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'In the Flesh': The Best TV Show Nobody's Watching

By Corey Atad | TV Reviews | May 27, 2014 | Comments ()


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With so much great television these days, it’s so easy for a series to fall through the cracks. Case in point: BBC’s In the Flesh, quietly one of the best shows on TV. The first series aired last year, and you’ll be forgiven for never having heard of it—though Dustin did cover it last year. It was a three-episode story about a “cured” zombie returning to normal life. It was also one of the very best things TV last year, right up there with the stellar Rectify and Top of the Lake, two more under-seen series that dealt in great artistry and very subtle, powerful emotion. In the Flesh is now back on BBC America, and I’m here to tell you that it’s well worth your time.

To give you an idea of just how little attention the series is getting, despite me being a big fan of the show, and despite it airing on the same network and same night as Orphan Black, I wasn’t even aware the second season had begun airing until last week, two episodes late. And look, no offense to Orphan Black, which is a totally fun show with a mind-bogglingly great lead performance, but if any series deserves widespread acclaim and attention right now, it’s In the Flesh.

The series’ premise is simple enough. Set in the UK after a zombie epidemic, scientists have found a cure to return memories and personalities to the undead. Though these people are still zombies, they are also unquestionably people, and the same people they were before anything happened. Kieran Walker is one of those zombies. A teenager who must return to his old life, where his parents are more than a little freaked out, his sister is scared of him, and a militant anti-zombie group populates the town.

The brilliance in the series is not in the premise, though. It’s in how creator Dominic Mitchell has chosen to use the premise. In the show’s first season, the story played as a direct parallel of the gay experience, including coming out and being scorned by a public that just isn’t comfortable with the idea. Though there are zombies and militias and insane preachers, the drama is down to ideas as simple as family acceptance and love. It’s also a heart-wrenching series. As tragic and beautiful as anything produced for TV in the last few years. The intimacy of the series’ aims, as well as its short run made for a remarkable standalone work.

Except it’s no longer a standalone work. The BBC commissioned a second season, this time with a longer order of six episodes. I was immediately skeptical. It was such a perfect little story, and with an ending that felt weighty with finality. How on earth could Mitchell and his crew expand the show into new territory without it feeling utterly perfunctory?

As it turns out, the answer lies in broadening the world of In the Flesh just enough to expand its focus from a gay rights parable, to a story more generally about the fear of “the other.” The specters of racism, radical nationalism and terrorism have come to complicate the poignant, but more simple focus of the first three episodes. The threat now is not merely one of family acceptance, but social understanding on both sides. It’s about how fear comes to motivate horrible actions in otherwise decent people, and about the lengths those people will go to inoculate themselves from those they don’t understand. It’s a smart writing choice, and so far the second season is playing out with care and intelligence and just enough genre flare to make it accessible to everyone.

In the Flesh doesn’t really stand a chance against the juggernaut of The Walking Dead, but those that watch it will find a show of much greater depth. The issues it deals with are more complex. The characters it builds are more involving. Even its visual style, with its 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, is uniquely compelling in the television landscape. It’s not getting the attention or the heavy marketing of bigger genre shows, but if you have any interest is excellent, emotional, and socially vital genre storytelling, do yourself a favour and catch up on In the Flesh. TV this good shouldn’t be ignored.

You can follow Corey Atad on Twitter, or listen to his Mad Men podcast, Not Great, Pod!







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • leastyebejudged

    There's horrible TV, ok TV, good TV and great TV.

    And then there's just amazing TV; which is what In The Flesh is.

    Very nice write-up on a show that is so unique and precious that I've felt compelled to *beg* friends to give it a chance...

    Only relatively recent series that has moved me as similarly would probably be Les Revenants.

    Nice to see other people also admitting to a few tears.

  • mcalex22

    Well put. I love this show and I too didn't realise that a second season had been commissioned and only found out till after the first two eps had aired. It's refreshing to find a show I genuinely enjoy and whose characters, writing and storylines are so amazing. Words can't describe how I feel. I too wondered how Season 2 would go given that Season 1 had a perfect ending that I loved.

    But I've been quite surprised and impressed. I love the introduction of the new characters and the new storylines. However I fear that I will be left in tears by the end of Season 2 because I suspect it's not going to be a happy ending and sacrifices will be made!

    I sincerely hope that the BBC commissions a 3rd season...

  • asherlev1

    I just finished watching the second episode and my heart ACHES. It's giving me that same exact heart-achy feeling, in fact, that Rectify gave me. I don't know how to put it into words, it just is. Kieran and Rick are doomed, aren't they?

  • Fiona

    Am in the U.K. and am watching the new season. Season one was fantastic, too - such clever writing. It's sad that the BBC have decided to get rid of BBC3, the channel where this is shown here. New, innovative programming may no longer get a voice. BBC3 was the channel which begat Being Human, The Fades, Little Britain and Gavin & Stacey.

  • Buck off

    It would appear they're deliberately filling it with shite so everyone will stop watching it. Three is what BBC 2 and Channel 4 used to be for comedy - the Boosh and Monkey Dust started out on there too, didn't they? It'd be terrible to loose it.

  • bcarter3

    Just FYI, the first series of this brilliant and original show just won the BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts--sort of equivalent to the US Emmy) awards for “Best Writer – Drama”, and for “Best Mini-Series”. Luke Newberry was nominated for for “Best Actor – Drama”.

  • asherlev1

    That makes me SO damn happy. And SO well deserved!

  • Scooter

    Awesome! I loved the first season and had no idea they were going to do another season. I will have to catch up!

  • Sean

    I thought I was the only one who watches and loves this show.

  • simplysarah

    I LOVE this show. I didn't realize it was even going to have a second season so I was pleasantly surprised this weekend when I saw it listed OnDemand.

  • Afferbeck

    I remember watching the first episode or so and it didn't grab me at all, I recall being really bored and getting distracted. And that's rare for me as I'll give any show a go. Hearing that it's so good, I may have to give it another try. Especially as I'm watching barely any shows at the moment. I look at my Episode Calendar and there's pretty much nothing for months.

  • First series broke my heart. Second series has me curious about everyone's intentions - and wondering what's up with Amy's tremors. I love it.
    (Haven't seen this last week's ep yet, so don't tell me if they explain them!)

  • John W

    It's a good show. It reminds me a little bit of Rectify, another good show.

    Still trying to figure out what MP Martin's agenda is.

  • She's an enigma at this point, that's for sure.

  • Belladonna Took

    Heard something about it and decided to give it a shot last week. It really as heart wrenching in a way I never expected to feel and have never felt from The Walking Dead. And that after episode 1.

  • chrisahl

    I know I'm about to commit pajiblasphemy, but Orphan Black is shit. Elevated by some excellent performances (and some REALLY bad ones), but it is shit. Like last season of Alias bad.

    In the Flesh is terrific, and as you correctly point out is a real triumph of genre bending that probably frightens away it's core audience with the mere inclusion of the term zombie.

  • Joe Grunenwald

    I also didn't realize it was back for a second season until a few episodes too late. We binge-watched the first run back after you first wrote it up and it was fantastic. And depressing as hell.

  • Repo

    Good looking out. I will have to track down the first season, as a quick look finds that Season 2 (what's aired anyway) is waiting on Comcast On Demand.

  • I believe the first season is on Amazon Instant, though I don't know how that works because we don't have it in Canada. I know it's available for purchase/rental on iTunes.

  • ZizoAH

    This season is even getting better each episode, the fourth one was heartbreaking.

  • Addy

    I have not cried so much over a show recently as I did over the 3 episodes that aired last year. I can't wait to catch up with this season. Thank you for the reminder of this heartbreakingly great show.

  • Naye

    I had to stop during episode 2 and breathe. Just the level of pain and denial going through that town was incredible for a zombie series. Episode 3 actually brought tears to my eyes. it's hard spreading the word about a zombie show that doesn't actually involve zombies trippin out and eating everyone.

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