[13 April 2010]
The dark things behind the veil communicate via the idiot box. For confirmation, ditch the shrieking ghost hunters and mediums, with their silly trailer campaigns splashed across TV schedules. Look no further than flat-share-horror Being Human. The first series sprung from something like the set up for a bad joke: a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost commune in a house somewhere in Bristol, first broadcast on niche, youth oriented channel BBC Three.
Where the first series saw each of the characters struggling to find their place in a world which can’t or won’t acknowledge them, the second finds them fighting to protect it. Gentle, geeky werewolf George (Russell Tovey, The History Boys,Dr. Who) continues as the beating heart of Being Human, as he struggles with the repercussions of a brutal murder he committed while transformed.
Charismatic vampire Mitchell (Aiden Turner, Desperate Romantics) finds himself adrift having controlled his cravings for blood, and vanquished, for the moment at least, the vampire hordes intent on taking over the world, led by Herrick (the excellent Jason Watkins). The apparent villain of this series is both more and less overt – craggy faced scientist Kemp, first seen as a psychiatrist at the end of series one (Donald Sumpter). He’s a trench-coat wearing, Van Helsing type monster hunter working with a shadowy figure whose identity and motives remain shrouded. By contrast, Herrick’s softly-spoken, inclusive middle-manager brand of villainy is one of the most interesting facets of the first series, reinforcing the intriguing idea of unimaginable terrors hidden in the mundane.
Being Human also refocuses on the characters’ tangled love lives. While looking for his purpose, Mitchell finds time to spark a new relationship with an unhappy, lonely doctor at the magnificently gothic hospital where he and George work as porters, his previous efforts scuppered by a tendency to kill his dates. George and his girlfriend Nina (Sinead Keenan) deal badly with the fallout from the defeat of Herrick, and Annie again chooses thoroughly unsuitable men. Annie (Leonora Crichlow, Sugar Rush) recovered her supernatural mojo once the truth of her grisly death at the hands of her sociopathic and abusive fiancé Owen was revealed, and soundly punished. She spends far less time weeping and cringing this time round, allowing Crichlow to play Annie’s need to connect, her dizzy misadventures in the mortal world like her quest to find a job, for comic relief.
Annie’s story line signals a significant and welcome reduction in the crunching gear changes between comic and tragic that characterised Being Human. Toby Whitehouse’s smart scripting mines wry humour and pathos instead of the knockabout stuff, from playing with conventions and absurdities of sitcom and horror genres. Mitchell’s vegetarianism renders him unable to charm a woman into bed when he’s no intention of drinking her blood afterwards, he’s tongue tied and endearingly awkward, his fellow vampires aren’t all pale and beautiful. What makes George’s transformations haunting are not the make-up and effects, but others’ reactions to it, and his subsequent self-loathing.
There’s emotional weight this series, too; as the truth of their situation emerges, George and Nina’s inability to communicate with one another, and the implosion of their relationship is painful to watch. Where the first series couldn’t quite reconcile the episodic 20-something sitcom elements with the chills and dramatic story arc, the second jettisons all but the blackest jokes, like having a character’s inner turmoil voiced by jovial, cuddly British Institution and quiz show host Terry Wogan.
The second season also introduces a pair of dangerous, playful vampires, with a beautiful car, a fondness for the music of Kate Bush and ambiguous designs on the trio. Loved-up marrieds Daisy and Ivan (Amy Manson and Paul Rhys) tease and tap into George and Mitchell’s basest instincts. The pair’s resistance to Daisy’s machinations and desire to fit in with the best of the mortal world forms part of Being Human’s recurring motif, illustrated by the everyday savagery of ordinary human beings to one another.
The worst of human nature represented by Annie’s fiancé and his unrepentant cruelty, the pitiless speculation of hospital doctors over a nameless corpse. The neighbours forming a tabloid-justice fuelled mob to turn on Mitchell and his housemates without mercy or evidence, when they suspect something amiss in his friendship with a lonely, fatherless boy: we are all monsters, even if we don’t have fangs.