Dead Set

Creator: Charlie Brooker (2008)
Starring: Jaime Winstone, Andy Nyman, Kevin Eldon, Davina McCall
Find it online: IMDB, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Ah, summer. Lovely summer, at least until something that comes along and ruins it all. Picture the scene. I'm at home, overheated and bored. I text a friend, wanting to visit a beer garden or the like. Okay, I don't have any friends, but if I did they'd repy with this: "sorry chum. Watching the football/Big Brother." This year I get not only the World Cup, but the grand finale of Big Brother too.

Football, you suck. But that's hardly an appropriate topic for a horror blog. Nor would Big Brother be normally, but more on that later. Big Brother. Never have two words made me so unfairly hate a piece of popular literature so much. George Orwell's 1984 is arguably one of the greatest books ever written. What Channel 4 did in its name... not so much.

For me, Big Brother the literary villain has become regreattably overshadowed by Big Brother the shitty TV monster. Every summer, around 15 zany fuckheads and imbeciles are piled into a luxury mansion and tortured live on television for around three months. Over the seven or eight years it's been broadcasting, Big Brother has brought us race rows, the proliferation of Stupid Celebrity, bullying, bottle wanking, Jade fucking Goody and a truly bizarre moment with a Scottish MP in a catsuit. Nothing is garanteed to make me turn my telly set off faster than the words "Day ten-hundred-and-fifty-seventy in the Big Brutha Hooo-ooose. Becky is smoo-oking a cigarette" (re-read that sentence out loud in a Geordie accent). Just typing those words made my brain seep a little bit inside.

To my count, precisely three good things have come out of Big Brother. (1) Kerrang Radio DJ Kate Lawler (2) Russell Brand on Big Brother's Little Brother and (3) Dead Set. Dead Set, created and written by telly critic and journalist Charlie Brooker is to my mind, the greatest piece of genre television in recent memory. Over the course of five episodes, Brooker sculpts the finest piece of zombie cinema (and it deserves watching more like a movie than TV series) since 28 Days Later. It's everything a good zombie movie should be; terrifying, grotesque, funny and socially relevant.

Dead Set takes place in the Big Brother household, during a fictional series of the programme. On the outside, there's only a bloody zombie apocalypse on. Britain is very quickly overrun. Only a few survivors remain. At the TV studio, a disparate group of ex-housemates, friends and producers pile into the house and join the perplexed, oblivious housemates.

As anyone familiar with Charlie Brooker's work might expect, the writing is sharp, scathing and funny. His Big Brother housemates are at once recognizeable, grossly caricatured and sympathetic. It also has the perfect villain in Andy Nyman's Patrick - possibly the most unpleasant character ever committed to TV. It's to the series' credit that they actually managed to create an individual more unlikeable than the programme's real-life contestants. But there are so many great characters in Dead Set that it's unfair to pick Patrick as 'best' by any means. I also enjoyed the sympathetic chav, Jaime Winstone's sympathetic Kelly, hippy Joplin and especially Zombie Davina McCall. Its character work is perhaps the series strongest point.

This is the definition of a gushing review, but there's so much to love about Dead Set - especially when approached from the perspective of a horror fan. The amount of gore and violence on display is a shocker when you consider this was broadcasted on national TV - and the action easily rivals that of 28 Days Later or the Dawn of the Dead remake. And in a grotesque sort of way, the ending is just beautiful; the perfect ending to such a story and the perfect peice of commentary on our Idiot TV Nation.

This year, as I've done every one since 2008, I won't be tucking into the final series of BB. I daresay it'll be back in some form sooner or later, like the proverbial bad penny it is. No, I'll be showing the zombie apocalypse some love with Charlie Brooker's Dead Set. I always hoped there would be a jungle-set riff on I'm a Celebrity/Zombie Holocaust sequel. Until that happens, I'm Dead Set on re-watching this outstanding little piece of genre TV.*

* Shi-iit. That makes this the third post in the row ending on a title based pun. This place really does suck.


  1. Just loved this. Smart, bloody, fun. The end comment that we're all zombies really is very cool. And geez, Davina is HOT!

  2. She is, isn't she? I remember being surprised at how actually quite good she is at playing zombie. The fight between her, Patrick and the ex-contestant are excellent.
    Oh, and a bit of the script just flew out at me: "he did a poo in a bin and it was really smelly." Haha