Thursday, May 10, 2012

Being Human - Season 4 – review

Director: Various

First aired: 2012

Contains spoilers

When I looked at the first episode of this season, immediately after it aired, I was worried. Being Human has changed much since it’s first incarnation when the programme came across as Withnail and I with a supernatural bent.

The characters remained, but most of the core actors changed and whilst, during its first season, it lost the brand of comedy that the pilot promised, it developed its own brand of quirky humour that span through the season. However, as the seasons went on, the storylines lost the microcosmic focus and became bigger, wider and weaker.

Michael Socha as Tom
Before this season started we knew we had lost mainstay vampire character Mitchell. As episode one of season 4 ran, we discovered we had lost werewolf Nina (in a most unsatisfactory, off-stage way) and then, by the end of the episode, we had lost werewolf George (Russell Tovey) as well. Only one core character, the ghost Annie (Lenora Crichlow), remained. The series then went on to introduce a new vampire and werewolf in the form of recurring character Tom (Michael Socha) being upgraded to central werewolf character, and the brand new character, the obsessive compulsive vampire (and one of the “Old Ones”) Hal (Damien Molony).

Damien Molony as Hal
With the innocence of Tom – he has been brought up as a vampire slayer but is innocent in the ways of the world – and OCD Hal there was opportunity to focus in on quirky characters and recapture the essence that had slowly been corroded over the previous three seasons. Alas the series aimed at its most ambitious tale yet and in so doing failed, due to poor storytelling and lazy plot devices. They threw in vampire Armageddon, a baby who was saviour of the world and time travel and it just felt wrong.

Gina Bramhill as Eve
The story goes that the Old Ones arrived and took over Britain and then the world, using a supernatural brutality mixed with a fascistic regime. The first scenes in the series take place in 2037. A broken Britain looms before us, the resistance listens as New York falls. Yet the vampires can be destroyed – their own prophecies say – by the warchild, a human child of two werewolf parents. Eve (Gina Bramhill) is that warchild but she has herself killed in the future and travels back through time, in ghost form, to have herself (whilst a baby) killed as she knows only the death of the warchild will fulfil the prophecy.

Lenora Crichlow as Annie
Here we have our first set of problems… time travel… it never really works for me… only 12 Monkeys got close to playing properly with paradoxes. Also, she worked out the trick of time travel from how Season 3 character Lia took Mitchell to his past… but Lia and Mitchell only visited tableaus, it was not actually time travel, and Annie could not have told Eve about this (as claimed) as Mitchell never really spoke to her about what happened when he was in purgatory.

melting without invitation
However shortcut plot points are the order of the day. Ghosts only appear when it is plot expedient and, when it isn't, people simply die and don't even appear to get to their door - a murdered doctor, for instance, fails to appear in spirit form as that would have buggered up the story line. Werewolf blood is suddenly toxic to vampires, not only toxic… it burns like acid. Yet we saw George beaten by werewolves in past seasons with no ill effect to the vampires and no burns from his blood. Making up lore on the fly, with no respect for the audience, simply because it is expedient. Also an intriguing piece of lore has been the idea of the men with sticks and rope from the other side. The writers finally answer this and despite how intriguing it was, and despite (what we assumed to be) them playing a huge part in Season 2, they are written off as an irrelevance, the spiritual equivalent of an annoying buzzing insect. We do see a vampire burn and melt by forcing himself into a home without invitation – which was rather cool.

Adam's triumphant return
For me, Being Human works best when concentrating on small plots. The return of vampire Adam (Craig Roberts, Young Dracula season 1 & 2) made for a highlight episode in which he had fallen for the charms of a succubus (who was unaware of her supernatural status) and made up for the ill-advised web-serial Becoming Human. There were highlight moments within the series, things that made me want to continue watching despite the larger, clunky story arc.

Mark Gatiss as Mr Snow
With regards the Old Ones, one had to wonder why they seemed stuck in time (mainly through twentieth century fashions) yet they were allegedly much older - thus would dress in contemporary fashion or much more old fashioned garb but not what they wore. With head Old One, Mr Snow (Mark Gatiss), one had to wonder why a vampire who was thousands of years old and who hadn’t been to Britain since the eighteenth century spoke with such a proper Queen's English accent. (Also, in the future Mr Snow is recognised as the one who killed the Prime Minister on TV - except it could have been any old vampire not showing up on film.) Generally, and most unfortunately, the incidental vampires often seemed like silly exaggerations – like the bodyguard who spoke in action film clichés and his boss (Amanda Abbington) who was a sub-yuppie soap caricature. The series has eschewed straight comedy and so such characters rested uneasily within the narrative.

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The series has now introduced a sassy, no nonsense, new ghost character, Alex (Kate Bracken) and, should the series go to a fifth season and concentrate on the characters and micro situations then it could easily regain the best of itself. However the concept of Men in Grey (as opposed to men in black, as the "cover-up" will be carried out by the stereotyped British civil service), who happen to categorise supernaturals in the same code as the religious fanatics in season 2, probably means they wish to look at a broader story again. I hope they pull back to their best, I really do, and the failure of season 4 was not down to the loss of mainstay actors but lazy plot devices and poor story arc, rescued on occasion by the more self-contained aspects that helped maintain a brand loyalty. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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