Dead Set (2008 UK mini-series) review…

Dead Set (2008 UK mini-series) review after the break…

Dead Set (2008 UK mini-series) review…

I always find it both difficult and fascinating to watch the media from other cultures. It is, for instance, always easy to forget that somewhere else in the world, you are the one with the weird accent and funny customs and not the other way around.

It is difficult to grade such media because, quite frankly, the media wasn’t meant to be viewed by you. What’s funny in Russia might be taboo in Australia might be met with indifference in England. What’s scary in America might be too gross to watch in France might be met with indifference in China. Certainly, there is always room for overlap with such broad concepts as horror and comedy amongst significantly different cultures but there just isn’t that much. Something, inevitably, is always lost in the translation.

Yet it is also fascinating to watch how other cultures view comedy, horror, action, and tragedy. It is fascinating and with a little relief that even amongst significantly different cultures there are archetypes such as incompetent bosses, reckless drivers, hapless workers, kind strangers and inefficient bureaucracies to name just a few. It is so easy to forget that “the other side” is also human, that they make mistakes, that they laugh at their own obscure cultural references and waste time with trivial occupations like any other culture.

“Dead Set” is a 2008 mini-series from the United Kingdom that mixes that combines the zombie genre with a fictional reality television series. In the UK, the TV series “Big Brother” is a real show that’s also far more popular then it’s American counterpart. In the mini-series, a zombie outbreak occurs during the middle of one such season of the show, trapping the contestants of that show inside their closely-monitored house. A few employees and a former contestant also find their way into the house and soon they realize that they must both survive and escape before the zombie apocalypse swallows the house, and everyone inside of it, whole.

If there is a star of the show, it’s found in a young woman named Kelly. Kelly is a lowly employee who’s tasks range from copier work to fetching vanity supplies for employees and guests alike. Through luck and more then a bit of determination, she survives the initial zombie onslaught to seek refuge in the Big Brother house. Her boyfriend, Riq, is on his own voyage through the zombie apocalypse, briefly helped by an aggressive female survivor named Alex. Finally, an obnoxious television director named Patrick must settle his differences with an absent-minded former contestant named Pippa, at least enough in order to overcome their own zombie difficulties.

The mini-series is well produced; Special effects are no different then a movie and it could certainly be edited into one with little effort. Anyone afraid that the traditional European sensibilities concerning violence may rest assured that blood and gore flows just as steadily as in any other zombie offering of this type. Nudity, an aspect of European television that American networks traditionally shy away from, is also sprinkled into the production.

Despite the well-produced nature of the mini-series, though, one can’t help but ultimately feel a bit empty once the entire series has been viewed. A lot of the series involves a lot of build-up; The entire first episode is devoted towards simply getting the zombie apocalypse to occur and to ultimately push Kelly into the Big Brother house. The Odyssey of Riq, Kelly’s boyfriend, takes up a good chunk of the series. He hardly has time to catch his breath once he rejoins his girlfriend in the Big Brother house before the finale is set into motion.

I found it extremely ironic that, for a premise where reality television contestants endure fake contests, the actual production featured little in the way of having those contestants confront an actual challenge with real dangers. A contestant or two are killed off before the finale begins but the contestants are never in any cataclysmic danger until the final cast members are all assembled. There is, for instance, no real effort to escape besides a rushed effort at the very end. There are no real efforts to fortify the Big Brother house or to try and clear out the facility of zombies or, for that matter, contact someone on the outside despite being in a television studio facility. The three threads in the series are, literally: The Big Brother contestants sitting around, Riq trying to get to the Big Brother hosue and Patrick with the former contestant trying to get to the Big Brother house past the zombified television host.

I was somewhat disappointed that the character arc for Patrick, the obnoxious television director, was incredibly flat. Patrick never changes throughout the series – The zombie outbreak, to him, is just another inconvenience meant to be subdued by his berating attitude even after enduring the crisis around him. In fact, the series featured several characters who never really progressed in any arc – Joplin, who’s sad sack persona never rises to the reality of the situation; Grayson, the transgender contestant who also winces at the zombie reality even when it means certain death and Alex, who’s tough-as-nails persona is never allowed to soften considerably before a sudden demise.

Anyone expecting the final motley crew of survivors to endure a prolonged zombie attack or execute a sophisticated escape plan will be sorely disappointed. The series ends abruptly as a botched escape plan sends several survivors to their doom with the others receiving only a brief reprieve before also succumbing to the zombie apocalypse. This ending, in my opinion, is the major weak point of the series; The series takes so much time to assemble our survivors that they have no time to actually be a team. There’s no attempt in the series at a comprehensive plan for survival or an extended sequence involving escape. How ironic that the perfect conditions to create tension and stress in a Big Brother household yields precious little of that once the survivors are in place.

Dead Set is a mini-series that is mostly foreplay but very little payoff. Despite the production values, I found it frustrating that the mini-series never offered a genuine third act. Maybe that’s how they like their zombie productions over there. I don’t know. Like so many imported productions, something may have gotten lost in the translation along the way.

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