In The Flesh: Episode 3Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 31 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Broadcast on BBC Three, 31st March 2013
Believe it or not, season finales can have a whiff of the undead about them - if a writer manages to get it right, then there's continual life evident for the show, but if they get it wrong, then equally that failure will inevitably keep coming back to haunt them. Judging by the uneven nature of the first two instalments of In The Flesh - episode one mediocre at best and episode two being good rather than great - the situation for the show's climax could have gone either way, yet thankfully the outcome has turned out for the better. This is unlikely to be anyone's personal pick for "Best TV Drama Of 2013", but there's certainly a marked improvement to leave a satisfying legacy here.

As difficult as it is to "point fingers", as it were, one inevitable contributory factor to the rise in quality has to be the early departure of Emily Bevan's Amy from the equation. Kieren's hunting partner was a rather irritating echo of Being Human's B-list guest characters last week, so for Amy Dyer to at least have a valiant departure in her journey to brighter pastures new was a neat resolution for Bevan's character. Perhaps some viewers would have preferred Amy to have had a more influential role in the proceedings of this episode - quite honestly, though, with everything going on in this breathtaking hour of drama, this reviewer feels that she could easily have been a detrimental distraction.

That's not to say that only the numerous characters who were written out in this final episode allowed for strong cast performances, however. There was always potential for Luke Newberry's protagonist Kieren to develop into a character of immense pathos and intellect, and writer Dominic Mitchell finally allowed Newberry this triumphant portrayal here. The performance was aided in no small measure by Harriet Cains' Jem Walker - whereas Jem proved to be a downright unrealistic narrative construct in the first two episodes, here her eventual familial instinct to protect those closest to her ensured that she became a far more compelling character. Everyone has a sibling relationship of some kind like Kieren and Jem's in their lives these days, be it through blood or work, so it became far easier to empathise with the actions of the younger of the two Walker teens this time around, again thanks to Mitchell placing compelling moral dilemmas right at the viewer's doorstep.

The episode's narrative was certainly more refined than its predecessors too. Whereas episodes one and two were at times layered in structural and emotional clichès that could often become tedious to watch play out again, this finale played on the viewers' expectations in far more innovative ways. Sure, most viewers would have seen Rick's heroic dismissal of his father's antagonism towards "rotters" coming, yet it seems safe to say that the portrayal of his father has been unpredictable enough that it wasn't clear what his next action would be. Of course, perhaps it was inevitable that the man who helped gun down an elderly lady in cold blood simply on the basis of her PDS condition would turn on anyone, regardless of their relationship to him, although that doesn't make Rick's demise and the reaction Kieren takes to it any less effective.

One wonders if Mitchell could have taken the drama one step further and had Kieren commit suicide once more to seal the deal for good, but that would perhaps have been a step too far, venturing into King Lear territory of murderous onslaught on the writer's part. Some shows have tried such violent finales in the past, and often the result has been something of a colossal backfire. Nevertheless, the brave return of The Royle Family's Ricky Tomlinson as Ken in revenge for his deceased wife was an effective narrative ploy that served the under-used actor well, again providing dignified and bold closure for a layered character.

Indeed, closure seems to naturally be at the heart of this final episode of In The Flesh. On a few rare occasions, that does work to the episode's detriment, so far as that particularly Kieren's mother Sue and his sister Jem only get a meaningful conclusion to their character arcs to a certain extent, merely reconciling with Kieren back at the house before Rick's funeral. Maybe it would have been impossible for Mitchell to give every one of his constructs the proper send-offs they deserved in the course of the final 15 minutes or so, yet those two just stood out as particularly strange omissions for me.

At the time of writing, this reviewer has yet to hear whether more of the show has been commissioned for broadcast in 2014, but judging by the silent and melancholic climactic shots of this conclusion, there’s a strong chance that the road will end here. If that is to be the case, then it's at least highly reassuring that we've concluded on such a high note in comparison to the quality level at which the season began. Over the course of these three weeks, BBC Three's latest supernatural drama has slowly but surely developed into a compelling series which at its end came close to rivalling even Being Human. A fortnight ago, I could never have predicted making such a positive statement regarding an episode of the show, yet I'm glad I stayed along for the ride throughout, given the fantastic pay-off.

Should the BBC elect to give us more In The Flesh, then this reviewer can happily confirm he'll be back without question to see it through its next season. Episode three was a stunning conclusion that packed just a few bare gripes, and such minor shortcomings that it feels almost churlish to pick up on them in comparison to the missteps the original episode made. It's the quintessentially British cast of little-known actors, the diverse direction, the domestic-yet-effective narratives and all the little inert charms of In The Flesh that eventually made it such a prime example of the potential for BBC Three as a channel. If we get anything more from the channel along these lines before 2013's out, then the Beeb may have to start reconsidering the areas to which it assigns its tight budget . . .




In The Flesh: Episode 2Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Broadcast on BBC Three, 24th March 2013
After a rather rocky start with its premiere episode last week, In The Flesh had a difficult job ahead of it convincing this reviewer to maintain interest in its second instalment. Thankfully, there's a lot of fresh material with compelling emotional dilemmas posed to the viewer in episode two. Far from recycling many of the tried-and-tested concepts of reintegration as the first episode did, this second outing proved far more convincing in its portrayal of the consequences of being undead.

The introduction of partially-alive army veteran Rick (David Walmsley) into the fold at Roarton was certainly a major contributory factor to the success of this week's episode. Indeed, Walmsley brought us perhaps the most realistic depiction of a human being's reactions to life beyond death out of the three lead stars, with Luke Newberry's Kieren and to some extent Emily Bevan's Amy appearing far more like broad stereotypical "zombies" in comparison. Viewers with relatives in the armed forces were certainly forced to contemplate how they themselves would react to such a revelation as Rick's partial survival, and pursuing this avenue inevitably meant that writer Dominic Mitchell struck stronger quality territory than anything referenced last week.

On top of that, the increased focus on those PDS sufferers still infected with the rabid nature of the 2009 riots enhanced the compelling narrative on show here. At first, it seemed as if we were just about to get yet another Dawn Of The Dead and 28 Days Later-esque portrayal of mindless, corrupt beasts in the zombies who sheltered in the woods, yet once the hunting team from Roarton appeared to dispatch these undead nightmares, things took a very interesting turn for the more diverse. Perhaps it was a tad obvious that Kieren would end up placing himself between Rick's rifle and the innocent infected child, but there was plenty of dramatic effect when young adult viewers were forced to consider what their own reaction would have been in such a harrowing situation.

Despite those narrative and character improvements for In The Flesh, though, there were still a number of crucial elements that worked to the episode's detriment. First and foremost, the appearance of Kieren's old hunting partner Amy Dyer onto the scene wasn't quite used to its fullest potential. Bevan's portrayal of the character felt over-exaggerated and thus unrealistic at best, and at worst the portrayal mirrored the nature of the character, feeling like a tiresome and needless inclusion in both Kieren's life and, indeed, the episode as a whole. It didn't help, either, that Harriet Cains wasn't on strong form as Kieren's sister Jem - while the antagonism that the character shows towards someone she truly believed dead is realistic to an extent, the lack of any meaningful confrontation in the Walker family to explain the effect that Kieren's demise has truly had meant that Jem's role here felt forced and unwarranted.

However, worse than those cast missteps was the general sense that there's still little in the way of a driving force for the show. Sure, we had a few more interesting developments in the story arc this week, and some smaller moments such as Ken's silent, depressive stare from the window of his home after his wife's murder were handled beautifully, but they didn't compensate enough for the fact that next week's finale will either have too much content to cover in an hour or will leave everything feeling rather unfinished. Perhaps the BBC has already covertly commissioned a second season of In The Flesh to allow more space for creative scope and further moral dilemmas, yet that seems quite a hopeful assumption to make in light of the scrapping of quality supernatural drama Being Human from BBC Three's future drama roster.

Indeed, it's difficult to know whether to leave the proverbial elephant-ghost in the room alone now, because time and time again, when it comes to evaluating the success of In The Flesh, there's a lingering sense that the fifth and final season of Toby Whithouse's finest drama that preceded this was far stronger in every sense. Were this quality margin to have been created by the fact that Being Human was further along the line, then it might be forgivable, yet really it boils down to the fact that the cast and narratives we're seeing here feel bare and insubstantial compared even with the opening season of the adventures at Honolulu Heights. Boy, did the first run of instalments for Mitchell, George, and Annie have its fair share of missteps along the way, yet it remained a consistently charming and lovable series throughout, and that sense of innovation and charm feels worryingly absent in the case of this would-be successor.

Make no mistake - In The Flesh's second episode was leaps and bounds ahead of its immediate predecessor in just about every department, which was at least a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, there's still plenty of work to be done if the writer and his production team want their finale to leave anywhere near the kind of satisfying legacy that Being Human did. Perhaps the miracle will occur, perhaps not - either way, this reviewer can credit episode two with being a compelling-enough watch to prompt followers to stay tuned for the final episode.




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.




Being Human: The Last BroadcastBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

The Last Broadcast
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Daniel O'Hara
Broadcast on BBC Three, 10th March 2013
It could have all gone so wrong. Even equipped with the disheartening knowledge that his show wouldn't return after this year, writing a meaningful final season and indeed overall finale for Being Human couldn't have been a simple prospect for Toby Whithouse. We only need to look at the divisive nature of Merlin's final episodes that aired over Christmas, sticking to their established Arthurian lore to the point of pure anger from fans demanding a positive conclusion, to get a glimpse of the kind of pitfalls that can surround a modern drama's climactic moments.

Yet just as Whithouse, his production team, and the cast defied this reviewer's expectations with a truly sensational return to form in the season premiere, a host of varied and mostly innovative episodes - and above all, a brilliant Trinity ensemble to replace the original trio of Annie, Mitchell, and George - with The Last Broadcast they have once again managed to beat the odds and create a virtually perfect climax to this five-year saga. It's difficult to imagine a more confident and successful end than this, and given the missteps that this BBC3 supernatural drama has made on occasion along the way, that's a staggering achievement.

Rather than entering into an investigation of the proverbial Satantic elephant in the room at the end of this review, it's better to deal with it right from the off. Yes, Whithouse cunningly riffed on none other than Christopher Nolan's Inception with the ambitious narrative of this instalment, playing with the perception of the characters and their situation on the part of the viewer in a manner that few could have anticipated. The final shot that pans to recap memorable iconography from the last five years, property of the original trio included, is beautifully handled, yet it's with the reprisal of the origami "wolf" motif from Tom's dreams that infers a darker fate for the Trinity than what's presented at surface level. Did Alex, Hal, and Tom really defeat Hatch, or did the century-old vampire give the game away to his greatest foe when he scoffed at the "mistake" that the Devil had made in his offers?

In many ways, it would be pointless to start such a debate again here, as I'm sure that fans already have their own take on the matter. It's this ambiguity, though, this uncertain epitaph to a constantly expectation-defying show that makes its denouement such a ground-breaking success for the drama genre. It would have been easy enough for Whithouse to settle with a definitive sense of closure as did Merlin, Robin Hood, and other recent BBC dramas to mixed results, so this decision is to my mind a far more bold and creative approach that other production teams should take heed of in the near future.

This wasn't the only strength of Broadcast though, quite the opposite. In fact, there were few overall limits to the quality of this masterpiece of a finale. Every member of the cast was once again on staggering form, with Kate Bracken, Damien Molony, and Michael Socha all shining as per usual at the helm, along with Phil Davis's crazed yet calculating Hatch and Stephen Robertson's resigned yet (seemingly) redeemed Mr Rook holding their own magnificently. The surprise of returning appearances from Ellie Kendrick as Allison and Gordon Kennedy as Alex's dad was certainly a welcome one too, solidifying the power of nostalgic odes to days gone by for this half-decade-spanning series.

The narrative structure itself was another masterstroke in Whithouse's strive to defy the expectations of the viewer here. Again, it would have been all too easy for Being Human's executive producer to simply spend 50 minutes with Alex and Tom attempting to redeem Hal before an inevitable confrontation with the Devil that placed the "good guys" on the top of the podium once more, and thus the writer's choice to spend over half the running time (or three-quarters, depending on the viewer's response to the final shot) in the dreams and past lives of the Trinity worked wonders. Perhaps this approach was meant as a testament to the quirky and off-the-wall nature of the show as a whole, or perhaps it was simply employed by Whithouse as a get-out clause from a straight action-packed finale - indeed, the strains on BBC Three's budget were plain to see in one of the most calm and insubstantial portrayals of the apocalypse yet. Either way, this manner of presenting the conclusion was just as daring as any of the show's other recent twists, and this reviewer hopes that the forthcoming new BBC Three fantasy drama In The Flesh attempts to shock and defy expectations to a similar degree.

Of course, in mentioning the channel's next attempt to tackle fantasy drama, set to broadcast its first episode next Sunday in the same timeslot, I've reached the inevitable loss that BBC Three has forced upon itself by cancelling Being Human. In spite of some of the growing pains and transitional difficulties that have faced it during its five years on air, Whithouse's most ambitious series has become a true cult hit with its growing fan base, and its absence from the TV schedules come 2014 will be one I reckon will hit the channel harder than it can possibly imagine. Recent cult successes such as The Fades and Doctor Who Confidential suffered much the same fate at the hands of BBC Three controller Zai Bennett and the channel's other execs, with immediate fan backlash in both departments likely causing more harm to BBC Three's reputation than was thought probable, a turn of events that is likely to repeat itself in this instance and certainly won't leave the head honchos with much of a leg to stand on at this point.

Let's not conclude on a bitter note, though. By informing Whithouse of its decision to axe Being Human before he began writing the fifth season, the BBC at least gave this talented sci-fi and fantasy writer the chance to pen the perfect conclusion to his half-decade pet project. Through the years we've followed Mitchell, George, Annie, Hal, Tom, and Alex on their adventures, a journey that this reviewer can safely say has been an especially worthwhile and rewarding one for those viewers who got hooked in its early stages. There will always be a sense of bitter-sweet melancholy surrounding the trail of thought on what Being Human could have become in one such “"alternative" world (as Hatch named those dream spaces) where The Last Broadcast wasn't the end. However, to spend our time lamenting BBC Drama's latest gross financial mistake would be to do a disservice to those dedicated actors, writers, and producers who have spent five years making the world of Sunday-night entertainment a better place, more than predictable period dramas such as Call The Midwife and Mr Selfridge ever could.

Few dramas these days manage to curtail their final season with such vigour, such aplomb, and such enthusiasm surrounding their central cast and arc narratives - in that respect, we as fans can remain ever grateful to Whithouse and the production team for providing a fittingly ambiguous denouement to leave that much-needed impactful legacy for The Greater Good. To paraphrase a certain Girl Who Waited, this was the spell-binding story of Being Human, and The Last Broadcast was how it ended.




Being Human: No Care, All ResponsibilityBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

No Care, All Responsibility
Written by Sarah Dollard
Directed by Daniel O'Hara
Broadcast on BBC Three, 3rd March 2013
These days, it's perhaps valid to wonder whether the art of television promotion has been its own worst enemy in terms of the realm of spoilers. Indeed, when it comes to an episode such as No Care, All Responsibility, it's difficult for those fans such as this reviewer who've kept a watch on the BBC's official synopses for each episode not to enter their viewing of it with a degree of confidence because of the premise of this final season of Being Human's finale already having been released online. Nevertheless, No Care practically thrives on both this foreknowledge and indeed the naivety of viewers who don't keep up with the BBC's press releases, providing us with possibly the single most captivating adventure since the show began.

So what core element of this week's instalment ensures it's such a bona fide supernatural hit? Once again, the glory falls down to the superb guest cast- just as Colin Hoult's Crumb became an extremely empathetic anti-hero in The Greater Good, so too does Steven Robertson's Mr Rook verge into a more realistic strain of portrayal this time around. Rook's struggle to fight for that same much-vaunted "greater good" as the world comes to chaos is masterfully handled, especially when the strain of this inner conflict is exemplified by the introduction of Natasha into the mix. If those fans who loved the chemistry between Rook and his young apprentice want to see a resolution to their relationship beyond the grave, then there's a fantastic official exclusive scene on the Being Human blog that does just that. This, in tandem with his portrayal in the episode, provides further proof that British stars such as Robertson will be in sore need of rediscovery once the series has reached its ultimate climax this coming Sunday.

As per usual, Phil Davis lends a layered portrayal to his Captain Hatch here, with his character clearly building the powers he needs to step back into the human world and take control. Tweeters nationwide seemed to jump and cry out in unison as Hatch launched at Alex and sent her below the Earth to join her corpse, testament to both the fear factor Davis can enable and indeed to the mastery which the production team can now command in their horror generic allusions. All that I will say on the matter of Davis's Satan-incarnate is that what with The Last Broadcast set to mark his final appearance, it would be great to see this actor allowed to stretch his talents into a battle beyond the competition to wear the best bowler hat at the funeral teased in the "Next Time" trailer for the conclusion.

It would be impossible to move any further, though, without praising Michael Socha as one of the defining highlights of this penultimate adventure. Whereas Damien Moloney and Kate Bracken were to some extent left to "tread old ground" that their predecessors' characters Mitchell and Annie covered in Series Three, Socha was truly given his moment in the spotlight in his interaction with Kathryn Prescott's Natasha. The development of this contained character arc was beautifully handled; making Tom's transformation back into the vampire-killer that his father bred was a completely believable situation. The odds that Tom and Hal will remain mutual adversaries beyond the halfway point of the finale seem rather unlikely, yet the initial vampire-werewolf conflict that will no doubt brew between them in the early stages of the impending climax will be compelling to watch.

Generally, this would be the part of the review where I'd lament one or two shortcomings that held the episode back from greatness. As difficult as it is to believe, though, this reviewer is struggling to come up with much in the way of negative content to discuss here. Pretty much every performance from both regular and guest cast members is top-notch stuff, the direction and visual effects are spectacular, and the narrative does a fantastic job of playing on expectations in its build towards the end. It turns out that in the case of No Care, All Responsibility, it's not just "He" (Hatch) who will rise, but Being Human too, rising into the lofty ranks of the best episodes that this supernatural drama has provided us with yet. Here's hoping that The Last Broadcast keeps up this sterling quality level, because if so, the series will go out on a true high.