In The Flesh: Episode 1Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Episode 1
Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Broadcast on BBC Three, 17th March 2013
For what it’s worth, the BBC could be quite easily seen as rubbing salt in the wound for Being Human fans with In The Flesh, a budding supernatural drama broadcast over three Sundays this month to replace the Toby Whithouse-shaped, self-inflicted hole in BBC3’s post-watershed schedules. All the same, those more optimistic viewers amongst us who were open to giving this new drama a chance were in for quite a pleasant surprise on March 17th with a consistent opening instalment.

You’d have been forgiven for thinking this to be yet another under-budgeted and thus unambitious drama outing from BBC3, at least in the opening scenes at the partially-deceased institution. There was a worrying sense of identikit repetition in the set locales of this ‘zombie hospital’ that seemed to echo many of the filming locations of past shows such as The Fades which fell under the radar, and the age-old dramatic trait of opening the episode with a psychiatrist interview didn’t help, coming off as more of a faulty parody of Skyfall’s opening sequences than anything else. Once Luke Newberry’s empathetic undead protagonist Kieren departed the confines of the hospital with his folks, though, the episode began to venture into unexpected territory of a far higher televisual quality.

Part of what improved as the hour progressed was undoubtedly the character relationships explored by the script. Harriet Cains is a relative newcomer onto the scene, but as Kieren’s sister Jem she provided us with plenty of engaging material with a character whose loyalties are clearly divided by the knowledge of her brother’s suicide and an implied relationship with an Afghanistan soldier who Kieren convinced to fight on the battlefield. Visualising the concept of what would happen if someone returned from the brink of death to witness the consequences of their demise was likely the most attractive prospect of In The Flesh for the BBC, and if the writers of the show can continue to develop this emotional narrative arc in its remaining two instalments, then there’s plenty of potential for this series to progress into truly compelling viewing.

It’s a shame that a decent number of the cast don’t provide such solid performances as Cains, though. Ricky Tomlinson was clearly drafted over from his yearly appearances on the rapidly decaying The Royle Family Christmas specials, but his portrayal of a townsman who initially advocates the PDS system yet is revealed as hiding a dark secret is varied, not as a result of cunning scripting, rather due to the star’s seeming inability to maintain any focus on a layered emotional stance. This reviewer can handle a layered performance for a secretive character- Ewan McGregor’s role in the 2009 Dan Brown film adaptation Angels And Demons was a quintessential example of that- yet that honour doesn’t apply to Tomlinson’s role here. Marie Critchley and Steve Cooper aren’t exactly the world’s most realistic parents to Kieren here either, even if the situation the Walker family has found itself in is a rather unique one.

What’s perhaps most effective in Episode One is its rather gripping final set-piece. A thrilling twist on the domestic drama of the past hour, the moment when one of Roartan’s most loyal residents is revealed to be a member of the undead clan, only to have her brain matter promptly separated from the rest of her head, is extremely emotive for the viewer. Quickly, the second half of this opener hones in on the unnerving feeling of breached sanctity for Kieren, and again should this become a point of focus in the remaining two instalments then the series as a whole might leave a stronger final impact. Right now, writer Dominic Mitchell and director Jonny Campbell are simply treading the dangerous waters of decent fantasy drama when in reality, to have any hope of being recommissioned this show needs to inhabit a realm of television far greater than where it currently resides.

Let’s not end on a bitter note, though. In The Flesh at least has kicked off with a compelling first instalment, even if as a first episode it has little in the way of thrilling content to match what Being Human gave us in its final season premiere back in January. BBC3 are undoubtedly banking on this quite ambitious show as being their next ‘big thing’, and there’s certainly potential here for the cast to break through to just that scale of success. If the weight and gravitas of the dystopian-esque storylines can be furthered to a point of genuine thrills, then there’s a lot of hope for In The Flesh. If not, then Episode One can at worst be thought of as a less-than-mediocre way to spend one’s time on a Sunday evening.