Monday, March 02, 2009

Being Human (season 1) – review

proposed dvd coverDirected by: Various

Release date: 2009

contains spoilers

I had really enjoyed the Pilot of this show and so it was with a little bit of trepidation that I sat down to watch the first episode of the series that concentrated on a house share between a werewolf, George (Russell Tovey), a vampire, John Mitchell (Aiden Turner), and a ghost, Annie (Lenora Crichlow). Part of this was due to the fact that two of the three main characters had changed actors from the pilot. Part was the rumour that the pilot was no longer canon – I believe that writer Toby Whitehouse sees the pilot as canon, as such there is a small but significant probable continuity error. Part was the fact that they were going to lose some of the 'gothic' making it “slightly more rooted" and "a bit funnier".

After the first episode I found my expectations raised, so how did the series go? For the most part I really enjoyed it but I perhaps missed some of the humour that had been present in the pilot – despite the claims by producer Matthew Bouche, quoted above, the series was less funny and a lot darker – that's not to say that the show didn't have some laugh out loud moments (it did) but that they were less focused on. However, I found some plotting issues that, whilst they weren't a problem watching the thing, became obvious once you started thinking about the plot in depth.

Mitchell feedsThe general story is fairly simple, a werewolf and vampire – both hospital workers – rent a house in Bristol in an attempt to be a part of humanity – their goal to be human. George has to deal with his monthlies, and in this the transformation only triggers on the first night of a full moon. Mitchell is trying to stay on the wagon and not drink blood – his last kill was co-worker Lauren (Annabel Scholey) whom he turned into a vampire and we’ll look at the nature of the vampire’s blood thirst later.

Lenora Crichlow as AnnieOn renting the house they discover it is haunted by Annie – the owner’s fiancée, who died in the house having fallen down the stairs. As things progress we discover that Annie did not die accidentally and I don’t believe that is a spoiler as it was fairly obvious it would be the case, but was actually killed by her fiancée Owen (Greg Chillin) – a fact she had blocked out. Annie can be seen and can interact dependant upon her mood, the more happy and confident she is the more she can interact with the physical world. When she regains her memory she develops a poltergeist aspect.

Mitchell, still human, first world warMeanwhile the local vampires, led by Mitchell’s sire Herrick (Jason Watkins), are actively recruiting new vampires. They have a plan for a new world order with the motto “no one gets left behind”. The world shall become a vampire paradise, which they will rule, though they leave out of their spiel the fact that humanity will be farmed. Mitchell gets sucked into this conspiracy when he loses faith in humanity – having been turned on by a typical ‘Daily Mail mob’ when suspected (wrongly) of grooming a young boy. Once he emerges from the lie, as it were, it appears it is too late – Herrick uses Mitchell as a symbol due to Mitchell's past excesses and if he won't play ball he’ll have to die.

Aiden Turner as MitchellVampiric lore then comes in, they have sensitive eyes but otherwise can go around in the sunlight. They develop fangs and their eyes swim black when filled with the blood lust. The blood lust itself is almost akin to alcoholism. Mitchell tells us that when you give up blood you remember, clearly, all you have done and thus many vampires have tried to give up blood but have failed as it is easier to crawl back into drinking blood to forget. Blood, of course, helps them heal but it must be fresh from a victim.

The reason that the vampire revolution is starting in Bristol is because the first vampire to live hidden as a human, in Britain, lived in Bristol. Richard Turner was also a slave trader and, when we see the prison of humans held for feeding we see a further simile. Vampires die by stake through the heart (leading to a dissolution) and, we hear, beheading. In the pilot vampires had reflections, in this they do not. According to wikipedia they only fail to reflect via silver backed objects (assuming a silver reaction aspect to their condition) and thus can’t be filmed. The trouble is that this is not said in the series and thus is our probable continuity error as we cannot say whether vampires were meant to reflect in the pilot or not. Also, Moonlight did similar but remembered that digital cameras don’t use silver nitrate – thus work. This seemed to be missed when we see a dvd of a vampire kill with the vampire invisible, though they might have deliberately used a film based camera for some reason.

It is strange, also, that Mitchell can handle George’s silver Star of David. The religious aspect of the icon is answered as it does hold off other vampires but it doesn’t affect Mitchell due to the genuine love that George feels for his friend. Fair play, but surely vampires react to silver if they can't be reflected due to silver? Death is deemed as a not pleasant place in this – the pilot mentioned men with sticks and ropes – and both Annie and Mitchell have seen things they refuse to relay to George. That said, a ghost who fulfills their reasons for remaining happily steps through into death.

turning under the full moonThe series did a lot right and it certainly had me coming back on a weekly basis. I loved how dark it became and there was an episode with another ghost, Gilbert (Alex Price), that was genuinely touching. However, there were little writing faux pas such as having a werewolf change in a house and rip the place apart but not be able to get through the door or a window – it was nonsensical. The pacing of the finale seemed off, with moments of angst and sentiment spoiling the race to the climax. Herrick's reactions through the finale seem out of step with his brutal, angry attack on Mitchell the episode before.

Russell Tovey as GeorgeThe performances were, generally, very good. I thoroughly enjoyed Lenora Crichlow’s performance as Annie. She had some very powerful scenes and I bought the character and how she developed. The only real criticism was that Russell Tovey, who was generally excellent, did occasionally stray to the too hysterical. These moments almost owed a debt to Stan Laurel (Laurel and Hardy are referenced in the show) and perhaps those moments could have been toned down just a notch - though sometimes it worked really well as it did when he confessed wetting himself at a knock at the door. Incidentally the programme, to me, owed much more to Laurel and Hardy, certainly within the Mitchell and George dynamic, than it did The Odd Couple as some sources have suggested.

The trouble with Being Human was that when you thought about it in too much detail it began to unravel and the writing careened from genius to average. I enjoyed it, I will buy the DVD but I think it could have been better. For the score I am minded to settle upon 7 out of 10. The worse parts of the series are not enough to push it lower taking the programme as a very enjoyable holistic whole – but it should have scored more.

The imdb page is here.

At the time of review the DVD is available for pre-order for a 20th April release:


Anonymous said...

The first episode was a bit touch-and-go but as I had hoped, once the reintroductions were behind us the show was really enjoyable and I'm glad to hear there's an 8-episode second series to come.

I can't fault your analysis, although I hadn't picked up on the silver factor at all (which, as you say, explained why there were reflections some of the time but doesn't explain the Star of David - unless the Star isn't made of silver at all. Come to think of it, in the finale George transforms wearing the Star...?). Also I'd like Russel T to tone down his performance a tad. Like you say, the series is darker than the pilot (which I welcome) but Tovey seems to still be in the more comic pilot at times.

American True Blood fans I've introduced to the show love it to bits and the BBC should consider running it in the US in the breaks between the True Blood seasons...just a suggestion.

All in all a really enjoyable show.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hiyah Simon. It was wikipedia that suggested that the Star of David is silver... it might not be, of course, but as it was wiki that suggested the silver aspect as a reason for the photography/mirrors I ran with it.

Everlost said...

Simon, the beeb are showing being human on BBC america in 2009, although they havent said when yet.

Really liked this series, and will definately be glued to the second series. Did think the end game was a little strange, in the way that herrick just seemed to accept his grisly fate of being chewed by the werewolf..."oh well, it wasnt meant to be...someone else will lead", especially when nina ran into the room - surely any bad guy worth his salt would have grabbed the girl and tried to bargain his escape?

Overall thought the three characters were spot on - did like george's comedy moments, mitchell made a very believeable angsty vamp and annie pulled off a good final episode becoming a strong ghostie, although i didnt like how the vamp minions were defeated by being 'pushed over' in the final episode.

The chav dinnerlady vamp had my missus shouting at the screen, and some of george's lines had us both laughing, so...good series, well done the beeb! (ITV demons crew, are you watching??)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for the link - I'm sure it'll hearten our American cousins.

Did realise a huge plot hole today from pilot to finale...


When Annie and Mitchell arrive at 'the dungeon' she has to teleport in to open the door into the room that George and Herrick are. Thus, when they leave the room they have to hold the door shut iro the werewolf as the handle to close the door is inside the room...

However, in the pilot George uses said room for transformations as the handle to the door is on the outside and has to be released by Mitchell the day after his transformation, thus Annie has to leave the house for the first time to get George's ex-girlfriend out before he transforms when she becomes trapped in there...

Anonymous said...

I noted that the dungeon (hospital basement) that George arranges to confront Herrick in is the same one that George 'used' for his monthlies, and in which Mitchell would lock him in from the outside. However, in the finale, Annie has to pop in to 'open' the door from the inside as George has 'locked' it. Furthermore, when they get out of the room with Nina, Mitchell and Annie have to hold it shut against the raging beastly GeorgeWolf as there seems to be no means of locking it from the outside now?

Perhaps the workmen we saw in the first episode reversed the lock... or maybe the producers forgot and we did not!

Rooksmoor said...

The room may have been adapted as at one stage George has to try to find somewhere else to change as Mitchell tells him that area of the hospital is being altered to be something else. I have been round the back end of some Victorian hospitals and as yet have seen none as grim as that basement.

The tone of this series was a bit erratic as has been noted. I did not see the pilot, but I have heard that it was more light-hearted and I think some of that lingering over into the series may have contributed to this up and down nature. Perhaps they just thought it could simply be far too bleak.

I certainly think there was an issue with Herryk, perhaps he was just tired of it all at the end. To some extent what he was planning was not as grand as he made out, he was deluding himself a little. It was almost like 'The Long Good Friday' with a basically local criminal finding the limits of his power. What he planned was not of the nuclear winter scale planned by the vampires in 'Ultraviolet' and to some degree despite what he said about pursuing the trio across the world he was really a small man. If he had been that powerful he would not have had to come round and kill Mitchell himself. Herryk seems pretty erratic in who he recruited. Even if he wanted power just in Bristol you would think he would have recruited councillors, other police officers, business people. However, it seems he does not want anyone in the gang who is more influential than himself, just a uniformed police officer.

To some degree the series faced the same challenge that Buffy faced when they had to see down an evil that could end the World or the Universe and yet they were only a bunch of quite ordinary people. Then they had to get back to living their lives and dealing with normality. On this basis, I do not know if it was intentional, but there seemed to be references to the Second World War, especially when the house is attacked when Mitchell is accused of being a paedophile. Having George Jewish added to that element of referring back to Nazis attacking minorities, notably Jews. The period after the defeat of Herryk (a small man experimenting on people with dreams of great power) we find our trio finding it difficult to adjust to 'normal' life as in the movie 'Plenty' and a lot of men and women who had fought found civilian life very tedious.

Annie's powers seem to fluctuate a great deal. I think she would have convinced Owen a great deal quicker if she had resumed her poltergeist powers seen in earlier episodes.

Nina is an interesting character. The implication in the last episode is that she has been scratched by a werewolf herself and George as werewolf sensed that. However, she did not change at the full Moon, maybe she has more control over it.

I do not know if US fans can access the BBC Iplayer, I find difficulty when I try to access such US services from the UK. Anyway, all six episodes can now be watched there.

I raised this final point in the wrong place initially, i.e. in comments to the pilot, and that is about the issue of vampires being seen in mirrors and on video. We discussed this over 'Ultraviolet' where it is taken to the extreme. In 'Being Human' vampires can use telephones in contrast to 'Ultraviolet'. We see they cannot be captured on video which must raise interesting questions when Mitchell is moving around the hospital a place usually saturated by video cameras.

I was interested why blood not direct from a living person was unsuitable for the vampires. I suppose it has something to do with oxygenation.

Sorry, I will stop now. The series has certainly thrown up lots of thoughts for me.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Rooksmoor, thanks for the in depth comment...

taking a few of the points you've raised...

Re the alterations, it is true that they show workmen in episode 1 and then it is mentioned that they have stopped... Nothing is mentioned about a door alteration however and for something that fundamental I would have liked it mentioned (just a throw away about it being unsuitable now because they moved the handle would have done).

Re Herrick and his little man, big plans... it is a good point you raise and his choice of recruits did seem odd.

Re Annie's powers, they were evry much emotionally based. When seeing Owen she was in fear and, as such, her powers seemed reduced - until she overcame that fear.

Re reflections, I think key is the concept of silver mentioned on wikipedia... If silver fails to allow reflection/capture a vampire would not be able to be reflected in a standard mirror but would show in a pane of glass. They would not show on standard film but would be captured by a digital camera - presumably the CCTV is digital in the hospital.

To me the blood of a living person would, supernaturally, contain a spark of life... I guess that was the logic

Everlost said...

Just seen the US TV release date... July 25th

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers everlost