[20 September 2010]
Vampire shows tend to fall into two categories: campy dramedies with occasional moments of angst, and brooding Gothic romances with occasional moments of humor. The first season of the BBC’s Being Human fell somewhere in between; the second season is firmly planted in the latter.
At the end of season one, werewolf George, vampire Mitchell, and specter Annie, have overthrown the local bloodsucking government, Annie’s turned down death, and George may have given his girlfriend Nina “the curse”. But where the season one opener had a dark, slightly humorous tone—a tone that stretched over the six-episode series—the season two opener is immediately broody and dark, picking up only days after the first ended, recapping the previous season’s events in painstaking detail through a grimy, almost morose lens. And the fallout is not good: Nina is a werewolf, George is on a power/guilt trip after killing Herrick, and Mitchell, purposeless, is stuck in a rut. Only Annie, visible once more has a real life (pun intended), working at a pub and finding an almost boyfriend.
Despite an opener ripe with possibilities, it’s three episodes before the season really gets started—with fewer moments of the gallows humor that made the first season shine. Nina’s disgust with the trio’s lifestyle and morals is spot-on, but that’s about all. The repeated “Oh no, Annie’s invisible again” storyline is irritating at best, the pacing is too slow or too fast, and the constant stream of new characters, including Professor Jaggat, a gaunt religious fanatic bent on the destruction of our fearsome flatmates, is wearing.Fortunately, come that third episode, the show hits its stride and returns to its former glory, albeit darker, gritter, and more terrifying than before.
For all that’s lacking in humor and pacing, the show makes up for in fractured moments of hope: Mitchell and Annie passing around tea to neighbors while waiting on the “gas company” to check for a leak; Mitchell giving his new love interest a goldfish named Trevor; George reaching out to his new girlfriend’s daughter, and putting her needs before his.
Crichlow is still a perfect Annie; part optimist, part panic merchant, all charm—often in the same three minutes. Tovey’s George is a re-worked portrait of repressed anger and a deep need to reclaim humanity; his scenes with Molly are particularly well-done. Turner is a the too-cool-for-school angsty Mitchell skillfully strikes a balance between teetotaler and vengeful vamp, with a believable arc.
Creator and lead writer Toby Whithouse is a relative newcomer to vampires. Writing the disturbing Vampires in Venice episode of the latest season of Doctor Who, he also wrote the Torchwood season one episode, Greeks Bearing Gifts. But the majority of Whithouse’s decade-long writing career has been focused on character work, and it shows.
For good or ill, the strength of the show—and season two in particular—is its character development. A sort of British Joss Whedon, Whithouse has used the trio’s journey toward humanity to highlight everything that’s not working in the world, though with a strong, almost fanatical focus on the evils of religion in the form of the aforementioned (and ultimately useless) Professor Kemp and his lackey, Lucy Jaggat. It’s all a bit reminiscent of Whedon’s failed Dollhouse, but without the annoying cheesecake and heavy-handed “we are greater than the sum of our parts” claptrap.
If there’s one thing Being Human completely fails at, though, it’s special effects. The show’s effects budget has clearly increased, and the prolonged change sequences (particularly in the Nina-George-unidentified trapped werewolf scene) are overdone. Worse, the effects appear to be a sort of pandering, an apologetic “Hey, we can be flashy, too!” callout to Buffy fans.
In fact, a rather welcome post-Buffy, anti-Twilight sense pervades the show, and there are strong parallels between Annie and True Blood’s Sookie Stackhouse, though Being Human is darker and wittier (even with this season’s toned-down humor), the set up both more appealing and more disturbing (if you can subsist on pre-packaged blood, you’re not a real vampire). Are the shows disparate enough to survive together? Probably not, though we’ll soon find out—a US version of Being Human is on the way, though it’s hard to imagine an American audience responding to the bleak setting and dark overtones of the story without an Office-style cold open and Annie-Mitchell-George love triangle. The show will air on Syfy sometime in 2011; Sam Witwer (Smallville) is slated to play vampire, Aiden; Meaghan Rath (The Assistants) specter, Molly; and Sam Huntington (Superman Returns) werewolf Josh. Creator Toby Whithouse is not involved with the remake.
The DVD’s extra features don’t disappoint, with seven behind-the-scenes featurettes, including the somewhat gory Blood Bursting (tip: don’t eat before watching the show, or the blood featurette). There are also two Easter eggs to round out the bonus material, though some “deleted scenes” with more of the characters’ individual histories would have been nice. But season three is already on the way; with a little luck, there will be more history then.
Overall, the second season is a win, and will appeal to fans on the non-campy side of the vampire fence. A return to the first season’s occasional lightheartedness would take the show up a notch.