In the Flesh isn’t your typical zombie story. The 3-part series takes place four years after a zombie outbreak dubbed “the rising.” It’s not contagious and only affected those who died in 2009. The “rotters” are functionally cured of their condition diagnosed as Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS). It’s treated with a regimen of drugs that restore their faculties and cosmetics like makeup and contact lenses that restore their appearance as much as possible. Reintegrating back into society isn’t easy, especially for Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry), a gay zombie!
Things get even more complicated with resurrection of Kieren’s childhood friend Rick Macy (David Walmsley), a gay zombie who is still in the coffin so to speak. Rick joined the army rather than man up to his feelings for Kieren but returns home after being killed by an IED. Bill Macy (Steve Evets) loves his son despite his position as leader of a group of zombie hunters known as the Human Volunteer Force (HVF). In a case of extreme cognitive dissonance, Bill refuses to accept the fact that his son is dead, to say nothing of his son’s homosexuality. In fact, sexuality is barely broached at all. The zombies serve as a substitute not just for homosexuality but otherness in general.
Kieren’s family is also troubled, not over his sexuality or even his condition but what led to it: suicide. His overprotective parents keep him inside the house, which is well-stocked with diversions like movies and boardgames like Life (ironically). The tension is palpable as his parents never address the elephant in the room. Jem (Harriet Caines) has no problem showing her resentment toward her brother, on the other hand.
As Kieren recovers, he is haunted by flashbacks and hallucinations of his last victim Lisa Lancaster (Riann Steele). The memories intensify when he reunites with his former hunting partner, Amy Dyer (Emily Bevan). This is one zombie that’s is full of life unlike our sheepish protagonist. She has no regrets about what she did to survive. Amy is absolutely thrilled to have a second chance at life and her attitude starts to rub off on Kieren.
Creator Dominic Mitchell says he intentionally left the cause of the zombie outbreak unexplained.
“When the scientists can’t tell you like ‘Oh this is why,’ fundamentalist religion, all these ideas, kind of fill the vacuum,” Mitchell told the BBC. “And sometimes that’s really dangerous because people have their own theories and sometimes they’re really extreme.”
That vacuum is filled by a blowhard preacher named Vicar Oddie (Kenneth Cranham), a religious zealot who believes that the PDS suffers are imposters and the truly righteous will return in a second rising. He works the town up into a frenzy with his serums and slowly turns Bill against Rick.
Not everyone interprets scripture the same way as Vicar. There’s mysterious mask man known as the Undead Prophet that runs underground website called the Undead Liberation Army. He uses Book of Revelation quotes to compare zombies to angels and invites them to join him at his commune to discover their true purpose, which remains unknown.
This overt theme about the dangers of organized religion doesn’t detract from an otherwise enjoyable story, partly because it’s handled realistically. There’s no big Kumbaya moment where everyone learns to get along. Just the opposite. The more Rick accepts who he is, the more his father pulls away. The only person to have a change off heart is a HVF soldier named Dean (Gerard Thompson), who is bitten by a zombie. Kieren isn’t able to convince them the condition isn’t contagious so he appeals to their greed. He reminds them about the reward money for capturing rotters in order to cure them. Dean is placed under quarantine and literally see things from the other side. It’s a unique use the zombie genre to address very real problems in society.
In the Flesh season 1 airs on BBCA starting June 6 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 10PM EST and encore showing at 1:45AM). It will also air in its entirety June 9 (Sunday at 2PM EST). In the Flesh season 2 will air in 2014.