Friday, 15 April 2011

'BEING HUMAN' (USA) 1.10-1.13 catch-up

Friday, 15 April 2011
1.10 - "Dog Eat Dog" (**½ out of four)
1.11 - "Going Dutch" (*** out of four)
1.12 - "You're The One I Haunt" (** out of four)
1.13 - "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Me Killing You" (**½ out of four)
I was surprised my previous batch-review of Being Human's Stateside remake didn't elicit much comment, considering how some people expressed their disappointed I stopped weekly reviews after four episodes. Consequently, I was in two-minds about posting a follow-up to cover the last four episodes of Being Human's first season. But, if only for the sake of completism, why the hell not...

I won't bore you by repeating the points I always make about Being Human USA (hereafter BH:USA). I still believe it's inferior from a performance standpoint, yes -- but the increased budget makes for a more visually-entertaining show. It doesn't feel as raw and vérité as the UK version, no -- but it's easier to watch and perhaps more immediate fun. It also became clear that the remake's writers have a firmer grasp on the vampire/ghost lore of BH:USA. It helps that they can afford to make their vampires preternaturally powerful, their ghosts more incorporeal, but its vampire subculture was more central and engaging, if ultimately just trotting out clichés.

Still, when BH:USA was spending time with the vampiric "Dutch Elders" revived by Bishop (Mark Pellegrino) after decades of hibernation, the show achieved its apex. This was a unique storyline the remake could actually call its own, which felt like an oasis for viewers, like myself, who've spent the majority of this season comparing things to the original. The sequence where Bishop cleverly poisoned and paralyzed the Elders around a banquet table (containing a shackled woman as their meal), before proceeding to chop off their heads while delivering a speech, was wonderful stuff.

But the game of comparing Being Human's is still impossible to resist. I found it interesting that terminally ill Celine -- the aged woman who was once a lover of Aiden's (Sam Witwer) in the '70s -- was noticeably less decrepit in this version of the story. Was there a concern American viewers would be too disturbed by the idea of a 25-year-old man kissing a granny? (Is that any weirder than seeing Hugh Heffner kiss a playmate? Discuss.) Celine was instead a "cougar" the acceptable side of 50. That kind of rethinking is indicative of why BH:USA isn't as satisfying as the original, really -- it smoothes too many rough edges, then marinades the diluted drama in twangy pop-songs.

I also found it intriguing that the US version chose to tackle two prominent storylines from the BBC's third series: the vampire pastime of forcing werewolves to fight for their lives in cages, and nurse Nora (Kristen Hager) falling pregnant with Josh's (Sam Huntington) child. This was either a simple and explicable coincidence, or Being Human's creator Toby Whithouse got wind of the remake's intentions and chose to incorporate some of their ideas into his show. Payback time? I don't actually blame him if that's true, knowing how much BH:USA owes him, but we'll probably never know for sure.

Naturally, some of BH:USA's changes were clear and definite improvements -- which tends to happen when you have an existing body of work to dissect and study for weaknesses. I preferred seeing Aiden vanquish Bishop in an intense warehouse punch-up, assisted by Sally (Meaghan Rath), which neatly misdirected us away from the UK version's ending of Bishop getting slain by Josh-wolf in the hospital basement. It was the more obvious creative choice, sure, but it carried more weight having Aiden deal with his maker -- as we had a deeper sense of the history between them than their British equivalents.

Overall, BH:USA was a unexpectedly good remake that kept me entertained, despite knowing where most of the story would go. It's just a shame it lacks the sharp lo-fi realism of the UK version (this is very much a "show" not a "drama"), especially when it comes to the characters. In fact, the biggest problem BH:USA has is that the core trio rarely felt like close friends who support each other through thick and thin. There are moments when they sit around the kitchen table discussing their day, or are forced to deal with each other's crap (like Aiden and Josh stopping Sally's crazy ex-fiancé burning down their house), but I just don't get a feeling the characters are a true "family". In the BBC version, the chemistry was palpable between everyone from the get-go (particularly best-friends George and Mitchell), but that's not so clear in the syrupy Syfy version.

The remake's writing and performances simply don't connect in the same way. Witwer's a man trapped inside a marble effigy of himself, Huntington's twitchy amiability grew tiring after awhile, and Rath is less irritating than her bouncy British counterpart, but she's also twice as bland. Still, BH:USA has delivered a baker's dozen of fun that, removed from comparisons, delivered some entertainment. Hopefully its sophomore season will learn from its mistakes, the cast will interact more purposefully, and the story will plough ahead with its own originality. That approach worked wonders for NBC's The Office, after all...

written by Jeremy Carver & Anna Fricke (1.10 & 1.13), Chris Dingess (1.11) & Nancy Won (1.12) / directed by Paolo Barzman (1.10), Erik Canuel (1.11 & 1.12) & Adam Kane (1.13) / 21 March, 28 March, 4 April & 11 April 2011 / Syfy