E4 - 27th October to 31st October 2008 - 10.00pm

'I'm coming to get you' as trilled by the ever effervescent Davina McCall will never have quite the same meaning anymore after this five episode lark from those purveyors of lowest common denominator TV, Channel 4. Thing is, this was soooo good that it should never have been dumped on E4 in the first place. C'mon Channel 4, you should have knocked that documentary about the boy with the biggest arse out of the schedules and given the masses five delicious nights of zombie fun. is highly ironic that this is broadcast in the week when the cult of celebrity takes a bruiser from the appalled masses of Tunbridge Wells and it dominates all the news
The cynical bitch in me thinks this is just the most left field marketing exercise in the world to keep the punters interested in boring old Big Brother. After all, let's face it, it's a failing franchise and only the dead could bring its corpse to life by biting the hand that feeds it. But writer Charlie Brooker is a bit cleverer than that. He's the first in line to heap vitriol on reality TV formats so what better way to get him to vent his spleen, and have it devoured by zombies, than to have him write the blackest, most twisted variant on the format you could possibly want. It says all the things you would want it to say, a la George Romero's biting satire of the consumerist age, Dawn Of The Dead and much more. Not only is it a gripping thriller but its gory entrails manage to cover all levels of post-modern reflection on the state of the nation. Yes, the country may be on its knees but thank God, and Joplin, that Channel 4 are still broadcasting Big Brother. Again, it is highly ironic that this is broadcast in the week when the cult of celebrity takes a bruiser from the appalled masses of Tunbridge Wells and it dominates all the news. The Congo is going up in flames, Britain's up to its neck in debt, the USA is about to vote in the most important election in years but knickers to that...Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand said rude words to 'Fawlty Towers comedy treasure' Andrew Sachs. Bring on the fucking zombies and get it over with. Throw in a wry commentary on two minute celebritydom, team playing, sexual politics as well as positioning Big Brother as the ultimate in survival camps and self-devouring metrosexual media juggernaut and settle down to watch the mayhem begin. If you love horror films with a satirical, social conscience then you will love this.

Episode One introduces us to the main characters - Big Brother runner Kelly, (superbly played by Jaime Winston), downtrodden by super-bully boss Patrick (an essay in total evil from Andy Nyman) who is so up his own arse that he's coming out of his own ears, is having sly affairs with members of the production team but really regretting what she's done and hoping she can keep her relationship intact with boyfriend Riq. Housemates consist of Joplin (Kevin Eldon), an older, quiet intellectual hated by all and sundry and nick-named Gollum, thick bitch Pippa (Kathleen McDermott) who is typical Helen/Jade level intellect, black mama Angel (Chizzy Akudolu), dumb but pretty Northern lad Mark (yummy Warren Brown), slut Veronica (Beth Cordingly), down wiv da kids Space (Adam Deacon) and Grayson (Raj Ghatak) who is every trans-gender stereotype in the book.
Davina falls foul to zombiedom (and she's more lively as a zombie than she is as the BB host - cruel but fair)
It's looking grim as Davina notes that the BB eviction show might get bumped because of the escalating situation across the country. Alas that's not the Tunbridge Wells mob after a rebate on their licence fee but riots and anarchy as a virus spreads across the country that brings the dead back to flesh-eating life. As Patrick wryly observes, 'Why are people rioting? They should stay in and watch telly.' Just as Pippa gets evicted, all hell breaks loose and zombies are on the prowl in the BB studios. Davina falls foul to zombiedom (and she's more lively as a zombie than she is as the BB host - cruel but fair) and traps Patrick and Pippa in the green room. Over the course of several episodes Patrick descends to guzzling down flat champagne and rancid canapes and hilariously taking a dump in a waste paper basket. It's a totally disgusting scene and Pippa might well have only two grey cells but I'm right with her on being appalled by Patrick's behaviour. Believe me, the sound effects are horribly realistic.

Kelly, meanwhile, breaks into the BB house and stoves a zombie's head in with a fire extinguisher in perhaps one of the goriest scenes I think I've ever seen on British telly. It can proudly take its place next to Romero's fare and you won't be disappointed if jerking yourself off to zombie-death porn is your thang. It's gripping, revolting and hilarious with enough self-reverential moments to keep genre fans happy. Where else would you get a name check for The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue and a whole scene set in a supermarket that apes the Dawn Of The Dead concept gene-spliced with a piss-take of all the accepted conventions of BB itself?

By Episodes Two, Three and Four we're also introduced to Kelly's boyfriend Riq
(Riz Ahmed), stranded at a deserted railway station and pursued by zombies. These are the fastest undead you'll ever see. Christ, they could win Olympic medals for sprinting. No lurching here, guv'nor. Riq is rescued by Alex (Liz May Brice) who is this story's version of Ellen Ripley. She blasts zombies left, right and centre, castigates male inadequacy in trying to get her car re-started and generally seems to have completed a survivalist course in two hours flat. Meanwhile, Angel has been infected and turns zombie, then infecting the sympathetic tranny Grayson who is waiting for fellow housemates to bring medical supplies. Grayson gets it in the head with a duvet cover and a very big kitchen knife, poor love. Kelly returns, having consolidated her team leader qualities by dispatching two policemen and some pinny wearing supermarket staff on the drugs run, and promptly puts Angel out of her misery. The deep irony here is that the usual loony bin that is the Big Brother house has become the only well fortified last stand against the ravenous undead all piling up at the gates.

Riq and Alex make a boat trip to get to the BB house because Riq has spotted his squeeze Kelly on the telly. The whole of the UK is seemingly now undead and they're still broadcasting BB? Oh, Mr. Brooker, what are you saying there? Unfortunately, Alex is nobbled by a zombie whilst opening a lock gate on the river and, although she bludgeons the thing to bits with an axe it's left to Riq to put her out of her misery. Meanwhile, Patrick decides to run a lamp stand (or is that a 'light machine') through Davina's skull so that he and Pippa can make a break for...well...a bit more freedom in the BB house. 'You killed Davina!' screeches Pippa, at which point I fell off the sofa laughing. Poor Davina, a droid minion of the Daleks in Doctor Who and now a zombie kebab. She's gone up in my estimation.

...a shot across the bows of the 'dead set' - reality programme makers, the bimbo contestants and the audiences that consume their famous for five seconds appearance on the telly
By the conclusion, the hideous Patrick has, of course, displaced the balance of power in the house and has tried to press-gang everyone into following his plan of hurling bits of Angel and Grayson (a truly, truly disgusting scene as he carves them up and treats their intestines like several pounds of sausages) to the zombie hordes in order to distract them from his escape in the van. That lily-livered intellectual Joplin, spouting bits of the Bible and getting all Guardianista on the situation, backs up Patrick's escape but then, in a fit of Judgement Day resignation, opens the floodgates and practically gets everyone killed in a whirlwind of gunfire and zombie flesh eating. It is a very bleak conclusion, with Joplin and the rest of the BB inmates turned into zombies, Patrick torn to shreds (still shouting insults as his head gets ripped off) and poor Kelly trapped in the diary room. The last shots are of her leaving the room and then turning to camera, all white eyes and blood spattered mouth, and being transmitted to an audience of the living dead. Quite a downer but an apt statement on the 'me, me, me' generation not giving a fuck about the quiet little heroes who go about their business as well as a shot across the bows of the 'dead set' - reality programme makers, the bimbo contestants and the audiences that consume their famous for five seconds appearances on the telly. It's edited to within an inch of its life and uses that staccato, missing frames technique that's now as worn out as the desaturated colour palette. Visual cliches aside, it is a very moody, often scary series and one of the most violently, gory pieces of television ever made. Yet, whilst it tries to emulate classic scary TV like Ghostwatch it would have had an even greater impact if C4 had done this to the actual live Big Brother show. What a brain fuck that would have been! Good ratings too. Missed a trick there C4.

Dead Set website with images, video interviews and episode guide.

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2 Responses to “DEAD SET”
  1. Great review. Fabulous series, really bleak and downbeat ending - maybe a bit too bleak even for an avowed end-of-the-world fan like me! But a great bit of telly which really deseved better than a slot on E4.

  2. It was terrific, wasn't it! Very bleak as you say but I'm glad it ended like that as quite honestly if anyone had survived that zombie onslaught then it would have been a Hollywood-esque cop-out.

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