Self-Awareness in the Zombie Apocalypse

Dead Set: Season 1 Episode 1 (2008). 13 Feb. 2017 via Wonder Alliance

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find myself stuck in postmodern-analysis mode, so I couldn’t help but focus that lens on the first two episodes of Dead Set. As part-time of zombie-aficionado,  I found myself wondering: have any of the characters on Dead Set ever seen a zombie movie? It seems as if zombie-media doesn’t exist in the universe of the show (although Big Brother certainly does, and Big Brother “stars” have cameos throughout these two episodes). Many other zombie narratives take a similar approach, separating their characters from the cultural zeitgeist of zombies–even in parodies of the genre like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Zombieland (2009) that revel in the fact that they are zombie movies. Maybe this is my inner armchair-zombologist speaking or maybe it’s the requisite irrationality of the horror genre or maybe it’s even the stupidity of some of the characters but, quite frankly, the characters on Dead Set make some pretty dumb decisions during the zombie apocalypse.

Such lack of knowledge would indicate an unfamiliarity with the zombie subgenre. Yet the characters seem intimately familiar (if not obsessed) with TV and the medium as whole. The fictional show takes place partially on the set of a real-life TV show, and the characters playing the crew reference past seasons and characters from the same TV show. Plus Dead Set plays on Big Brother’s audience and the nature of reality tv itself, depicting the audience’s shallowness and distance from reality before slaughtering them in one big “fuck you” (in the show’s parlance) to the devotees of the reality game show. And if that isn’t enough, they bring up real-world TV shows repeatedly, ranging from a brief mention of I’m a Celebrity to a distraction technique inspired by One Man and His Dog

The kicker however, comes in the beginning of the second episode. Here, they rattle off zombie-movie tropes, blaming bioterrorism (“loony gas”), unbridled scientific ambition from the government or military (“GM foods”), and finally the dreaded “Wi-Fi” for the outbreak. With this moment, Dead Set cements styles itself with some of the self-awareness that characterized the horror-comedies mentioned above. Though the infection itself is played much straighter than those of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, the show itself doesn’t shy away from some of the darkly funny moments that accompany its death and destruction, using this balance to help viewers focus on other messages of the show (which we have yet to see completely) rather than just the horror or comedy that’s used to communicate them.