It hardly seemed the most promising premise for a new series. A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost are house-sharing in Bristol and we follow their attempts to blend in to human society. Indeed, even before the pilot was finished and BBC3 had seen it - the makers had already been told that the series would not be picked up. However, in the best traditions of Star Trek and other cult series, when the pilot was shown, the forums went into meltdown. BBC 3 quickly changed their mind, and the concept was picked up for a full series.
Although the premise does sound rather high concept and unlikely, the fact is that the series really does work. Apparently, in the pilot which is not included here, Mitchell the vampire (Aidan Turner) and George the werewolf (Russel Tovey) decide that they are going to try and live a normal life. They rent a house belonging to Owen (insert actor here), not realising that his ex girlfriend Annie (Lenora Critchlow) is haunting the property.
Thus the setup for the series is complete. The characters are beautifully balanced and play off each other well. Mitchell is a cool, calm, self assured vampire - very much in control of his situation. He may not like what he is, but he is able to cope with self-awareness and is able to choose his own destiny. George, in contrast, is absolutely not in control of his circumstances. He has not come to terms with the fact that he is a werewolf at all, and very much relies on Mitchell for help and support. Annie, meanwhile, has to find out exactly why she has been chosen to haunt the earth instead of moving on to the “better place” that we are all promised. All of these dilemmas are faced whilst they are trying to settle within their neighbourhood, and integrate into the human world they used to know so well.
What makes Being Human such a success is the way that it approaches the subject. We have had our fill of supernatural beings struggling to come to terms with their fate - this has been done to death. But we haven't had the situation where said beings are trying to integrate successfully into humanity whilst managing their condition before. This approach allows the writers to explore allegories through their writing that may be new to the horror genre. This is achieved remarkably successfully.
The fact that the series is only six episodes long also works in its favour. A remarkable amount of story and development is worked through in relatively few episodes, yet it never feels rushed. Alongside the three main characters, there are many minor characters who recur throughout the series and go through their own development arcs. It is very clever the way the writers manage to achieve this without ever skimping in key character areas. It also means that there is never a dull moment. Even the greatest series, like Battlestar Galactica, for example - have their weak moments. There are no such problems here.
George and Mitchell work at the local hospital doing menial jobs - an environment which affords them some anonymity. When episode one opens, the hospital is preparing a memorial for one of the staff who has disappeared, presumed dead. It soon becomes clear, however, that Mitchell has “turned” her to vampirism - much to George's fury who feels that Mitchell is jeopardising their new status before they have even started. Episode two follows George as he begins to come to terms with his affliction, and goes into a pretty dark place involving how far you would go to support the one person who understands you, even if that person is deeply flawed. Episode three, probably the weakest of the series follows Annie as she is befriended by another ghost who explains what she needs to do to find peace.
Episode four is probably the strongest episode of the series, where Mitchell's friendship with a local boy is deeply misunderstood by the locals. The consequences of this make truly horrifying and moving television. A character arc with Merrick, the leader of the vampires in Bristol starts to brew here which runs through the second half of the season. The vampires grow stronger through episodes five and six, resulting in a showdown between the three friends and the leaders of the vampiric clan.
When you consider some of the rubbish genre offerings we are presented with on television in this country (Apparitions, for one), Being Human does not hold back on any area. The drama is intelligent and moving, the gore is strong and necessary, and the humour is natural and never forced. The effects are also very clever, the black eyes of the vampires, the fangs - and best of all some good old fashioned prosthetic werewolf transformations. The key to this is the writing. It takes a lot of skill to take such a high concept and make into a believable story - but the writers manage it here. The setting (Bristol) is woven cleverly into the plot, the history of the city becoming a key point explaining why the vampires are based in the city.
All of this is nothing however without the acting performances to match - and the cast is universally brilliant. All the roles were recast from the pilot, apart from Tovey as George, and the chemisty is clearly visible on screen. The three main characters invest a lot into their roles, bringing just the right levels of intensity to proceedings. But the real revelation here is how superbly the minor characters are realised. Whether it be the landlord Owen, or the leader of the vampires Herrick - there is not a bad performance to be found throughout the series. This brings a remarkable consistency to the show and makes everything even more believable.
I could wax lyrical all day about the merits of the series, but the bottom line is that in my opinion you really need to experience it for yourself. Even if you are not a fan of the horror genre, it doesn't matter. Being Human is a lot more than just a horror show. It has deeper themes and meaning, and is far more about the human condition than it is about things that go bump in the night. In the same way that Battlestar Galactica is more than sci-fi, Being Human is more than the sum of its parts. With a new, longer, darker, second series currently being filmed this is an ideal time to either revisit the first series or experience it for the first time. This is television at its finest and it deserves a place in your collection.
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