Review: “DEAD SET”

Posted by Peter Hall - November 9th 2008 @ 8:48 am

Created by Charlie Brooker, 2008

“DEAD SET” may be one of my favorite horror productions of 2008 if only because it would never exist in the United States.  Shot, cast and set largely in and around the “BIG BROTHER” house in England, “DEAD SET” is a five part miniseries chronicling a zombie apocalypse whose eve coincides with the latest eviction ceremony on the ailing British reality show.  Those on the inside have no knowledge of the mayhem approaching their surreal walls until a few surviving producers of the show are forced to lock themselves in the studio while the undead world rages away around them.

When I first heard about “DEAD SET”, I assumed it was inspired by a segment in Max Brook’s brilliant WORLD WAR Z in which a hot shot producer lets celebrities stay at his house, airing footage of their day-to-day life for the rest of the plaguing world to see.  I was surprised to discover that the Charlie Brooker masterminded event is nothing of the sort.  There is no notion that TV addicted couch potatoes would spend their final days watching other people attempt to survive on “BIG BROTHER”.  Yes, it is a wry dissection of reality programming, but Brooker’s higher agenda is to tell a survivor’s story with all the instruments of his trade:  The attention craving dingbats of reality TV, vulgar, power crazy producers, fans of the show, low level production assistants and anyone else in their orbit.

It’s a unique setting to say the least, which is the first contributor to its non-Hollywood roots.  I can’t imagine any US reality show (which oddly enough are almost all based on British originators) granting permission to transform not only its brand, but the actual sets into as blood soaked an event as “DEAD SET” is.  No network, broadcast or cable, would have the balls to pull this off.  More impressive still, one would have to go to a premium network in the US to find programming this gory and yet Brooker’s aired first on E4 and then Channel 4 in the UK.  For those unfamiliar with British broadcasting, imagine if Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD took over NBC prime time for a week straight.  Imagine if instead of edits the gore was turned to 11.  Imagine character diatribes that would seem crass on an episode of “DEADWOOD”.

That is precisely why I cannot imagine “DEAD SET” – or anything like it – ever originating in the United States.

Most of the cast is unfamiliar to me, which only adds to the enjoyment.  All of the roles read appropriate, especially the aforementioned reality TV dingbats.  Standing high above them all, however, is Andy Nyman.  He of the great SEVERANCE, the only actor I was familiar with, eschews his nerdy persona in favor of the abusive “BIG BROTHER” producer on ten espressos and four lines of coke.  The man disappears into the role, at times making Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen look like LeVar Burton.  I could recommend all combined 180 minutes on Nyman’s performance alone.

It’s flawed, of course.  “DEAD SET” does not arrive on the wings of angels, but it definitely is riding on the back of some breed of mythological horse.  Sadly, the zombies run, which we all know they should never do.  While looking up info I stumbled across Simon Pegg’s loquacious review of the show.  I highly recommend the read in full, but I must pluck a brief glimpse at his disdain for reanimated track stars:

“More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.”

Ah, Simon Pegg, how awesome thee are.

So yes, the zombies are all up in the proverbial grill all the time.  Unfortunate, but I’ve learned to deal with its all too common presence these days.  Running aside, Brooker does a great job of placing his characters in dire situations or, better yet, allowing his characters to break their meta-characters when push comes to shove.  When everyone realizes their fifteen minutes of fame are up and the shit has hit the fan, “DEAD SET” is aces.  [They say aces in England, right?  Sounds like something they would.]

I wish a network in the US would have the protein to approach something as bold and grotesque as “DEAD SET”, but I’m nary an optomist.  Which is why I give more heft to the production.  It is an oddity to me, an amalgamation of ingredients that exist outside of the homeland.  And as we all should know by now, I love me an oddity.  I’m sure a region 1 DVD will be available in the states at some point.  Normally I would not push for an import unless the product was truly landmark, but with the dollar gaining strength every day Amazon.co.uk’s set for about $22 is not unreasonable.

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rss 6 comments
  1. November 9th, 2008 | 11:36 pm | #1

    Feel free to pick me up a copy during your travels. I’m good for it.

  2. PT
    December 3rd, 2008 | 7:21 am | #2

    No, we don’t say aces.

    I write up a review of it on MoFo, glad you liked it. Was quite a shock that 4 commissioned an uncharacteristically brutal show. Think the one bother i had with it was recognising a couple of the actors. However, i thought Andy Nyman was too much and stood apart from the diegetic.

  3. December 3rd, 2008 | 9:52 pm | #3

    Admit it, PT, you say aces.

  4. Richard
    January 8th, 2009 | 7:27 am | #4

    Interesting to get a perspective from across the pond. I agree, Andy Nyman was hilariously offensive. Fast Zombies? They must say something about the age we live in – we even want our shuffling metaphors for approaching death to hurry up and get on with it.

    I’m a Brit and I say things are ace quite a lot. I may even have pluralised it once or twice…

  5. VastSlug
    January 8th, 2009 | 7:20 pm | #5

    Just finished the last episode on channel 4. It was f**king ace. :)

  6. christina
    January 3rd, 2011 | 8:55 pm | #6

    Is that the end? I want more! It was awesome!!!

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