Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Boston Phoenix Newspaper

Being Human is another kind of shape-shifter


As the media run amok with supernatural heroes (and anti-heroes), it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell one fanged leading man from another. HBO's
True Blood set a high bar, with its seedy yet sexy portrayal of a backwater Louisiana town overrun by a menagerie of otherworldly creatures. But the vampire-based movies and TV shows that have followed are a mixed lot. Most (CW's Vampire Diaries, ABC's The Gates, the latest Twilight) have become increasingly formulaic — even, uh . . . bloodless. The exception is the BBC drama Being Human, whose second season begins Saturday at 10 pm on BBC America. (Season one is out this week on DVD.)

The setting is a dreary Bristol suburb, far from the steamy, sexually charged swamp of Bon Temps and the shiny, privileged Chicago 'burb of The Gates. The characters look like real people. These aren't the glossy, manicured hard bodies of Vampire Diaries, or even the scruffily enticing alpha males and coquettes of True Blood. And it is just this banality, and a certain grit, that sets Being Human apart — that and a quiet, typically Brit sardonic humour.

Three roommates have been brought together by unusual circumstances and maybe fate. Mitchell (Aidan Turner) is a brooding, bedroom-eyed vampire cursed by his lust for blood and his lust for women — the two tend to go hand in hand. His best mate, and arguably the show's most engaging character, bespectacled George (Russell Tovey), is a hapless werewolf whose full-moon transitions (which he refers to as "his time of the month") are the least of his problems — he's also self-conscious and has bad luck with the opposite sex. ("See, I can actually talk to women without weeping or setting myself on fire," Mitchell says when George bemoans yet another fumbled attempt at a pick-up.) The third in their unlikely trio is a ghost — Annie (Lenora Crichlow) died in the flat they all now inhabit, right before her wedding, and just can't seem to leave. Turns out there are some serious unresolved issues surrounding her death . . . and life.

If all this sounds a bit Three's Company, plus a little gore and minus a lot of Suzanne Somers, it's not. Each character is struggling to hold onto his or her humanity — as well as protect the rest of humankind from unseen dark forces. (Although at one point, Mitchell can't argue when a fellow vampire challenges him, "Who are you saving, really — have you seen Britain's Got Talent?")

And, of course, there's always the monster within, making every day, every moment, another test. It's touching to watch the sweetly earnest, bumbling George become gradually eaten up by the wolf inside. The show keeps you rooting for him — for all three. Crichlow is particularly affecting when Annie considers the life milestones she'll never celebrate, and so is Tovey when George tells how he came to be a werewolf. "We all choose our tribe," Mitchell says in a voiceover, "Because it's scary on the outside - on the fringes." Indeed it is. With its grubby Bristol setting and mundane day-to-day trials, the entire show takes place on the fringes of society, as the friends struggle to create an inner sanctum all their own. "Not everything about being human is nice," George tells Annie. Maybe not, but most everything about Being Human is worth tuning in for.

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