So you like zombies and TV. Congratulations! We at the Dork Shelf Undead Creatures Appreciation Society would like to welcome you to this article. Our organization’s welcome package includes a bloodstained crop top, an instructional video on how to integrate your undead buds into your clique and of course, advice on which zombie shows you should check out.
“But there is but one good zombie show on television!” you shout at your computer screen. You have been fed lies. While The Walking Dead is certainly the most popular zombie show on TV, it is not the best one out there. Yes. We said it. There are at least three series that play with the zombie genre in ways that are far more exciting than what The Walking Dead presents each week. To the list!
The Returned/Les Revenants
What’s so special about it? The Returned is not your typical zombie fare. There are no slow-walking corpses in sight. No one is disemboweled by a brainless horde in front of his or her children. In fact, no one even gets eaten (yet!). In a clever twist, the series gloms onto the “undead” portion of our definition of a zombie and creates a creature that is also part ghost and part supernatural god. As strange happenings take place in the small French town (“hey guys, why did all of the animals drown themselves?”), the series develops a Twin Peaks vibe that is bound to delight you.
Okay, that sounds cool, but what’s the plot? One fine day, the dead start coming back to life. Instead of crawling out of their graves desiccated and bloodthirsty, however, the undead are seemingly made out of flesh and blood like you and I. While unaware of their own deaths and rebirths, the “returned” have all the memories and emotional disturbances of their former selves. Many undead appear as the series progresses, but the story focuses on four diverse characters: teenage road crash victim Camille, suicidal bridegroom Simon, a young boy named Victor, and Serge, a serial killer with a penchant for gutting women in underpasses. While the show is good at giving each character in the ensemble cast a compelling back story, The Returned is at its best when exploring the psychological impact of seeing the aftermath of one’s death. More than anything else, the series illustrates that having your loved ones move on from your passing can be as painful as seeing them hopelessly attached to your memory.
Where can I find it? Canal+ (France), SundanceTV and Netflix (North America).
How much of a commitment is this? One 8-episode season so far. Season 2 is under production and will debut later this year.
In the Flesh
What’s so special about it? In the Flesh twists the zombie concept, but not to the extent of The Returned. The zombies here are 28 Days Later-style flesh eating monsters, but their killer state is presented as an ailment that can be controlled with carefully administered drugs. Much like True Blood, the British series draws parallels between the undead and the struggles of the LGBT community. Mercifully, the allegory here is handled with much more finesse, and the darker tone of the story is balanced with dialogue that is witty and heartwarming.
Okay, that sounds cool, but what’s the plot? Once it’s clear that sufferers of “Partially Deceased Syndrome” (PDS) can be restored to their old, non-rabid selves, the government attempts to re-integrate the rehabilitated citizens back into society with the help of medicine, flesh-toned makeup, and contact lenses. Unsurprisingly, many people in the community have a difficult time letting go of the horrors they witnessed during the initial outbreak. In the Flesh primarily focuses on teenager Kieren Walker and the struggles he and his family have after his homecoming. In addition to facing his parents post-suicide (awkward), Kieran must also deal with his sister’s role in the anti-zombie militia and that fact that he ate one of his classmates. The series is not a quiet family drama, however. Instead, the story shifts from the internal struggles of the Walker family to the larger movement surrounding the acceptance of PDS sufferers.
Where can I find it? Online at BBC Three (UK) and BBC America (North America).
How much of a commitment is this? Two seasons spread out over nine episodes. No plans for the third season. That’s basically a Saturday. You can do this.
What’s so special about it? Okay, so zombies in Dead Set are the typical brain munching kind. There is no creepy “omg they’re sexy undead versions of our loved ones!” or “omg we can tame them!” plot twist when it comes to monster building. Once you find out that acclaimed writer Charlie Brooker created the show, however, you realize that what you’re going to watch is going to be more fucked up than usual. Much like Brooker’s critically acclaimed series Black Mirror, Dead Set is a smart, tongue-in-cheek piece of social commentary about the capitalist tech-obsessed world we take part in.
Okay, that sounds cool, but what’s the plot? The show takes place in only one location: the set of Big Brother. During one of the reality show’s eviction nights, a zombie outbreak begins, unleashing murderous creatures and riots upon Britain. With the threat closing in on the studio, the cast and the production team must fend for their lives and use tactics they learned on the show to manipulate others into following orders. The miniseries straddles the line between horror drama and black comedy brilliantly during its run, eliciting an unsettling mix of delight and disgust from the audience. Like other Brooker productions, Dead Set is not shy about its goal, deploying meta story elements and sometimes obvious imagery to complete its blistering criticism. You’re the zombie, here, bub.
Where can I find it? The series originally aired in the UK on E4 in 2008, so your best bet is to find it on the network’s site or on DVD.
How much of a commitment is this? From start to finish the series is only five episodes long.
Happy viewing, friends!