Remembering Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, the first unofficial Black Mirror masterpiece

TV peaked in 2008 with a Big Brother zombie apocalypse and an undead Davina McCall

Before Charlie Brooker made Black Mirror, his future pop culture juggernaut that would go on to becoming an acclaimed export for Channel 4 and British TV before moving to Netflix and becoming one of the streamer’s hottest original properties, he penned an E4 TV movie centred around the simple premise of “A zombie apocalypse shown through the eyes of an airing season of Big Brother”. With Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror launching the horror subsidiary Red Mirror category, Dead Set feels like it fits in the Mirror-verse more than it ever did before. After I had a nostalgic rewatch of Dead Set last night, I’ve been itching to write about what I believe is one of the best zombie thrillers ever made. Dead Set is Charlie Brooker at his best, and I hope this gives you the motivation to watch it on Netflix as a matter of urgency – whether as a new viewer or for a nostalgic trip down British horror memory lane.

For those not yet infected

Dead Set aired in 2008 on E4 across five consecutive nights in October, with the fifth part concluding on Halloween. It’s a mini series that runs in total at two hours 20 – best watched as a film, and aired as one whenever it’s now shown on telly. The premise centres on Kelly, played by Jaime Winstone, a runner on Big Brother who finds herself in with the current batch of housemates as a zombie outbreak brings the UK to a halt and her boyfriend Riq (played by Oscar nominee RIZ AHMED!) tries to get to her. The show features a bunch of cameos from real ex housemates like Aisleyne, Makosi, Brian Belo and Ziggy and Davina McCall plays herself.

Via Channel 4

Charlie Brooker and I must be birds of a feather, because when 12 year old me found out this show was being made I lost my goddamn mind. I’m a huge Big Brother fan and zombie horror fan, and I distinctly remember saying to my Dad when I was a kid “imagine if you were in Big Brother and it was a zombie apocalypse, you’d be safe”. Charlie Brooker had the exact same thought and made a show about it. What makes Dead Set so great is its commitment to its source material of Big Brother and its reverence for the zombie fiction that it takes inspiration from. Nods to 28 Days Later and Romero’s Dead films are everywhere you look, and Dead Set was produced by the same company who make the real Big Brother which gives the show a real house, an original eye logo and a bunch of housemates who feel completely realistic.

‘Does this mean we’re not on telly anymore?’

Dead Set could have easily fell apart in less capable hands than Charlie Brooker – but like with Black Mirror, he pulls off high concept storylines seamlessly thanks to his skill at being deftly dark and wryly funny instantaneously. It’s a satire of reality TV and consumerist Britain – as most zombie fiction is a swipe at society, but it never goes into full on parody and often manages to be terrifying. It’s brutal, bloody and unrelenting. The zombies feel overwhelming, the carnage is instant and the descent into irreparable apocalypse is a blast. The camera work is disorientating – when it’s not being filmed like you’re literally watching an episode of Big Brother.

With Big Brother’s return on the horizon, rewatching Dead Set last night made me smile thinking of how Charlie Brooker captured the cultural zeitgeist of how exciting eviction night felt. I hope the return of the show gets us back to the halcyon days of reality TV peaking like it did with Big Brother in its messy hey day.

Could Red Mirror mean a sequel?

Dead Set has always felt like a precursor to Black Mirror, but with Black Mirror’s focus on technology and near-future sci-fi it never quite fit the world entirely. The vibe was there, but the subject matter was not. However, with the recently released season six, Black Mirror has – for better or for worse – opened itself up to horror, launching Red Mirror with Mazey Day and Demon 79. Now these horror stories are in the world, Dead Set suddenly feels like the first story in the Black Mirror universe.

To honour this, hear me out: For the next season of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker creates a Red Mirror episode that acts as a sequel to Dead Set. Black Mirror doesn’t really do sequels, so this would be ideal because it would be a completely new thing TECHNICALLY, and could be a standalone story set further into the outbreak than the initial kick off we see in Dead Set. I’m speaking it into existence.

I tweeted about my rewatch last night and I’ve been overwhelmed by the love that poured out for Dead Set – I feel like it’s often forgotten and lives in the massive shadow of what Charlie Brooker has achieved with Black Mirror. I hope Charlie sees the tweet, and the love for the show. I hope he reads this and makes a sequel. Even RYLAN CLARK liked the tweet. The real ones want more Dead Set love. British horror peaked.

Dead Set got a Brazilian remake titled Reality Z that started streaming on Netflix in 2020. The show is almost note for note a recreation at first, but takes the story further and has more episodes. Dead Set is streaming in full on Netflix too – get watching tonight, if you’ve got the stomach for it.

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