Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review: BEING HUMAN, 4.1 – "Eve of the War"

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Faced with the loss of three major characters by the end of this opening hour, Being Human's creator Toby Whithouse takes inspiration from his Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat and supercharges the show to compensate—turning it from a relatively demure house-share comedy-drama into a full-blown fantasy adventure with cartoon-y villains, a doomsday prophecy inked on skin, glimpses of an apocalyptic vampire-controlled future, and a newborn baby called Melody Pond Eve who's at the centre of everything...

I'm not sure if audiences will adjust to Being Human's revamp, as it's now relying on brand loyalty without Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Sinead Keenan's involvement. (At least until their replacements take hold as three-dimensional people.) It's true that many British shows thrive because they don't hammer a formula into the ground over five years, with every actor safely under contract... but will sweeping changes work in Being Human's case, seeing as it's a show founded on the chemistry and relationships between three specific characters? Replacing vampire Mitchell with Damien Molony's cultivated vampire Hal is one thing, but to lose Tovey within the first hour means there are now two huge holes to fill. And the knowledge that we still have Lenora Crichlow around as ghostly Annie doesn't ameliorate anything, as she was always a weak actress who flailed around playing an irritating and exasperatingly stupid character. (Already, Annie can't even manage to protect a baby from a vampire cop and a social worker she's invisible to, despite having all manner of metaphysical powers at her disposal. Why not just teleport somewhere safe with the baby, as she was told to do so by George?)

Michael Socha has also been promoted to regular status, having guest-starred throughout series 3 as werewolf Tom. Unfortunately, while the athletic Socha was fine as a dim-witted youth who's lived a sheltered life with an overprotective father, aided by his large puppy-like eyes, I'm not sure he's lead actor material. He looked out of his depth throughout this premiere, whenever his physicality wasn't required, and is definitely a weaker substitute for Tovey—who may have his own faults as an actor, but can generally be relied on to give expressive and heartfelt performances.

I'm more confident about Molony's debut, even if he wasn't given much to do in this opener, which was surprising, because the few scenes he had felt genuine and interesting—especially a lovely moment with him getting a haircut from a werewolf barber. Making his character, Hal, already part of another vampire-werewolf-ghost trio was also an intriguing and unexpected choice, while the simple fact he's so calm and collected makes him a refreshing change from Mitchell's impetuousness.

"Eve Of The War" was still a strange and awkward episode, though, partly because Whithouse had to contend with a thorny situation regarding the off-screen departure of actress Sinead Keenan (who infuriatingly didn't return to film a fitting exit, unlike Tovey). After a few years spent following the ups and downs of George and Nina's prickly relationship, it was frankly unforgivably to be told Nina was murdered by vampires while the show was off-air. It's hard to see what else Whithouse could have done, faced with an actress who upped and left, but it's nevertheless an unfortunate problem this premiere had to deal with, and it didn't do a great job because there's no escaping the necessary exposition and weird lurch in George's situation (going from expectant father to grieving widow and paranoid were-daddy).

To be fair, Being Human couldn't have continued with new actors just stepping into the vacant roles of "vampire" and "werewolf" to keep the show's signature triumvirate intact. It's understandable that Whithouse has chosen to expand the scope of his show, by focusing on the idea of a vampire war and treating it with more seriousness than ever before (where it always felt like the silly fantasy of vampire boss Herrick). But it's still very cheesy, in a Primeval-type way, that this episode's doing things like jumping forward in time to "London 2037" to show us a world where vampires are taking over the planet in the manner of a shoestring Terminator 2 with fangs. Maybe that's because the budget isn't really there to do anything this ambitious, or maybe it's because Being Human always worked because it refused to do obvious and "American" things like that. I'm hoping the show will pull back slightly and focus on the characters in the present, although it's hard to see how the show can ever get back to the "vampire, werewolf and a ghost share a house together" simplicity of the previous three years now.

Overall, "Eve Of The War" offered a worrying but intriguing setup for this fourth series. I can't shake the feeling that Whithouse should have called it quits with 75% of his cast exiting the show (leaving us with Crichlow gabbling and half-forgetting some of her lines), but there's a chance we'll come to enjoy whatever Whithouse has planned. It's just hard to get excited about B-movie nonsense like symbols and prophecies from "vampire recorder" Mark Williams (playing things broad and irritating), while having to swallow oddness like the child of two werewolves not suffering from lycanthropy herself, or George being able to will himself into a botched "wolf-out" by simply looking at a poster of a Full Moon and getting very upset...

What did you think? Are you happy to see Being Human try something very different with new characters, or is the show moving too far away from what you loved about it to begin with?

written by Toby Whithouse / directed by Philip John / 5 February 2012 / BBC Three