The good news? In the Flesh is back for a second series. The even gooder news? It’s lost none of the soul that made it such a hit in its first life. There is no bad news here.
From minute one you can tell this is a bigger series in every sense (6 episodes) and has ambitions to fill that space, as a terrific zombie terrorist attack on a tram plunges us back into the claustrophobic world of the undead and the uneasy living. It’s a confident start, a purposeful start, to an episode all about purpose, or lack of it. Everyone is working out their place in (after)life, their destiny. Even the kid who fancies Jem thinks he has one.
For Kieren (Luke Newberry), it’s working out what to do when you’ve got eternity ahead of you. It’s certainly not serving bigots in the local boozer. Luke Newberry brings such innocence and soulfulness that you just want to give him a hug and a big steaming mug of Neurotryptoline and tell him it’s all going to be fine.
Just as he’s got things figured out Amy Dyer (Emily Bevan) returns to Roarton like a crazy-sexy ray of sunshine dazzling the grey village. She brings with her Simon, played by a mesmerisingly good Emmett Scanlan. Radiating zombie zealotry, his calm Irish lilt is stretched over a great persuasive force, like the skin of a drum about to sound change.
He’s not the only newcomer to Roarton. I almost didn’t take to Wunmi Mosaku’s Maxine Martin MP, the Farage-ian embodiment of Westminster zombie hate. That was until I watched her push an electric drill through an undead head, and now she gets my vote. I’ve been trying to work out if it was political allegory or just awesome gore-some. Or both. In the Flesh still excels at engaging the grey matter as well as showing you it.
There is so much going on in just 55 minutes – old characters to reunite with, fresh (from the grave) faces to meet, new mythology to explore – but it never once feels crushed or unfocused. With Series 2, writer Dom Mitchell has a bigger canvas to splatter with emotion and gore, but he crucially uses the space economically, and paints with Pointillistic detail. I’d wager there’s not a single wasted word in the entire first hour, which is some feat.
Mitchell is sketching out big things here in Episode 1; mystery and prophecy and necromancy, and even the fallacy of politics and Big Pharma, but it’s the little moments that endear you. The family mocking dad’s granny jeans; bumping into a talkative neighbour while doing the weekly shop; a (PDS) granny talking all over a family’s favourite show.
In the Flesh is draped in the rotting trappings of horror but it remembers that the real power of zombies, no matter how horrific, is that they’re made of fragile humans.
Mind you, if you didn’t jump when that rabid zombie leapt out at Kieren then you must be made of stone.
Aired at 10pm on Sunday 4 May 2014 on BBC Three.
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