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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
TV series that in a one sentence pitch can be most easily described as “a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost all live together in the same house” must surely be a comedy, right? Well yes, and no. “Being Human” certainly has comedic elements, but they’re rarely of the “yuk-yuk” variety. It is in fact difficult to pigeonhole the series with a label. Is it horror? Comedy? Drama? It’s all those and probably more. And lest you think it’s schizophrenic in its presentation, that’s hardly the case. “Being Human” juggles all of these labels so efficiently that it probably deserves a new category all its own.
Now this isn’t to imply that “Being Human” is a work of pure genius, just that it’s adept in its mission. A massive stumbling block for me, that may afflict plenty a potential viewer, comes from the vampire and werewolf angles. Straight up – I am utterly sick to death of vampires and werewolves. Between “True Blood” and “Twilight” alone, you can’t turn on your TV, go to the multiplex, or even log onto Facebook without being inundated by both fang and full moon. Where were all these people when I stood proud and alone at the age of 10 in the school playground, boldly proclaiming my admiration for Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., only to be heckled by my peers? Must these concepts be littered with ample doses of sex and romance in order to attract the masses? Apparently so. “Being Human” uses a bit of that as well, but not nearly as much as you’d expect from a series featuring vampires and werewolves, and its primary focus is instead on the building blocks of an unlikely kinship between its three protagonists.
Mitchell (Aidan Turner) is a vampire who was created in World War I by Herrick (Jason Watkins). He was apparently at one time very much the toast of the vampire community, but as time has lumbered on, he’s become less and less interested in taking lives and turning humans. These days he works as an orderly in a hospital, doing his best to stay off the vampire radar by choosing not to feed at all. But his vampire brethren, led by Herrick, want him back, and they’ll resort to some very nasty methods to reenlist his services. Also working at the hospital is George (Russell Tovey) the werewolf. Having been turned two years ago while hiking the moors of Scotland, George has done a pretty good job of keeping his primal beast at bay. He has yet to actually kill anyone, which he accomplishes by locking himself up in various rooms or trotting out to the middle of nowhere once a month when the moon is full. And finally, there’s Annie (Lenora Crichlow), the ghost living in the flat that Mitchell and George share. She died rather recently, seemingly by falling down a flight of stairs, but she’ll discover before the season’s over that there was more to her passing than she’s able to recall.
Where “Being Human” excels is in its placement of the supernatural next to the ordinary and mundane. These three people are desperate to find different ways of hanging onto what humanity is left within them, hence the title of the show. Frequently there are scenes that could be from any dramatic series, as the trio deal with issues that aren’t always related specifically to their conditions. (One episode, in which George and Mitchell are mistaken for pedophiles by their neighbors, is especially strong, not to mention pivotal.) As a result, the show somehow feels more “real” than fare like “True Blood.” At times it’s almost off-putting because we’re conditioned to see these types of characters a certain way, and then we find ourselves in the middle of this series which seems to be rooted in subverting expectations. It is not a particularly flashy program, and the bulk of the effects budget is clearly spent on George’s transformations, which, much like his back story, seem heavily influenced by “An American Werewolf in London” (although George isn’t American, and the show is set in Bristol). It’s nice to see a show that doesn’t rely solely on CGI, and actually still uses prosthetics and down and dirty handmade effects.
The vampires are as low-key as anything we’ve seen in a while. They probably have some sort of enhanced strength, but by and large this is a group of creatures that in order to survive must take on jobs that empower them in other ways; Herrick, for instance, is part of the local police force. A big part of the action of the season revolves around Mitchell and the vampire clan, which, as you might surmise, didn’t exactly stimulate me, but luckily there’s plenty else going on with George and Annie to keep things fresh. Indeed, Annie is the wild card, because we rarely see ghosts portrayed on such a down to earth (literally) level (have we ever?), and there are quite a few surprises surrounding her character as the show goes on. Turner and Crichlow are both just fine for their roles, but Tovey is the real standout, what with his neurotic, affable take on this person torn between man and beast. Halfway through the season he meets Nina (Sinead Keenan), a nurse at the hospital, whom he begins a relationship with, but doesn’t tell about his condition. Needless to say, bad things happen for the couple that set the stage for the second season.
If the first season of “Being Human” has any serious drawback, it’s that it doesn’t always reach as far it feels it potentially could. But I recently got a sneak peek at the first episode of Season Two, and the show’s universe appears to have expanded considerably, so given that this is really all about setting up the various situations over the course of six hour-long installment, it’d probably be best to cut “Being Human” a little slack at this early stage of the game. If you have prejudices similar to my own, you may just find it a breath of fresh air, as this is all coming from someone that recently said “They could cancel ‘True Blood’ tomorrow, smack in the middle of the season, and I’d throw a party to celebrate.” (Obviously this view isn’t necessarily shared by my fellow Bullz-Eye writers, or even a sizable cross-section of the TV viewing public.) If, on the other hand, you can’t get enough of these creatures of the night, be sure to check out “Being Human,” as it’s difficult to imagine it’ll disappoint.
Special Features: There are a handful of deleted, alternate and/or extended scenes, alongside a number of featurettes on the cast and characters, the locations, the costumes, make-up and more. Also present are interviews with series creator Toby Whithouse, all three cast members, and many others who work behind the scenes, and video diaries from Turner and Tovey. Nothing absolutely groundbreaking here, but it all adds up to probably about an hour of extras, so it’s nothing to sneeze at either.