Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dead Set

I suppose Halloween is the time for zombies to invade pop culture, but it seems like every other thing I write about these days has zombies in it. There are the artsy zombie movies Colin and Make-Out With Violence, which I recently reviewed on DVD; there's the new AMC series The Walking Dead; heck, there was even a zombie-themed episode of Community. So I was a little wary of the 2008 British miniseries Dead Set, which had its belated U.S. premiere on IFC this week. It has a clever high concept, looking at the zombie apocalypse from the perspective of contestants on the U.K. version of the reality show Big Brother (which is much, much more popular there than it is here). But I was disappointed that it was still shot and structured like a traditional movie or TV series, not set up like footage from an actual reality show.

Once I got past that, though, I enjoyed the show's twist on the formula, which brings in bits of sly media satire but doesn't go overboard. The reality-show contestants are narcissistic and shallow, but they're also well-rounded characters who prove to be resourceful when faced with danger. The show's arrogant producer is by far the least likable character, and having an everywoman production assistant as the main protagonist balances things out. Media critic Charlie Brooker wrote Dead Set, but he doesn't short-change the horror in favor of social commentary or parody, even though he gets in plenty of ironic digs at reality TV (part of the series was filmed on the actual Big Brother set). Mostly this is just a satisfying zombie series, and I actually enjoyed it a little more than the two episodes I've seen of The Walking Dead so far. Granted, that show is open-ended while Dead Set comes to a clear conclusion, but it still has a bit more urgency and definitely more humor. The Walking Dead has been heavily promoted and is definitely worth watching, but even if you're sick of zombies you might want to give Dead Set a chance as well.

All five episodes air tonight starting at 7:30 p.m. on IFC.

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