Zombie cinema and television have become a staple of American media since their inception in the 1930s. Popularized by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968, the genre has largely become a commentary about human nature itself, with the zombies acting as a sort of catalyst to instigate the human conflict. Dead Set, a British mini-series, seems to follow this same structure throughout the first two episodes of the show.
The most celebrated and mainstream example of zombie television is The Walking Dead. With its initial release in 2010, the show came 2 years after Dead Set. Having once been an avid fan of TWD for the shows first few seasons, I now have not kept up with the show for ~5 years. Part of the appeal early on, for me, was the constant struggle between human/zombie enemies. The outbreak, much like in Dead Set, caused instantaneous widespread panic, as people fought for their survival. The action and uncertainty of fighting an unknown enemy, much like what was seen at the beginning of both series, is the most satisfying aspect of the genre. Balancing that against battling other humans for power, wealth, and resources requires every character on the show to remain honest and aware at all times, even when there are no ‘undead’ are around to attack. Each week was a new struggle with both the human and zombie enemies, as things were still relatively new.
Around Season 5 of TWD, however, the zombies took a second-hand (they stopped being a major threat to the action of the show) to humans as the primary enemy. While realistic, human enemies are not why audiences tune into watch the show. As soon as TWD became so overt in its critique of humanity, it lost its appeal for me and many others that watched the show. I may have jumped ship earlier than others because of several of my favorite characters being killed, but Miles Surry, in an article from this past season, discusses TWD‘s decision to stray further from being a show about zombies. TWD is finally shifting the show’s themes, after the show stagnated between finding new settlements and fighting their corrupt leaders with the occasional zombie massacre for the past few years since I stopped watching. Now the show intends to examine the reconstruction of a zombie outbreak, as opposed to the fallout. Perhaps a fault of making the series so long, and thus needing to extend the plotlines, ratings and viewership have both been trending down over the years. With most of the criticism stemming from the writers introducing too many stale, unwanted, or unconvincing characters, it would seem that the show got too caught up in expanding the story and only spun the tires. The legacy of the show remains to be seen, with the success of this ‘rebirth’ likely being the determining factor.
Zombies clearly seem to be a critique of mindless Western consumerism and the “pack mentality”, which are commonly cited as issues ‘plaguing’ these societies. The half-dead, half-living appeal paired with the apparent lack of brain function and free-thought thus make zombies a perfect rendering of a tool scary yet recognizable enough to analyze certain aspects of our own human behavior. Dead Set fits the mold of balancing conflict, with the reality show being an obvious criticism of mindless consumerism. The fact that its a 5-episode mini-series leaves far less room to ‘go wrong’ since the show is not required to build massive plotlines. While TWD might be a better drama-series, Dead Set seems to do a better job of nailing the zombie-genre down effectively.
**I also greatly appreciated how seamlessly Dead Set fit against A Head Full of Ghosts, with both including external anxieties, such as demons and zombies, contrasted against a reality television set.