**There might be some very, very, very mild spoilers in this article, but I'll stay away from any specifics beyond what's available in the logline. Feel free to read this without fear of knowing what's coming.**
If those novelty T-shirts from Hot Topic that say "Zombies were people, too" were transformed into a TV show, that show would be BBC America's three-hour miniseries In the Flesh. The trio of episodes, which will air over three consecutive nights starting Thursday, puts a unique twist on the zombie genre by bringing the undead back from the undead, so to speak. In the world where In the Flesh takes place, the dead rose from their graves, ate human brains, got better, were rehabilitated through treatment and counseling, and then rejoined society, where they now live—with the help makeup and colored contact lenses—as if they'd simply had a bad case of the chicken pox (the show refers to their condition as "Partially Deceased Syndrome"—PDS). But at the same time, untreated zombies roam freely and cause serious problems. Sounds pretty cool, right?
In the Flesh is successful at nibbling on many of the unique topics that arise from such a situation, particularly the prejudice against those affected by PDS, which makes it immediately interesting. But as a TV series, it fails to achieve any depth, assembling incomplete characters, cutting stories short, and spinning dizzying inconsistencies. The series is already renewed for a second season in the U.K., but it might've benefitted from a longer first season that would've allowed its stories to breathe. As it is, In the Flesh appeared to have plenty to say in its first three episodes but not enough time to say it, hurting what could've been a fun little show by firing off several bullet points scattershot instead of concentrating on a smaller number of more effective, point-driving snipes to the head.
At the center of In the Flesh is teenager Kieran Walker (an apropos surname to Walking Dead fans), who returns home to his family in the very anti-PDS small town of Roardon, somewhere in rural England. The situation is understandably awkward for everyone, and it's made even more uncomfortable by: 1) the manner in which Kieran died the first time around, and 2) his younger sister's participation in an anti-zombie army that saved the town from the initial zombie attack and doesn't take kindly to "rotters," as PDSers are derogatorily called.
But what really hurts things is the fact that Kieran is incredibly boring for 95-percent of the series. He's a quiet, passive protagonist who takes lumps as he remains in a funk, unable to shake the guilt of his zombie days (short flashbacks reveal what he did when he had a taste for human flesh). His wallowing is not the best choice for a central character who's supposed to carry a three-hour first season, though some of it becomes understandable by the time the series is over. His parents aren't much better; they care for their undead son, but they're not interesting enough to improve what should be a fascinating family dynamic. Only Kieran's fiery punk sister Gem adds spice to the homefront, but even she suffers from inconsistency, bouncing between hatred and compassion for "rotters." Fortunately, a few characters outside of the Walker household, particularly the small-minded and zombie-hating Bill and his family, break the doldrums with some genuinely f*cked-up problems.
Like True Blood, the main theme of In the Flesh is tolerance for the recently re-ceased. And like True Blood, that theme is reflective of the plights of minorities and other groups that fought, or are fighting, for civil rights and equal treatment throughout history. In the Flesh gets more specific and clearly parallels the current movement for LGBT rights, which quickly becomes obvious and then more obvious. It's a great message, but it's also one that In the Flesh pounds into viewers 'til they're bloody.
All these small problems really affect the overall tone of the show, which hovers somewhere between an indie movie and an afterschool special. The attempts at humor don't mix well with the heavy drama, and the series never settles into its own voice because it's trying to do too much. Scenes and characters come and go without resolution, and by the time the final credits roll, the actual end of the first season feels nothing like a season finale. However, one positive thing about the open-door ending is that some of the most interesting storylines are certain to explored in Season 2.
And despite being about the recently raised dead, In the Flesh rarely feels like a zombie show because its message of fighting intolerance is so heavy-handed. It has more in common with cautionary tales of drug abuse and closeted homosexuality than it does with The Walking Dead. You won't confuse Kieran with a coke head, but his zombie-ism isn't used as a unique aspect for In the Flesh's story. Subtract a few inconsequential differences, and he could easily be an alcoholic, an oppressed minority, an ex-con, or any other group fighting against a stubborn majority. And that's where In the Flesh becomes a disappointment for fans of the zombie genre.
BUT: In the Flesh isn't as bad as I'm making it sound. It's just that there are several minor problems that hamper an enjoyable viewer experience. What sounds like a unique take on the oversaturated zombie genre really becomes a new take on a completely different genre: the outsider kid trying to fit in and the closed-minded town trying to push him out. It's a passable three hours, but it's far from being a must-see.
In the Flesh airs over three nights, from June 6-8, on BBC America.
To our handsome U.K. readers who've already seen the show (and to any of you rascals who downloaded it), please refrain from posting untimely spoilers in the comments. Thank you!