflection of the supposed motif of the show. You know, vanity and the culture of empty entertainment as our absolute priority. The completely wrong hierarchy of what really matters in our lives. However, the truth is that the question ends up being just a detail, practically humorous, in a story that leaves the impression of never really exploiting the premise that is exhibiting.
In the end, it's never clear what Dead Set is about. Is its message affirming that the unanimous predatory culture is the only way to survive? Or that the search for stability, however selfish, is the only way to maintain the survival of the human species? Practically, all noble and disinterested attitudes are severely punished in this story.
For example, showing Kelly's infidelity, just to never mention it again, seems like a stunt dedicated only to ridicule Riq's heroic romantic attitude. Should Riq have stayed playing house with Alex and stopped fighting for her love? Is Dead Set that cynical?
Maybe we are unfairly judging Dead Set retroactively, after 19 episodes of Black Mirror in which Charlie Brooker thoroughly mixed narrative genres and social commentary.
What's Your Rating For Dead Set?
Maybe Dead Set just wanted to be a traditional story about zombies, showing the whole process of the end of order of the chosen microcosm. Maybe the setting of the reality show is just a dressing and an interesting resource for details for a straight up bleak gory story.
Seen that way, Dead Set works perfectly. His 142 minutes divided into five episodes manage to present characters and the audience even root and hate some (beyond the obviously pushed as protagonists and antagonists). The feeling of loss is real. And the gore, it must be said, is fantastic.
Or maybe, what Charlie Brooker wanted was to deepen his contempt for the reality show genre, to the point of demonstrating how the little human intelligence displayed in a Big Brother house could not even surpass that of idiots and slow zombies. Is not a coincidence that Patrick, the main antagonist and without a doubt the most despicable human being of the whole series, is the producer of the show and the cause of the final tragedy.
And the final scene, with a zombie looking towards the only active camera while another zombie sees that on TV on another part of the city, seems to reaffirm it.
The culture of entertainment has reached really idiotic and mindless levels, and Charlie Brooker, tired of saying it directly, has had to resort to fiction to more effectively infiltrate his warning call.
Title: Dead Set
Release Year: 2008
Director(s): Yann Demange
Writer(s): Charlie Brooker
Actors: Jaime Winstone, Liz May Brice, Beth Cordingly, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards