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Wednesday, January 19, 2011


As a lifelong "horror kid," I used to be perfectly ready and willing to give any and all horror offerings a chance. That, however, was before I got burned once too often by shitty cookie cutter slasher films that traded gore for actual scares, an avalanche of piss-poor and unnecessary sequels, and the onslaught of horror movies that were neither scary nor original — the spate of bad J-horror remakes immediately come to mind — or toothless confections aimed at a PG-13 audience in hope of making more money by avoiding the literally restrictive "R" rating. Those films wallowed in anti-creativity, completely devoid of compelling narrative, intriguing monsters, and characters one actually gave a shit about. The sole reliable oasis during this nearly three-decade-long plague was the two-pronged TV dose of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1997-2003) and its spinoff/companion series, ANGEL (1999-2004), both of which featured terrific ensemble casts, truckloads of action and monsters, and inventive writing that more often than not turned horror's hoary tropes on their heads, but since those shows gave up the ghost (no pun intended) I've been hungry for something, anything to sate my craving for a regular helping of the good stuff. (I've heard SUPERNATURAL is quite good and I've seen one episode, but that's as far as I got with that one.)

Then came word of a series running on England's BBC 3 called BEING HUMAN, and I initially wrote it off because it looked like any one of the foofy post-BUFFY WB/CW shows featuring pretty twenty-somethings angsting over shit I just did not care about, only with its hook being that its protagonists were monsters who sought to live "normal" lives. I grew up enjoying a lot of U.K. television, so its foreign origin had no bearing on my instant disdain; its perceived similarity to the aforementioned homegrown tripe is what kept me away, especially the idea of the three monsters sharing a rented house and facing the day-to-day problems faced by young people and blahblahblahblah pfooey. To me it was simply a premise that could not in any way be good. Then came word of a remake getting underway on this side of the Pond, and with rare exceptions continental American remakes of British TV shows tend to be quite dire. And as is per usual with this kind of thing happening in the U.S., there was a certain amount of pre-air hype revolving around it and I was inevitably asked by many of my friends and acquaintances for my opinion of it and its original version. Having never seen the original and having absolutely no interest in what I was certain would be a dumbed-down version of a show I'd convinced myself was no good in the first place, I could not comment, but the opportunity came to rectify that state of affairs when I received the DVD set of the original BEING HUMAN's first series as a belated Christmas gift (NOTE: in the U.K. a TV season is referred to as a "series").

BEING HUMAN follows the intertwined lives of housemates Mitchell (Aidan Turner), George (Russell Tovey) and Annie (Lenora Crichlow), who happen to be a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. The lads work at a hospital in Bristol while Annie initially remains bound to the house because it's where she fell down the stairs and died, and over the course of the series' six episodes we get to know the trio very well and learn to care a great deal about them in the process. Though the protagonists are supernatural creatures, the scripts focus far more on their characters than their paranormal gifts/curses, and its that taking of time to define these people that gives the show its heart. We've seen the archetypes many times before — the vampire who struggles with what he is while attempting to retain his humanity, the tortured reluctant werewolf, the sensitive ghost who has been denied eternal rest for reasons they have yet to figure out — but here they are each quite fresh in approach, especially the lupine George (I'm famously a werewolf supporter, so George was the major draw for me and I was not disappointed in the least). There are also several plots that play out over the run, each involving aspects of the various supernatural sub-societies that co-exist under our unknowing noses, and every one of them is interesting and well-written, but I won't go into their particulars so you can see and enjoy them for yourselves.

The show strongly delivers equal measures of humor, drama and outright horror and somehow manages to seamlessly blend them in ways that remind one of BUFFY at its best, only with considerably less broad strokes (BUFFY was great, but it was very comic-booky in execution at times). BEING HUMAN is exactly what it sells itself as, specifically a character study of people who happen to be creatures straight out of myth and legend, and it handles its fantastic subject matter believably and intelligently.

The bottom line here is that BEING HUMAN was in no way the dud I so narrow-mindedly anticipated it would be, and I enjoyed it so much that I watched the entire first series in one go, intending to just watch the first episode at bedtime and not finishing until 5AM. I've already ordered Series 2 and I eagerly await finding out what happens next. Fuck the remake, check out the original. If your tastes are anything like mine and you welcome the return of character-driven horror on TV, you'll eat this bad boy right up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Sonja Kodiak Wilder said...

I watched a little of it. I found the characters too whiney, and fell asleep. I hope whining is not a substitute for drama these days. Or horror. It just makes me sleepy.

Sonja Kodiak Wilder said...

I didn't make it clear I was talking about the American SYFY channel version. It was only 924am.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the BBC version. I haven't caught the American one, but based on the lame previews I think I'll give it a pass. Any idea when the British show will resume?


Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

The third series started in England on January 10th; no idea when it hits the U.S.

Anonymous said...

hi there. I enjoyed the first series of Being Human. It was different, funny and the characters are very likeable. I wasn't too thrilled with the story line of the second series, but I like the characters, especially Annie, so will be looking forward to series 3.

It starts 23rd:

Here's a link the Being Human site.

Not sure if you can get this site in the US but, to try & see it before release in the US, try BBC Iplayer.

It repeats each episode after it has aired on BBC3.

Hope the links work.