Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Recommended: BBC's Survivors on Netflix

Before I get to it, let me start with some info: I did beat The AV Club to covering the Netflix-Fox deal, one that brought Ally McBeal and more to Instant Viewing. However, when tAVC got around to it 2 days later, they had yet another deal to announce, too - that AMC gave Netflix the rights to stream "Mad Men."

This is big news, as AMC's retro-series is very popular, and Netflix has been making many moves lately. If you hadn't already heard about this, don't run off - "MM" is not yet available. It's funny, still another big play involving a major show I've never seen. I have no doubt people will stream this like crazy once it's up, tho. And now, this is how today's post should have started...

I've posted a wide-ranging set of UK TV recommendations, and suggested one specific televised Brit comedy even earlier. I reviewed "Black Dynamite," too, and that would've been a "recommendation" if I had used that label at the time. Well, I wanted to post a new one this week, and it's for (yet another) BBC series...

I've never seen "The Walking Dead." It, like many shows that have been recommended to me, will be left on the sidelines until I'm older and bored enough to watch TV. "30 Rock," "The Wire," "The Shield" - forget it, there's just too much to do for me to follow more than 2 or 3 shows, at most...

What's so interesting about "Survivors" is that this UK TV series seems exactly like "The Walking Dead" - just with dead bodies in the place of un-dead bodies. I can't shake the thought, despite never having seen any of AMC's blockbuster show.

The set-up: a flu epidemic strikes Great Britain; it wipes out most of the Isles in 3 days. Then it takes out 90% of the world's population. Viewers meet a vivid, varied cast - a concerned mom, a convict, the Minister of Health - whose lives play out in the background of this crisis. People get sick, & you can't tell who it will be,& the dead are just scattered everywhere.

Of course, dying is easy; the hard part - as with zombie apocalypse survivors - is being that rare person who lives on. People are, in the end, just people - a natural immunity to the disease doesn't change anything else. So they struggle to stay alive and get ahead. They cheat and and kill and help one another. 

To me, then, "tWD" is just like "Survivors," but the cadavers actually move. In truth, I don't think a brain- or flesh-eating former human is as creepy as seeing abandoned cities, slumped figures sprawled throughout after succumbing to illness. Maybe then, most zombie films just don't use their monsters in a way that's very creepy. What the BBC did here was, occasionally, a bit heart-breaking.

One week, you're an investment banker, a waitress, or a spoiled London playboy. Three days later, you're looting stores. Or walking through a hospital, dead bodies on floors and chairs and gurneys, choking back the stench of rotting people. Or worrying that you survived a massive plague only to die from diseases dead bodies carry, like cholera. Ouch.

The best part, I suppose, is that no punches are pulled in the development of the show's characters. It shines through as the parts struggle and hold to their goals. By all this I mean, simply: there isn't anyone in real life who would look good for long if all their actions were available for "instant viewing." We've all made decisions that were worse than unwise, decisions that were - or can seem - immoral.

I'm not talking about bathroom mishaps, wardrobe malfunctions, or blowing your nose on a too-thin tissue. One woman is a dead-sexy 20-something who puts out so that one guy will protect her and do manual labor for her; when he's injured, she bails with no apologies. When he shouts out that he helped her, she even says "and you got what you wanted." She says this just as she walks out and leaves him in a sickbed.

Is it her fault that he loved her? Should she risk her life to look after him? Is it anyone's fault that she needs to try to survive? No punches are pulled, the characters are developed gradually, and they will have an effect on you...

The actors are all exceptionally good in their parts. You may only recognize one or two (Phillip Rhys and the super-steady Paterson Joseph), but you will definitely connect with these people, whether you agree with them or not. This show is also well-shot - it's more visually impressive than you would expect.

I should, however, note that anyone with a science background might laugh at the explanations given to this hyper-lethal virus. One person says that the human immune system goes into "meltdown" and attacks its own body. Even with my limited exposure to science, this statement is absurd. There is no real "meltdown" analogue for the immune system, and when it does attack itself, a "meltdown" isn't the cause. These flaws, silly as they are, do not sink a fine tale.

I've been lucky with zombie pictures; between Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive," Raimi's "Evil Dead 2," and "28 Days Later," I'm actually close to having a "zombie section" in my DVD case. To me, it doesn't matter one bit that there are once-human monsters in those films. I simply love and respect the stories told by those movies. I guess it really is a surprise that I never bothered to watch "tWD;" I'm just not in a mood for "zombie tv show" right now...

I'm certain that "Survivors" plays out closely to AMC's hit show. In fact, it may have even inspired someone to pitch the series, or helped craft its tone and character arcs. "Sure thing, we can do this comic book! Look at that UK show!" In the end, it doesn't matter whether the threat is supernatural or fairly every-day: it is always exciting to see well-crafted tales of people struggling to survive and maintain their humanity in the face of the inhuman.

This production is highly recommend. It's only a shame that the ratings in 2010 weren't high enough to warrant a third series. Still, this is 12 episodes of a well-told, fairly-complex, and often engaging tv show. I feel bad that I left it out of my UK recommendations last month...

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