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In The Flesh episode 1 review: Zombie horror meets kitchen sink drama

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From its outset, BBC Three's new Sunday night drama In The Flesh had to face high expectations - taking on the time-slot previously allocated to long-running cult favourite Being Human is pressure enough, but with US zombie offering The Walking Dead smashing cable TV records across the pond, there was something of an onus on new writer Dominic Mitchell's three-parter to prove that it had something different to offer.

In The Flesh is certainly different, but taking liberties with 'classic' zombie mythology was also a risk. If - like this writer - you prefer your zombies in the mindless, shambling mould established by George A Romero, then talk of flesh-eaters that "evolve" might leave you hankering for your Night of the Living Dead two-disc special edition.

In The Flesh S01E01: Kieran (Luke Newberry) and Lisa (Riann Steele)

© BBC

'In The Flesh': Kieran and Lisa



For the most part though, the opening instalment of this very British take on the genre works. It's a rather unsettling mixture of classic zombie fare - wonderful comic-book gore, survivors forced to slaughter loved ones - and kitchen-sink drama reminiscent of a Ken Loach or Mike Leigh film, a feeling that's reinforced by the reassuring presence of weighty British actors like Kenneth Cranham, Ricky Tomlinson and Steve Evets.

Alongside these acting vets, In The Flesh is anchored by an impressive lead performance from Luke Newberry, who manages to be both endearing and disquieting as lead zombie Kieran Walker.

In The Flesh S01E01: Kieran (Luke Newberry)

© BBC

'In The Flesh': Luke Newberry as Kieran



When this bizarre cocktail of the mundane and the horrific works, it works very well - perhaps the best example is the climactic sequence in which Tomlinson's Ken Burton has to watch, helpless, as his 'partially deceased' wife is gunned down.

However, at times, the two facets of In The Flesh fail to gel effectively - the support group scene in which reformed zombies talk about their issues almost feels like an excerpt from a sketch show.

While the 'horror' aspects of the show don't always click, it's difficult to fault the show's 'human' elements; perhaps a reflection of the show's origins as a more realist drama about a young man suffering from psychosis.

For the most part, the performances here are perfectly pitched and rich with emotion, with Marie Critchley and Steve Cooper particularly impressive as Kieran's distraught, disoriented parents Sue and Steve.

In The Flesh S01E01: Steve (Steve Cooper), Kieran (Luke Newberry) and Sue (Marie Chritchley)

© BBC

'In The Flesh': Steve, Kieran and Sue



This first episode's evocation of a hostile small town atmosphere - complete with mistrust, long-held resentments and uninformed prejudices - also feels utterly authentic.

In terms of production value, In The Flesh also looks fantastic. The show's visual palate is drained almost entirely of colour, reflecting not only the monotony of life in a small, quiet rural village, but also the lifeless nature of the "rotters" heading back home.

The cinematography gives the show a wonderfully gritty, gloomy feel, one that helps to ground the show's more outlandish elements. It also makes any splash of colour - such as Kieran's painted flesh-tone skin - feel all the more artificial.

In The Flesh S01E01: Ken (Ricky Tomlinson)

© BBC

'In The Flesh': Ricky Tomlinson as Ken



Whether or not you'll become a fan of In The Flesh will largely depend on whether you can get on board with its premise. There's an inherent absurdity to the unusual blend of genres on offer here, but if you can look past that, then there's much to enjoy - wonderful visuals, inventive scripting and powerful central performances.

Odd moments of dark humour scattered throughout - Kieran pretending to eat, any time the snarky Alex (Alex Arnold) is on screen - also help to smooth over any cracks, and while In The Flesh doesn't quite hit its stride in week one, it remains an original and intriguing piece of television - one that I'll definitely be sticking with for the next two weeks.

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