Most people reading this will not have had the chance to experience Dead Set, a British show that aired on the E4 channel in 2008. British shows are known for their short seasons and do a great job of telling lots without too much filler. In Dead Set, it focuses on the story of what would happen to the contestants on Big Brother if the zombie apocalypse occurred during filming. It may sound a bit gimmicky, and while Dead Set does mine a lot of its humor from this premise, it is much more than just a nifty idea. The show gets dark, very dark, and thanks to the less strict rules overseas, it is filled with just as much gore, nudity, and swearing as you are likely to see in any modern zombie movie (if not more). At only 5 episodes in length, Dead Set feels like an epic 2 and a half hour long zombie movie that is now one of my favorite examples of zombie fiction.
The first episode of Dead Set opens on eviction night for the Big Brother guests. We see the high activity going on backstage as we are introduced to both the people in front of and behind the cameras. Panic is setting in as it appears some rioting is occurring in some other city that could potentially bump Big Brother's live broadcast. I loved the idea of having this be the beginning hint of the zombie uprising. A similar tactic was used in Shaun of the Dead but was done more as a joke to show how clueless the main characters were by ignoring these broadcasts at first. In Dead Set, it is a situation that the characters are fully aware of. Of course, they think it is just some random rioting far enough away so they have no cause for alarm. The show is able to air but during the live broadcast, one zombie makes it to the gates of the studio. Before we know it, the entire studio (including the live audience there for the eviction) is being eaten alive as full chaos breaks out everywhere but inside the actual Big Brother house. Due to the soundproof studio to make them feel secluded from the world, they have no idea what is going on and simply go to sleep.
I don't want to spoil any more because it really is a fantastic show that should be seen without too much knowledge of the outcome. It does an excellent job of combining the stereotypes of zombie movies with the cliche cast members of a reality show. It is also anchored by what I found to be a surprisingly touching plot about a man (Riq) trying to get to the Big Brother studio where his girlfriend (Kelly) is one of the only surviving non-cast members who made it safely into the house in time. Dead Set never puts too much emphasis on this relationship so it never feels forced and becomes the natural heart of the story. I was surprised how invested I became in their outcome, especially as things go south, as they always tend to do in zombie movies.
Fans of George Romero's Day of the Dead will also be happy to know that Dead Set features one of the best "asshole" characters that I've seen in a horror movie since the iconic Capt. Rhodes. Actor Andy Nyman does such a great job at playing the despicable Big Brother Producer Patrick that it was the first time I've seen a character that didn't seem like a lame imitation of Capt. Rhodes but was more of a loving homage to such a hateful, yet loved, character. You will spend the entire show waiting for this character to die a glorious death and let me just say that you will not be disappointed. For those that think that is a spoiler, you have clearly never seen a zombie movie. The "bad" guy always gets the most gruesome death and I can honestly say that I was shocked at how graphic his was.
The bad news I have to give is that Dead Set is currently not available on DVD in the US. However, I was able to borrow a Region 2 edition of the DVD that someone bought from Amazon UK that played fine on my laptop. For those of you who don't want to go that route, it seems that according to an old post on IFC.com, they are planning on airing the show for the first time in the US during Oct. 25-29 (see bottom of link provided). I am hoping this means there will be a DVD release for the US sometime early next year so it can finally get the audience it deserves in America. It's fitting that this will be airing so close to the premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC. Although in the end, it may be a negative for The Walking Dead because after watching Dead Set, I'm not sure another show will ever be able to do what Dead Set accomplished in just 5 perfect episodes of television.