Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Dead Set pilot (E4)

I love Charlie Brooker. He is one of the country's finest culture/art/film/TV journalists. He introduced the UK to The Wire. He made the scathingly brilliant TV Go Home, featuring an early incarnation of Nathan Barley. He regularly destroys TV's sacred cows in his Screenburn column/Screenwipe TV show, so why is it that when he turns his hand to fiction, there is a little misfire. Much as Nathan Barley was spot-on, it was 3 years too late as the target conceit had moved on and evolved and the material hadn't moved on with it. It was spot-on for 3 years before it made it to the screens. Even having Chris Morris as the director didn't stop it from feeling a little dated. Dead Set too, with its Big Brother parody (continuing the 'idiot shall inherit the earth' theme that Brooker does so well) feels slightly uninspired and lazy, especially for Brooker. Fair enough he spends much of his Screenburn column relentlessly deconstructing and destroying reality television and its evils, but a Big Brother parody? Hasn't this been covered on every sketch show ever made, from Kevin Bishop to Adam and Joe 10 years ago to Graham Norton and Friday/Sunday/HappyDay Night Project. So, doing a Big Brother parody where the contestants are vulgar preening self-obsessed idiots and so are their puppet-masters behind the cameras, doesn't it feel old?

And zombies? In the last few years, we've seen reboots of the zombie franchise, George Romero nearing cameras again, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Doomsday- all parodies of the zombie genre of sorts. So what new does Charlie Brooker add?

I feel like I'm reviewing this with the same curled lip as Brooker would and for one second do I not doubt his genius. It's just, these were all the thoughts I had going into Dead Set.

First thing's first, the pilot is first half-slow, second half-frantic, it's surprisingly not that funny and there's little in the way of characterisation. But the feeling permeates that they had to get the Big Brother thing in there and out of the way quickly as that seems to be E4's big sell. Davina as a zombie. So, now they've managed to get the Big Brother parody out of the way, hopefully, episode 2 will pick up and develop potentially interesting characters and get more funny with lashing of gallows humour and lots more blood. It's surprising that it's not funny, especially seeing as it's being written by Charlie Brooker, a man renowned for being, well, funny. Jaime Winstone is the lead damsel in distress, who, if horror genre rules dictate, will have to become a strong independent woman quickly and save everyone's asses. The Big Brother contestants are suitable revolting and hopefully will suffer appropriate deaths. And while it's semi-funny to see Davina Mccall not take herself too seriously, the funniest joke comes in the form of a handicapped zombie frustrated with its inability to move. So, the rub is, there's no sense of foreboding, no real atmosphere and thus when the zombie attack comes, it comes with no sense of urgency or fright, and while this is fine, it lacks the gravitas of leaving our main players in any real sense of peril.

The first episode is alright. It's not great but it's a set-up, an in for what could be an interesting idea. Because even though Brooker was late with catching the zeitgeist in Nathan Barley, and he's late with catching the zomb-geist here, whatever he turns his hand to is usually solid. Nathan Barley was still brilliantly written and played out and the idiots did indeed inherit the earth. This has potential and I hope that over the next 4 days as it plays it, it will also pick up the pace, develop the characters and get some more zombie ass-kicking in there. Brooker usually knows what he's doing and only commits to something when he believes it to be ready, so I imagine he's deviously drawn in the wider masses with the Big Brother pastiche and will satisfy his die-hard fans with bigger pay-offs and subversive messages.

Dead Set microsite

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