In The Flesh Season Two Episodes 3-6Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 July 2014 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton
In spite of the various risks involved with extending the length of its run second time around, In the Flesh still managed to flourish during the opening two instalments of its second full season. There’s no denying that Dominic Mitchell’s screenplays for these initial episodes lacked some of the spark and wit demonstrated by his contributions to Season One, yet promise was still clearly exhibited by the remarkable performances of the central cast and the increasingly prominent plot arc regarding the First Risen and the looming influence of exterior forces such as the Undead Prophet (though he’s still curiously absent from a physical perspective by the end of the series) on Roarton.

Did the four concluding outings of the fantasy drama which aired on May 18th, May 25th, June 1st and June 8th provide a thrilling send-off for what could be argued as one of the most anticipated runs of fantasy drama this year, or did they merely fulfil our hopes to the same disheartening extent as the England team ‘achieved’ recently at the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, leaving the show in a purgatorial state in the midst of BBC Three’s impending digitalization akin to Roy Hodgson’s managerial contract? It’s high time that we find out the truth…

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Produced by Ann Harrison Baxter
Broadcast on BBC Three 18th May 2014
Episode Three

Or “the one where Kieran suddenly acts upon his unspoken romantic attraction towards Simon” (oh, and spoiler alert, if you hadn’t already guessed).

For obvious reasons (not least that the season’s tone took an unexpectedly abrupt turn for the better as a result), many viewers will have left the instalment which marked the halfway point of Season Two with only the memory of Kieran and Simon’s commencement of a hidden sexual relationship behind the back of the latter’s soon-to-be fiancée. This reviewer hopes that, in a day and age where our society should and largely does strive to promote and maintain equal rights for all regardless of their sexuality, the impact of this latest personal revelation came as a shock more as a result of the lack of foregrounding in Episodes 1 and 2 (indeed, watching both instalments over again, there’s very little evidence in the screenplay or the direction of direct foreshadowing of this moment) rather than any hostility towards the nature of the coupling for the vast majority of viewers. More importantly, however, Mitchell did successfully prove in the latter half of the run that this wasn’t a game-changing scene which he had thrown in for the sake of adding further controversy and/or credibility to a series which has often been overlooked due to the universal recognition of its competitors such as Game of Thrones (by far its most prominent rival this Spring).

For Mitchell to divert the viewer’s attention almost totally away from the show’s regular protagonist for the majority of Episode 3’s running time was naturally just as risky a move as the end-of-episode cliff-hanger, if not moreso, yet as has been the case with so many other choices enacted by its writer, directors and cast members, In the Flesh only benefits from the audacity of his latest narrative. Over the course of the hour or so we spend in the company of himself and his brilliantly realized family, Freddie Preston (Bryan Parry) is converted from a lacklustre background player to a compelling protagonist in his own right, partly thanks to Parry’s realistic portrayal of a resurrected young adult struggling to cope with witnessing his ex-girlfriend in the midst of her having found a romantic substitute (in the guise of none other than An Adventure in Space and Time’s Sacha Dhawan, who’s on top form here) but largely thanks to Jim O’Hanlon’s superb direction of the refreshingly intimate domestic set-pieces which occur as anti-PDS tensions reach an all-time high for several citizens of Roarton. If these elements of this surprisingly standalone piece of drama had fallen short of the benchmark set by previous instalments, Episode 3 could quite easily have been the weakest entry of Season Two, but since they go so far as to match and top much of the series’ prior output, the episode ultimately ends up as one of the highlights of the show’s output so far.

Written by Fintan Ryan
Directed by Damon Thomas
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three 25th May 2014
Episode Four

Or “the one where Kieren loses his temper at a family dinner”.

Credit should be given where it’s due to both Dominic Mitchell and stars Luke Newberry and Steve Cooper for successfully drawing out the ongoing story arc of Kieren and Steve Walker’s ever-turbulent character dynamic over the course of not one, but one and a half seasons before bringing it to a satisfying climax (of sorts, anyway). Whilst it wasn’t a major shock to witness Kieren lashing out (with good reason, we might add) at his father and his sister for laughing at the troublesome Gary’s accounts of his zombie-hunting days and subsequently begrudging their respective brother and son for offering up a similarly earnest retrospective on his time as a crazed PDS sufferer, the sense of the inevitability of their confrontation was so tangible that the scene in which it occurred will doubtless be remembered as utterly exhilarating despite (or thanks to) its intimacy, with Simon’s gradual comprehension of Kieren’s supposed status as the First Risen only strengthening the dramatic impact of the sequence overall.

An enduring strength of In the Flesh is its confidence in prioritizing more subtle moments of drama than action- or horror-themed set-pieces, presumably out of respect to those cinematic fantastical productions which possess a larger budget to provide the latter generic tropes in full force on the big-screen. Rarely has this approach worked to its detriment, and indeed, the lingering medium close-up shot of an all-too-clearly degraded undead prostitute who seems to contemplate her harrowing life choices shortly before hooking up once more with town counsellor Philip represents a fine example of an instance in which the programme has become empowered by its smaller moments rather than restrained in any way, shape or form by them. The more that Mitchell places emphasis on sequences such as these rather than simply broadening the naturally dense mythology of the show, the more he reminds this reviewer of the series’ potential to go far should it be offered a third lease of life on BBC One, BBC Two or the iPlayer-esque revised version of BBC Three in the not too distant future.

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Alice Troughton
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three 1st June 2014
Episode Five

Or “the one where Amy begins to regain human qualities in a rain-soaked shelter”.

Considering that the show’s original trio of scripts were laden with shocking moments, Season Two has been comparatively light on major revelations regarding its central players, with one substantial exception to the rule – that of Amy’s supposed transformation from a charming PDS temptress to a charming human temptress, albeit one whose influence upon her newfound peers is remarkably short-lived as a result of the events of the run’s finale. Not since last year either has Emily Bevan contributed (or been offered the opportunity to contribute in terms of screen-time) such a spellbinding performance as she does in the penultimate chapter of the 2014 series, nor has her character received such a notable development in the trajectory of her arc since her inception. Mitchell and company would be absolute fools to leave Bevan behind come Season Three, and something tells me that the final moments of both Episodes 5 and 6 will hold the key to the exposition of why and how Amy strides back across the valley of death into the land of the living for a second time.

As rare as it is for up-and-coming dramas such as this one to attempt to mimic literary greats in their initial screenplays, this reviewer couldn’t help but notice that the mock trial sequence in which Kieren is accused of a crime he could not possibly have committed by local counsellors in a school’s sports hall mirrored King Lear in all but the tragic implications upon the protagonist’s ongoing character arc (and given Mitchell’s evident capacity for killing off beloved constructs, I wouldn’t go so far as to even put Kieren’s eventual permanent demise past him). Just as Lear and the Fool seem to fully comprehend the hilariously ludicrous nature of their interrogation of a wooden chair named ‘Gonerill’, so too do Kieren and his family appear to know how absurd the accusations which are laid before the former are, only for Steve to ignore the evidence and to join the rally of Roarton citizens demanding for his son’s return to a laborious PDS clinic outside of their town’s boundaries.

In a similar vein to many other ongoing, multi-season dramas, I’d wager that the penultimate episode of Season Two is in fact superior to the instalment which brings proceedings to a climax, its supremely subversive revelations regarding its main characters and its potential allusions to literary classics ensuring that events in Roarton couldn’t possibly be any more captivating eight hours in.

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Alice Troughton
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three 8th June 2014
Episode Six

Or “the one where Amy dies and everything changes”.

Now, get out of that one! Evidently taking notes from Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ Doctor Who and Sherlock scripts, Mitchell masterminds an ambitious balancing act of resolving key narrative threads and laying fundamental foundations for the potential arc and structure of Season Three in Episode 6, and for the most part, the overall pay-off for the 300,000-strong viewership is immensely rewarding, even if the script can hardly be said to work efficiently as a dramatic entity in isolation. As I’ve said already, there’s virtually no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that Amy will appear in some form or another if and when the series is resurrected (get it?) for a third run, but that semi-foreknowledge doesn’t take away the gravitas of her (temporary or otherwise) departure here or any of the other climactic sequences which come to pass before the credits roll on Season Two.

By the very nature of its death-ridden genre, the show’s tone has generally resembled that of a dystopian narrative in its overriding negativity and pessimism surrounding human nature and our tendency to reduce those individuals who we don’t fully understand to the state of Grendel-esque ‘Other’ creatures with next to no genuine civil rights within society. With that being said, Episode 6 is very much an instalment which thrives on its tonal contrasts, mainly due to its opening with an uncharacteristically jovial sequence depicting two of Amy’s PDS-treating doctors discussing their potentially beneficial plans for the character in a roadside café to the backdrop of the Christian hymn “Morning Has Broken”. Just as Amy’s weirdly charming crazy golf tournament with Philip briefly dispelled many of the displayed tensions present in an earlier instalment this season, so too does this moment (amongst others) enable Mitchell to inject a little humour (however brief or contradictory to the overall tone of the episode) into his screenplay. That “Morning Has Broken” is played again later in the episode even allows it to take on the guise of a recurring aural motif, signalling the dawn of a new day in Roarton and, with Amy’s potential emergence as the First Risen (though this particular revelation is poorly handled so far as accessibility, with Bevan and Mitchell only really necessarily clarifying the matter after the episode’s broadcast), perhaps a future period of tranquillity where humans and PDS patients (who themselves may one day revert to their original human state) can live in harmony without trying to slaughter one another every other day.

The future doesn’t seem so bright for Roarton’s current MP Maxine Martin, though, since the character was essentially reduced to the role of a murderous psychopath this time around, bringing five weeks of careful scheming to an oddly abrupt climax as she revealed (again, somewhat uncharacteristically) the true motivation behind her arrival in the town. Of all the new character arcs established in this formidable second run, Maxine’s has been by far the weakest, and it’s thus fitting that the resolution to this long-dangling plot thread comes as just as much of a sudden and tonally inconsistent shift as the construct’s introductory scenes did way back in Episode 1. In future, Mitchell might well be advised to stick to the current residents of Roarton rather than newcomers, since barring Simon, the head writer seems to be far more assertive (when it comes to substantial emotive developments) when utilizing the central players of the original season to enhanced dramatic effect.

That said, to conclude on a somewhat condescending note would be remiss and do a severe injustice to the immensely talented production team behind this ever-ambitious drama. In the Flesh may still lack the blockbuster-riffing bombast of Game of Thrones and the kid-friendly humour of BBC One’s Atlantis, but that hasn’t stopped its second season from equalling both of those beloved TV fantasy franchises in terms of both scale and merits. Improvements can still most certainly be implemented between now and Season Three (as I mentioned in my original review of Episode 1, “a lot can change in a year”!), of course, but Dominic Mitchell, the cast and the crew should all be extremely proud of their achievements, especially in light of BBC Three’s current (rather apt) purgatorial situation. Fittingly for a programme which thrives on its basic premise of human resurrection, In the Flesh has never felt more alive than it does here, and to that end, the BBC might as well consign themselves to an early grave should they elect to start axing such compelling and relevant dramas as this one.

FILTER: - In The Flesh

In The Flesh - Series 2 - Episode 2Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 May 2014 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jim O'Hanlon
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three, 11th May 2014
In increasing the episode count of their second season twofold, the In the Flesh writing team must have realised early on in the drafting process that the expansion would come at the cost of the more concise, tightly-woven narrative which made their original run such an instant success with its viewership. As pleasant as it is to be following the exploits of Kieran and the gang in Roarton for a further six hours, it’s simultaneously difficult to deny that some of the inevitable negative ramifications of the enhanced running time are beginning to come to light two weeks in, and coming to such a realization after having praised Season One to the high heavens (and beyond, given the death-transcending nature of the supernatural genre) was a melancholic moment for this reviewer.

Where should the blame lie for the gradual yet unequivocally notable drop in quality, then? Perhaps the metaphorical finger should be thrust in the direction of Dominic Mitchell, whose handling of the character who was seemingly intended to take centre-stage in his second script of the run is underwhelming to say the very least. Much as Harriet Cains visibly does her utmost to enrich her portrayal of Jem Walker during the additional screen time she is afforded this time around, the structure of Mitchell’s screenplay is such that her construct’s overall role in proceedings from a causal perspective (barring the episode’s tonally consistent yet somehow jarring climactic moments) is minimal.

Far from enabling progress for her previously compelling character arc, the vast majority of Cains’ dialogue depicts Jem as a walking cliché, whereby she appears to drop all loyalties towards her sibling at the moment she gains attention at school and in doing so reverts herself (albeit inadvertently) to a uncharacteristically shallow self-representation. As ever, Cains sells this transformation perfectly (indeed, we’ve yet to encounter a performer who isn’t ideally suited to their designated role on the show), but Mitchell can’t be forgiven for descending into well-trodden territory when the show-runner has generally maintained a subversive, refreshingly innovative approach to his script-writing in the past.

Such a fundamental shortcoming as this would be far easier to overlook if it represented the only structural and representational misstep of the season so far, but sadly, Episode 2’s issues don’t end there. Wunmi Mosaku’s troublesome MP Maxine Martin, for instance, may well be one of the most blatant structurally-subservient plot devices we’ve come across in recent years – rather than presenting any signs of becoming a layered and engaging construct who’ll take the series into unexpected territory (and lord knows, In the Flesh could benefit hugely from taking a walk on the wild side in weeks ahead if its creators hope to see it back on the air come Spring 2015), Maxine currently exists solely to place obstacles in Kieran’s path so as to ensure that the viewer can no longer question the protagonist’s motives for staying put in Roarton. Much as Mitchell would have us maintain the illusion that her presence ups the stakes for PDS-sufferers and in doing so moves us towards a more cinematic rendition of his supernatural conflict, the illusion itself will soon become a mere translucent shroud if she continues to simply antagonise the village’s reborn residents rather than contributing to the ongoing narrative in any meaningful manner.

It’s not all bad news, though. Whilst the seeds which are being sewn for the season’s climax are taking that much longer to bloom (this reviewer sincerely hopes that Emmett J Scanlan’s Simon will find new linguistic variations on his recurring assertion that to have “rise[n] in Roarton” is to somehow be “special”, else his character will grow old rapidly), they’re most certainly receiving a nutritional dose of water each week in order to ensure their eventual growth, with Jem’s startling act of manslaughter in the episode’s closing moments sure to have captivating moral consequences for both her own psyche (as if it wasn’t already fractured enough) and the Walker family overall. That the sequence depicting Kieran’s entry into an undead-exclusive rave was handled brilliantly by director Jim O’Hanlon didn’t hurt either, since the sight of the oft-socially inept character standing at the centre of a gathering which at once resembled both a Rocky Horror Picture Show-themed do and a standard student-laden club on a Friday night was amongst the most striking images of the night.

We’re left with an uneven instalment of tonally sketchy drama, one which likely marks the series’ weakest instalment so far. For the sake of the programme’s future, whether it be on live TV, a digitized BBC Three service or otherwise, this had better well mark the low-point of Season Two as well, since with just four instalments remaining until the already-slim viewership’s attention shifts elsewhere for the remainder of the year, Mitchell’s once-seemingly infallible series cannot afford to waste any more time in pushing forward its currently creatively dented narrative further than ever before, lest the critical tide turn out of its favour and rob the show of what credibility it still clings onto (the BBC evidently have faith based on their extensive marketing campaign, but Ripper Street and The Paradise are both fine examples of the studio’s not-so-occasionally rash approach to evaluating the need for further seasons). In the Flesh inhabits an industry in which a ‘kill or be killed’ mantra decides the victors and the fallen, after all, and if it continues on its currently underwhelming trajectory, Mitchell may begin to find his fans empathising with Roarton’s PDS-opposers in questioning the need for it to rise from the symbolic grave of its twelve-month hiatus in the first place.

FILTER: - In The Flesh

In The Flesh - Series 2 - Episode 1Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 4 May 2014 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Written by Dominic Mitchell
Directed by Jim O'Hanlon
Produced by John Rushton
Broadcast on BBC Three, 4th May 2014
A lot can change in one year. For BBC Three, the twelve months or so which have separated the premieres of the first and second season of Dominic Mitchell’s breakout supernatural drama In the Flesh have been crucial so far as determining the channel’s future. As we step back into Roarton for an extended run of six further instalments, we’re burdened with the simultaneous foreknowledge that the show’s days may well be limited if it isn’t one of the select few programmes which make the transfer to a non-primetime slot on BBC One or BBC Two before its current broadcaster’s digital conversion. In the time that the series has been off air, the territory on which it previously stood has changed exponentially, such that everything appears to be up for grabs this time around.

For the residents of Roarton, however, life hasn’t changed nearly so substantially. Indeed, despite ongoing tensions involving the heightened emergence of the extremist Undead Liberation Army movement, fans would be hard pressed to recognise many elements of the village which have altered to any noteworthy extent in the first half of Season Two’s debut episode. Mitchell (who we’ll presume is back on scriptwriting duties for the season in its entirety until the BBC says otherwise) evidently knows the risks that come with shaking up a critically lauded ongoing production’s status quo too rapidly, yet still manages to inject several new and intriguing components into the mix through the introduction of a pair of previously unseen players in his fictitious living-deceased conflict. As anyone who followed the series in its freshman run will no doubt gladly attest, its scribe’s handling of the increasingly topical moral dilemma at the heart of the show’s increasingly generically subversive narrative is remarkable. Naturally, without the correct cast members to convey the intense emotional ramifications of the sustained presence of the undead in the village, these efforts from the show runner to deviate from the now-clichéd conventions of the zombie sub-genre would be for nought, but by the time that the credits roll here, newcomers and seasoned followers alike will be left in no doubt as to the strength of both the central stars and the supporting cast’s performances.

Whereas the vast majority of portrayals of God-fearing religious leaders in productions of these ilk tend to become dated clichés unto themselves, Kenneth Cranham’s work as the ever-diligent Vicar Oddie is memorable thanks to the combination of the reality-grounded dialogue afforded to the actor by Mitchell and the accuracy with which Cranham hits each of the metaphorical dramatic notes which are required of his subversively tragic construct here. To see the character make his sudden departure at the episode’s climax was a shock to say the least, although that Maxine Martin (Wunmi Mosaku), a newly-elected MP for the undead-opposing Victus party, plays such a key role both in Oddie’s demise and within the structure of this week’s instalment overall suggests that any pathos evoked by the former event will soon give way to intrigue and suspense regarding her plans for those individuals ‘suffering’ from Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS) in Roarton and (it seems safe to assume) across the world.

Over in the PDS camp, new to the scene this season is Simon Monroe (Emmet J Scanlan), the soon-to-be husband of protagonist Kieran Walker (Luke Newberry)’s returning friend and ally Amy (Emily Bevan). Scanlan does a fine job of establishing his character as an aggressive tension-stirrer whose future plans for resistance against the mistreatment of “the redeemed” (better known to the viewer and to the ‘living’ population as the undead), but it should once again come as no great surprise to Flesh fans that Bevan steals the show with minimal effort from the moment of Amy’s return into Kieran’s life. How this supremely talented actress has not been picked up by other shows and/or networks in the time which has elapsed between seasons is beyond this reviewer. Regardless, it’s nothing less than a pleasure to have Bevan reprise her role alongside Newberry and the rest of the gang, not least since her scenes in this episode alone prove to be amongst the main highlights of the show far (and given the quality of last year’s remarkable trio of episodes, that’s no mean feat).

For all of the refinements which have been enacted since Season One, though, there are certainly a couple of cracks in the show’s armour which remain particularly visible in the second half of its fourth full chapter. Success can inevitably breed complacency for a production team coming off the back of an acclaimed (and rightly so) first run, and even if complacent may be too harsh a label to bestow upon Mitchell in his approach to his latest script, a pervading sense of overly assumptive writing lingers at times, whereby the executive producer seems to have banked upon viewers new and old watching (or in some cases re-watching) Season One on BBC iPlayer in the past month or so to ensure their knowledge of the precise details of its narrative.

As such, his script occasionally falters when it comes to accessibility (even this reviewer found himself occasionally having to consult the official synopses of last year’s episodes to reacquaint himself with some of the key characters and their respective arcs), as well as containing one or two sequences where the previously intricately depicted parallels between the semi-fantastical living-PDS relationship represented here and our society’s history of branding those among us of non-Caucasian descent as the Other feel somewhat on-the-nose (a discussion regarding potential marriages between the two communities in the dining hall of Jem Walker’s school, for instance, features the rather overt statement “You’re talking like a brainless rabid!”). Throw in a bizarrely-placed final shot involving Maxine’s assessment of the PDS sufferers in Roarton which seems to serve little other purpose than to bring this week’s storyline to an abrupt end, and it’s abundantly apparent that Mitchell and those producers who assist in his script-drafting process need to come together in future so as to discuss how to wrap things up more effectively.

There’s no denying that In the Flesh has areas in which it can still improve over the course of Season Two, then, but that’s not to say that the series has returned without any of its usual gusto or unique charm. In fact, this potent opening instalment represents the show’s most ambitious (and, as a result, its most accomplished) outing yet, be it from a directorial (Jim O’Hanlon presents us with a far more cinematic take on proceedings this time around) or dramatic standpoint. For now at least, it seems that we’d be best advised to cast aside concerns surrounding the life expectancy of the show beyond its second season, and instead simply make the most of the time we’ll spend in its company over the next five weeks. Besides, who knows where the series or indeed BBC Three might be come 2015 if Tony Hall’s proposal to axe the latter falls through? A lot can change in one year…

FILTER: - In The Flesh

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 . . .

FILTER: - Television - In The Flesh

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.

FILTER: - Television - In The Flesh

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.

FILTER: - Television - In The Flesh