Dead Set

12705-535095Big Brother: like it or not, for over the last decade the reality show has become a cultural phenomenon and primetime hit viewing in almost 70 countries across the globe.

For 3 months a year in the UK, our TV screens, office gossip and gutter press seemingly come under siege, as a panel of everyday nobodies are turned into pseudo celebrities, their fifteen minutes of fame milked for every last drop as they “bare their souls” to the viewing public, then further to the tabloids upon eviction, usually with the female ex-housemates baring everything else for Nuts or Zoo magazine shortly thereafter.

It is essentially a rather low and abhorrent form of so called entertainment; having been at the centre of race rows and coming under fire from mental health charities on more than one occasion. So what is the public’s fascination with the programme? Why do viewers enjoy watching a group of talentless nobodies argue, smoke, sleep and repeat for weeks on end, as they’re shut in an enclosed house, slowing revealing their dementia and collective bigotry as they ultimately turn upon each other?

It is my personal opinion that commonly, people – especially the Great British public, enjoy not only to people watch, but to be able to openly judge, criticise and generally hold in contempt… well, pretty much everybody else really. To a lesser or greater degree Big Brother has created an outlet for this mindset – a format where the mindless Joe public can stand in judgement over other members of the mindless Joe public.

This of course leaves plenty of room for the show to be criticised, parodied and satirised, which is where a show like Dead Set comes into play.

On the surface, Dead Set could be seen as just another footnote in the wave of zombie culture we’ve witnessed in the last few years since 28 Days Later, and I’m sure to some the mini-series is little more than a made for TV Shaun of the Dead. The show is however just as much about cultural satire and is a more accomplished work than simply riding the wave of popular zombie culture. Crude, cynical and yet amusingly effective – this pretty much sums up the show, as it does most of the work of its writer, journalist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker.

As with most zombie outings, the premise is very simple; it’s the usual format of a zombie plague with the unburied dead and their victims returning to life for a human flesh chow-down. Throw into this typical scenario the blissfully unaware Big Brother household – Britain is going to hell in a hand basket, but from their oblivious world view, their biggest concern is viewer ratings and that people are still watching them. That is until reality comes crashing in on eviction night in the form Kelly (Jaime Winstone of Kidulthood and Donkey Punch), a backstage runner on the show.

Things are thrown into further disruption with the arrival of the show’s obnoxious producer, Patrick (Andy Nyman of Dead Babies), who uses rifts in the group to gain an upper hand and form an unlikely allegiance with Joplin (comedian Kevin Eldon), the house’s unlikable geeky pervert character.

As the Housemates adapt to their rapidly deteriorating situation the rather unsubtle analogies soon start to flow… as the “mindless, braindead zombie masses” clamour for their “pound of flesh”, who will survive and what will be left of the contestants – after they’ve torn each other to shreds.

Clearly the level of social commentary shouldn’t need too much clarification for even the most vapid of idiot box viewer, and for those who enjoy their gut-munchers wet, bloody and filled with flying intestines, you won’t be disappointed. Notable scenes of housemates being decapitated to feed the zombies hordes, a zombie trapped in a hot tub and an homage to a certain gorey death from Day of the Dead should sate even the most bloodthirsty of zombie fiend’s appetites.

Amongst the carnage we have UK Big Brother presenter, Davina McCall, playing herself being turned into a zombie, who feasts upon Eugene Sully of Big Brother 5. Alongside cameos from other former Housemates, there’s also appearances from Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Charlie Brooker himself appearing as a zombie.

Nominated for a “Best Drama Serial” Bafta, Dead Set was originally broadcast as five episodes on the UK’s E4 channel over Halloween week 2008 and was later repeated in January 2009 on Channel 4, reformatted into three hour-long episodes. This Madman DVD release appears in the same format as the original five episodes.

Gorey, cynical, downbeat and satirical, Dead Set is more effective than most British genre cinema of late and is certainly more entertaining than 99% of the shows broadcast on UK TV these days – if only Channel 4 invested more in this type of show than Hollyoaks and re-runs of Friends.

  • Interviews with writer Charlie Brooker and director Yann Demange
  • Behind the scenes
  • Special FX
  • On set with Dead Set
  • Deleted and extended scenes

Review by Matt Black.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

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