‘Being Human’: More Human than Humans

[27 July 2010]

By Kate Spatola

When will the undead leave us alone?  For the last several years our film and television screens have been overrun by all manner of things eerie and supernatural.  From the moody and tiresome Twilight series to the oversexed soapy delight of HBO’s True Blood, it would seem our cultural appetite for all things vamp has yet to be sated. Is there any space (or desire) left to invite yet another band of otherworldly souls into our homes? 

Even in crowded rooms, though, space can always be cleared for guests who bring something fresh and clever to the mix. Such is the case with the supernatural BBC television series Being Human, whose arrival on North American shores comes a bit late, but is welcome and enjoyable all the same. Through a unique blend of drama, comedy and fright, the show sets itself apart from other paranormal offerings and reminds audiences that even dead concepts can be reawakened with new blood pumped into them.

The show’s premise – a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf all sharing a flat – seems macabre only in so far as the setup for a particularly horrid joke. Ye Being Human is engaging and satisfies well beyond the ridiculous limits of its concept. The story centers on two friends, George (Russell Tovey) and Mitchell (Aidan Turner), who move into a shabby flat in Bristol, England only to discover that the previous (and recently deceased) tenant, Annie (Lenora Crichlow) has yet to leave. 

On the verge of her wedding day Annie died in a freak accident inside the apartment. Having failed to cross over, Annie is now a ghost whose fear and insecurity keep her largely within the walls of her old flat. That George and Mitchell can both fully see Annie and remain rather unfazed by this discovery is a good indication that neither one of these young men is your standard feckless twenty-something. 

George and Mitchell lead lives of determined anonymity as they knowingly toil and accept the low-status drudgery of working as porters at a local hospital. Neither, though, is as unassuming and normal as they labor to be. For the endearingly awkward and hapless George is actually a werewolf and the cool and handsome Mitchell is a centuries old vampire.

Individually and collectively the three roommates yearn for a quiet normalcy where the monsters of their world can remain at bay outside the sanctity of the home they have worked so hard to establish. This, though, is an eternal struggle and Being Human is an exploration of the conflicts each character faces.  What sets Being Human apart from so many other series of similar ilk is creator Toby Whithouse’s ability to weave the larger supernatural mythologies of the genre with the personal and more affecting stories of the three main characters.

At its core this is a show about three friends simultaneously journeying through the unknown world of adulthood. The characters’ outward struggles are writ large and wrapped in folklore, but their real battles are found in the same complicated banalities of human life and emotion. Navigating between these two worlds, each character slowly learns that being ‘normal’ has less to do with being human than with retaining one’s individual integrity and humanity in an increasingly uncaring and cruel world.

As is often the case with many BBC paranormal programs (Doctor Who, Torchwood) the unsophisticated special effects used in Being Human can at times be distractingly pathetic. Yet it’s to the credit of the cast—especially the wonderful Russell Tovey as George – and the integrity of Mr. Whithouse’s creative vision that Being Human overcomes its laughable premise and clunky special effects and succeeds as both pleasurable entertainment and engaging drama. 

The series gains strength with each episode and will be rewarding to audiences willing to forgive its occasional awkward moments. The narrative rules of genre may limit audiences weary of the supernatural premise, but there is much to engage and satisfy a wide viewing public. Subtle character observations and engrossing drama blend seamlessly with gracious charm and humor. Those looking for a bit of blood will find many genuinely scary elements throughout Being Human.

The requisite mixed bag of deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes featurettes and video diaries are all included in the DVD boxed set of Being Human: Season One. These supplemental offerings don’t add much to the overall enjoyment of the series, but are there for a brief diversion between episodes. 

The real enjoyment from this recently released DVD set lies in the evolution of the series itself. With quiet confidence and a total lack of pretension Being Human is a compelling, affective and clever addition to the supernatural set of characters currently occupying our screens.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/128713-being-human-season-one/