Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Impressions: Being Human

British TV's been on fire lately: after "No Heroics" and the superb "Survivors", this week marked the debut of BBC Three's Being Human, about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a flat in Bristol.

This was actually a unique case for me, because a mix-up resulted in Ethan and I seeing the pilot episode released last year rather than this week's series premiere. And while I've managed to catch up, there are significant differences between the two episodes, so I've been left with two sets of opinions about the show.

I fell in love with "Being Human" about twenty minutes into the pilot, for so many reasons: the premise has Mitchell, a scrawny quasi-Goth vampire, working as a hospital janitor alongside his best friend George, a neurotic Jewish werewolf who can't find a safe place to let the beast out when the full moon comes. They're both struggling to live normal lives despite their respective curses and decide to move in together, only the flat they choose is haunted by Annie, a woman who may or may not have been murdered in that very house. Annie, like George and Mitchell, just wants to maintain some sense of herself as a person, so the three of them end up forming a rapport.

The pilot's tone is a surprisingly effective mesh of comedy and drama, alternating between lighter moments like George's hysterics and much darker situations (the Mitchell/Lauren subplot). The characters are given distinct and fleshed-out personalities with minimal exposition, and all three actors - Guy Flanagan as Mitchell, Russell Tovey as George and Andrea Riseborough as Annie - play their respective roles very well.

Which is where the problems start, because the series premiere ended up replacing two-thirds of the cast, switching in Aidan Turner as Mitchell and Lenora Crichlow as Annie. It's a mixed bag: Crichlow's version of Annie is a lot stronger and less twitchy than Riseborough's, but since George has the monopoly on neurosis anyway, it's probably a good thing to set her apart in that sense. Turner, on the other hand, is pretty much the archetypal Brooding Hunk, and I find that I prefered Flanagan's more sardonic, constantly-bemused performance, to say nothing of the amazing chemistry he had with his co-stars (seriously, this show's a Yaoi Fangirl's dream come true - HoYay is off the charts).

There's also a marked shift away from the comedic aspects of the pilot; George's hysterics are still amusing, but overall the premiere is much more serious. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, especially since they're not overdoing it the way, say, "Demons" does (okay, so Brit TV's winning streak might have a few speed bumps along the way).

But I liked the idea of a genuine comedy-drama hybrid with supernatural trappings; in shifting the paradigm towards the darker end of the spectrum, "Being Human" lost some of its charm simply by becoming more similar to things I've already seen. I'm sticking with it, because it's still an entertaining and well-written show, but I can't help wishing they'd have gone with the pilot instead...