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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Why You Should Be Watching: Being Human (US)

Josh, Aidan, and Sally from Being Human (US)

Would a smile kill you guys?

I’m completely over monster movie zeitgeists in our culture lately. The legends of undead villains and armies have been tampered with so much recently that people are running thin on ideas. What’s next? Unearthed mummies involved in romantic comedies? Finding a reason for Dr Frankenstein to make covens of monsters? Would they be covens? Gaggles? Maybe take after crows and be a murder? That might be a little too on the nose.

But it is getting a little silly. Zombies are showing up in remixes of classic literature and are being codified in fake survival guides. The Walking Dead has its heart in the right place (at least they carry on the tradition of zombies not actually being called zombies a la Night of the Living Dead) but is kind of ridiculous in every other aspect of its television being. How long until they go the path of the vampire, the story of whom has become so romanticized in the last decade that it’s almost centrist, somewhere between blood-curdling horror and wacky but lovable character. Do the people on Team Edward ever stop to think that the dude is a monster that drains to empty the blood out of things with teeth like a violent bestial killer while he’s amassed centuries of knowledge in stealth, slaughter, and being sparkly?

Such is the trouble with a lot of the yesteryear’s legends existing in our time of post-modernist reboot. We tire of these larger-than-life icons existing on a plane separate from us. We want to see their human-ish struggle. It’s even evident in superhero reboots, where Superman has a child, Iron Man is dying of the thing that saves him (to be fair, Marvel had a head start on the human hero thing), and Diana is riddled with neuroses as she tries to find a man (is anyone hopeful for the Wonder Woman reboot? I’ve already given up).

The problem with these things isn’t that we want to see these human sides of otherworldly characters. The issue is what we end up doing with them. Vampires have been taken to a treacly place that pop culture begs them to be in, at least a little while, until the backlash comes and they forget all about Sookie and their terrible Foghorn-Leghorn accents to become violent monsters again. No, showing a monster struggle isn’t a terrible thing but there needs to be a balance. Show the drama in a formerly human horror figure dealing with that which makes him or her other. Keep the humanity with the beast because that is the conflict. And Being Human does exactly that.

Didn’t think I’d get back to it, did you?

A brief note before I continue: I haven’t watched the British series at all. I knew it was there before I started watching the American version but I didn’t want to have an Office situation where I constantly debate the validity of one to the other or even strike a comparison. I’ve heard the British version shows characters delving into even more risque behavior with streaks of darkness not (yet) apparent in the American incarnation. I’ve also heard the pilot is almost a line-for-line remake of the British series (much in like The Office). I don’t want the BBC version to color the Syfy version just yet, so I’m staying away for a little while, at least until the end of this season.

Which is Monday (tomorrow as of this writing). The thirteenth episode of the series will air with a relieved cast and crew, knowing they’ve already been renewed. Syfy has had some pretty good numbers come its way from the series despite a marketing campaign that made me think it was a supernatural screwball comedy. In fact, I wasn’t interested in the series at all until Karen made me hip to what it was really about, noting that there was “something there.” So I watched. And kept watching. And caught up. And hung at the end of every episode.

I don’t hang often at the end of an episode. Television, much that I love it, doesn’t affect me that way lately, not in the way LOST would send my voice three octaves higher as I squeaked “What?” each week. Not to compare Being Human to LOST (a tad unfair) but I haven’t watched a show that made me gasp as frequently as this show. Not Pretty Little Liars (too campy for me to really get that involved), not Chuck (I say “What?” a lot but it’s usually in a low-tone groan), just Being Human. That should be high enough praise right there.

If you need more, take the premise: a vampire (Aidan) and a werewolf (Josh), friends despite their legendary differences, are both in places in their lives where they want to be more human than monster and hope they can help each other to achieve that goal. The house they move into together turns out to be haunted by a ghost who has no recollection as to how she died or what to even do as a ghost but can be seen by other supernatural beings (like vampires and werewolves) so at least she has someone to talk to. The series has had pretty strong seasonal arcs for all the characters as they struggle with their humanity in the face of their beast or incorporeality. While you could imagine that this would get a little “emo” at times, generally the whining is justified for the characters (and thankfully, the vampire doesn’t do any of the crying). Aidan deals with a coven of vampires headed by his oldest vampire frienemy Bishop who wants him to come back and forget this silly “don’t suck people dry” thing Aidan is trying out. Josh, already an anxious mess before becoming a werewolf, struggles to trust himself in the world now that the beast courses in his veins. Sally is stuck in limbo without anyone to tell her what to do next and constantly faces the life she’s missing out on, possibly for eternity. Some deep material.

The show follows a basic format: present a situation where each of the characters can reacquaint themselves with their humanity and then cut them off at the knees with the scimitar of reality. You want to connect with your ex-boyfriend? You almost can, he can kind of sense you, but no, you’re a ghost and you barely exist. Sorry. The show does a good job at keeping this fresh with small battle losses but never overwhelming their overall drives for a “normal” existence. The series of setbacks don’t grow tiresome or repetitive and build into their seasonal arcs well. And then there’s the cliffhangers.

Being Human is a format built on five acts: a teaser/act-one mash-up, regular acts two and three, followed by shortened acts for four and five (with no coda). The teaser and act five generally end with something pretty horrifying: car accidents, transformations, vampire porn (yeah, vampire porn). While this is pretty commonplace, the escalation of these events through the first season has been expert and the events of the past few episodes have been pretty spellbinding. I’m trying not to get into spoilers for those of you that haven’t been watching, but the turns are pretty good for basic cable.

Convinced yet? Here are some things you’ll have to contend with if you move forward on this series:

  • The pilot’s rough. Actually the first two episodes (since the pilot is a two-parter) is kind of rough. Again, this is supposedly a direct translation of the original and it doesn’t necessarily work everywhere. Stick with it, though.
  • The effects on Josh’s transformation are completely stupid. If you are a person thrown on by terrible CG, you might need to fast-forward through these sometimes agonizing scenes.
  • While the show usually does a good job keeping grounded, it does tend to go more True Blood and get over-the-top with its situations. No, it doesn’t get True Blood in that throbbing vampire orgy sense. For that, maybe you should be like Craig Ferguson and watch full-on porn.
  • Josh and Sally may sound like they’re whining all the time at first but it eventually evolves into shades of their character (Josh’s anxiety and Sally’s self-importance). You’ll see it more when they bounce things off of Aidan (who never really has a chance to talk about his feelings — at all).
  • Yes, Rebecca is a two-face.
  • Bishop (played by Mark Pellegrino) totally has some Jacob-y lines. I’m not sure if it’s the delivery or writers living out their fantasies as being in the LOST room. Just go with it.
  • Even though this kind of feels like I’m warning Doc about being shot by the Libyans in 1985, you may not want to know this but there will be a flashback sequence in episode 12 (“You’re the One that I Haunt”). In it, Bishop and Aidan will be costumed for the 70s. It looks like Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys did the wardrobe and a dead rat did the wigs. Also: Bishop says “This is America” while in Montreal. Get the gist of the scene and pretend like it never happened. And wear a bulletproof vest.

In a culture that seems to enjoy turning our icons into sniveling messes, it’s good to watch a show that can balance the monster image with the human one. While these characters have the best of intentions, they fall short and they have room to grow. The story has potential to go places and everyone on the show is appealing enough to make you want to stick with them. It’s worth watching. Until Swamp Thing moves into the attic apartment. Then we riot in the streets.

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