Monday, 26 January 2009


Monday, 26 January 2009
"They're amongst us"; so goes the slogan for Toby Whithouse's six-part comedy-horror Being Human -- which began life as a well-received pilot last year, and has now been recast and retro-fitted for mass consumption. The premise is pulp nonsense -- a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost share a house in Bristol; a three-way support group as the "flotsam and jetsam of death."

Mitchell (Aidan Turner) is a handsome vampire with designer stubble, trying to keep a lid on his thirst for neck-biting; George (Russell Tovey) is a nebbish hospital orderly with a case of lycanthropy; and Annie (Lenora Crichlow) is the spook haunting the house they rent from her grieving fiancé. Part house-share sitcom, part horror drama, Being Human is surprisingly unflinching when it comes to gruesome moments (like a wonderful werewolf transformation; slightly undermined by the resulting dog-head puppet), but the comedy is allowed to sputter at times, and the hour-long format results in a flabby mid-section.

For fans of the '08 pilot, this do-over manages to establish the high-concept premise without laboriously raking over old ground. The teaser swiftly (re)introduced the characters, embellished with fresh information and background -- Mitchell was bitten by vampire soldiers he came across during WWII; George survived being attacked by a werewolf, but his friend died (a change to his back-story); and the circumstances of Annie's death remain intentionally vague, but we witness her drifting invisibly around her own wake, screaming to be heard by her heartbroken relatives.

The three leads are generally very good, particularly Tovey (the only holdover of the pilot), who imbues nerdy George with bouncy energy and facial tic's. Turner and Crichlow are fine, but lack the air of alienation their predecessors (Guy Flanagan and Andrea Riseborough) brought to the same characters. In particular, Turner is too chiseled and buff to be a plausible "outsider" or "loner", when compared to Flanagan's anemic goth. Fortunately, both give endearing performances, particularly Crichlow (whose Annie has a more bearable accent than Riseborough's), and the trio already have a relaxed, sympathetic chemistry together.

The plot doesn't grip until the second half, once the exposition has been dealt with, and the vampire subculture is the inevitable mechanism: cold-turkey Mitchell tempted to bite a besotted nurse; their first date complicated by the arrival of tempestuous Lauren (Annabel Scholey), a "dead" hospital worker Mitchell turned into a vampire, upset by his dismissal of her. Head vampire Hereck also returns from the pilot, now in the proletariat guise of Jason Watkins -- eschewing Adrian Lester's wine-drinking cliché. In a rethink, Hereck's now an unassuming policeman with Malcolm McClaren-like intonations, but still threatening vampire insurrection and hoping to draw Mitchell back into the fold.

The vampire stuff wobbles around genre clichés, and Being Human will definitely face problems once the attention-grabbing premise loses its luster. Still, this was a confident start to what is still, undoubtedly, BBC Three's best creative decision in years. For a comedy-drama, there was a curious lack of laughs, though -- and the few jokes were often broad and silly (George's farcical attempt to find a safe place to "wolf-out" in a local wood), and some of the internal logic needs straightening out or explained (if the pizza delivery boy can see ghost Annie, why can't her fiancé?) I'm also not convinced Being Human benefits from hour-long episodes; it would make a snappier half-hour fix, unless future episodes do a better job of filling the time.

Overall, I wasn't wowed by this re-start, but it certainly earned my attention. I just hope subsequent episodes put meat on the bones, and remember to dish out some caustic laughs. Here, small character moments left the best impression: a decision to let a mortally-wounded woman die rather than be turned into a vampire; or Mitchell and Annie huddled together on their front doorstep, as George transforms into a ferocious beast indoors -- keeping the secret... sharing the burden... steadfast friends, perched on the fringe of a normal, human life.

25 January 2009
BBC Three, 9pm

Writer: Toby Whithouse
Director: Toby Haynes

Cast: Russell Tovey (George), Aidan Turner (Mitchell), Lenora Crichlow (Annie), Jason Watkins (Herrick) & Annabel Scholey (Lauren)