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On The Tube

Zombies are people, too, sort of

6/5/2013

On the Tube 060613‘In the Flesh’ extends sympathy toward the undead

The British miniseries “In the Flesh” (Thursday-Saturday, 9 p.m., BBC America) takes its place with the greatest zombie movies of all time. Like 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the granddaddy of the genre, it’s both a gross-out horror story and a grim satire. In this case, the object of satire is England’s bumbling public health bureaucracy.

“In the Flesh” plunges us into a world where zombies have risen and, through a government initiative, been “cured” by drugs. The approved term for them now is “partially dead syndrome sufferers.” We meet Kieren (Luke Newberry), an unfortunate young man with colorless eyes and ghastly white skin, as he’s treated with hundreds of others in a public facility. He’s given group therapy, heavy makeup and colored contact lenses, then sent back home with his understandably edgy parents. But angry residents of Kieren’s hometown — including his zombie-fighting sister — don’t believe in the government’s liberal policy of “assimilation.” They’re determined to make Kieren’s life a living hell… though “living” might be stretching it.

The miniseries is at once funny, scary and poignant. The poignancy comes courtesy of Kieren, a misfit whose guilt and anxiety are vividly rendered. Yes, he’s “partially dead,” but he’s also one of the most human characters I’ve ever seen on TV.

 

‘Hero’

Thursday, 7 p.m. (TNT)

The Rock makes for an enjoyable TV host in this new reality series, which puts nine would-be “heroes” through harrowing challenges and lets America vote on the winner. The contestants have to prove themselves not only physically, but morally. The Rock tempts them with large sums of money to betray their teammates on the sly. “What I want to find out is what makes a real hero,” he says. “Courage, strength, self-sacrifice, integrity — we’ll test all these traits.”

The only problem with “Hero” is that, so far, there’s no one to root for. The contestants bicker and brag, and eloquence is in short supply. “I just wanna, like, friggin’ climb trees and, like, fight monkeys and stuff like that!” says a muscle-bound meathead named Marty.

As you’ll notice, “intelligence” wasn’t on the Rock’s list of heroic traits.

 

‘Graceland’

Thursday, 9 p.m. (USA)

A buttoned-down, eager-beaver FBI agent named Mike (Aaron Tveit) moves into a beachfront house in Southern California. Dubbed “Graceland,” this isn’t just any beachfront house, even though the gorgeous co-ed residents do normal things like surf and walk around half-naked. Graceland is a place where undercover agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration Customs Enforcement live together.

As a straight arrow, Mike has to learn to fit into the house’s laid-back vibe or get hazed mercilessly. He also has to prove himself in tense undercover operations, which require him to lie convincingly under pressure. Graceland is a house full of liars — and you can imagine how complicated things get on a daily basis.

USA’s new series stylishly evokes its setting. You can almost smell the sea breeze as the residents of Graceland lounge picturesquely on the sand. This is an appealing group of characters, whether kidding each other about daily chores or navigating the tricky moral boundaries of undercover work.

I’m going to loosen my tie, kick off my shoes and make myself comfortable in “Graceland” over the next couple of months. CV

Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis.

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