Dead Set, the BAFTA-nominated zombie outbreak miniseries created by Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror), spanned 5 episodes and aired on the UK channel E4 in 2008.
Starring Riz Ahmed, Jaime Winstone and Andy Nyman, among others, the story begins at – and largely centres on – the Big Brother house, with a fictional set of new housemates occupying the screens to a rabid and adoring public. It is an eviction night. We follow the production of the show from behind the scenes, with ruthlessly crass and fiendishly arrogant producer Patrick (an unforgettable character, played faultlessly by Nyman) calling the shots and bossing his “minions” around like brainless slaves.
As the contestants discuss who is likely to be ousted this week from within the comfortable isolation of the Big Brother house, we are shown that there have been widespread reports of escalating violence, rioting and mayhem throughout the country.
With this pending situation bubbling away unbeknownst to the housemates, contestant Pippa is evicted live on air. The heaving crowd goes wild. However, as Pippa celebrates her 15 minutes of fame, things take a sudden and major turn for the absolute worst; the world has been changed all in the blink of a lifeless, greying eye.
Such a clever and imaginable introduction is merely the tip of the iceberg for this delightfully cynical and meta horror-comedy gem, and it’ll have you in stitches or cowering under the blankets (or both, simultaneously) throughout its brief yet pointed run. There are several apt and inter-related themes prevalent, driving the story at all times. The main ones revolve around the fact that humanity can be as monstrous unto itself as any of our real or imagined fears, and that living in a bubble of perceived sanctuary means very little once plasma starts flying out arterial valves!
Within the blood-splattered terror, fun and sharp politicising, Dead Set also tells its own crooked tale of the power of love, challenges the viewer to side with dreadful people who are making rational decisions in the direst of situations, and forces you to think long and hard about what kind of person you’d become in such a catastrophic and mind-boggling reality.
The show has scarcely aged, aside from the inclusion of the now archaic mobile flip-phones and a singular reference to MySpace. It stands the test of time by focusing on key themes of humanity, and crafts its characters delicately and deftly amidst the crimson carnage. It is via this development of character that it truly wins out, and here is why…
The Walking Dead is an extremely popular show, and obviously warrants comparison given its primary subject matter and the comparatively gigantic viewership it commands. As a once zombie fanatic, I was pumped to watch The Walking Dead… and was so let down by it. I chugged along with it for almost 5 seasons of repetitive, skeletal storylines that were born not of the situation at hand – that of a global zombie outbreak, lest we forget – but of the most base level of drama stereotypes and plot shells. The zombification of its universe is largely a secondary, background note for the way in which its stories and characters are developed and told, meaning that the show could essentially exist without it.
Comparatively, Dead Set is a taut and provocative show that uses zombies expertly, propelling the development of the stories and characters it portrays, and that is one of the largest reasons why it was such a critical success.
Dead Set is a thrilling, eye-popping show that dares the viewer to ask some unsettling questions of themselves whilst it throttles them about the place with an intentionally mashed up and uneven blend of blood, guts, laughs and distress. Highly recommended.