How does Syfy's USA Being Human stack up to the UK version?
29-12-2010 courtesy of: http://io9.com A spoiler-free review!
We've seen the first three episodes of Syfy's Americanized Being Human series (a drama about a vampire, werewolf and ghost roommates). This thing has a serious shot at becoming Syfy's next hit, if they can fix a few problems.
Here's the basic premise. A werewolf, vampire and a ghost all share an apartment. The werewolf and the vampire know each other from work (the vampire is a nurse and the wolf is an orderly), while the ghost is haunting their new apartment. The rest is all drama — good drama, but heaps and heaps of "When will our heroes get a break?" kind of drama. But then again, should they? After all they are "monsters" and feel the need to remind themselves of this fact in just about every episode. But more on the storylines later - let's get to the goods.
The best part about this series is the script. It's fresh, it's fast, and it keeps the energy high and the melodrama moving. It's exactly the kind of writing style to make a paranormal drama tale palatable for all those not fully committed to the genre. You don't have to live up to the (unfair) stereotypes surrounding True Blood, Twilight and Vampire Diaries fans to enjoy this show in one way or another. That is, if you like clever dialogue.
A lot of the back and forth between male leads Sam Witwer and Sam Huntington is pulled directly from the same snarky wheelhouse as Supernatural. This shouldn't surprise us too much, as Supernatural writer Jeremy Carver and Anna Frickle (from the underappreciated Privileged series) are both exec producers and writers of the Americanized series.
Even humour aside, the script has bite. The episodic situations needed to propel a weekly television series remain engaging, and are anything but predictable (something many starting out TV shows falter with). Even though I've watched the original BBC version, I was still surprised with a few twists and turns here and there. Fingers crossed the Americanized version will find its own path eventually and become the next Office of UK TV adaptations.
The second best thing about this series is the cast. Give this casting director anything they want, because they nailed it. Just nailed it. You all know my affinity for the smouldering hot Sam Witwer and his dramatic, occasionally self-pitying monologues as The Secret Apprentice, Doomsday or BSG's Crashdown. While I know this actor is no stranger to sexy, head-down-eyes-raised melodrama, could he pull off a well-rounded character (let alone a vampire)? Yes. 1,000 times yes, and his fantastic abs are hardly pulling any of the weight. I was shocked and amazed at Witwer's range. Even more so how well he and the werewolf, Huntington, played off one another. Their chemistry was instantaneous, and their comic timing was flawless. You could watch the pilot just for the facial expressions these two throw back and forth at each other, and remain completely entertained.
Huntington is also delightful in his own bumbling nerd way, flopping about down the hospital hallways like a baby pup tripping over his own giant paws. The dynamic between the walking headshot Witwer and the forever humiliated Huntington is priceless. I don't know how they found this great connection, but I truly hope it lasts the entire season. It's thrilling to watch.
And I'm not even done complimenting the cast - Meaghan Rath, the lost ghost girl, is charming. Sadly, she still hasn't found her spot in the group just yet, but hopefully her other two paranormal roommates will help her along (more on that later). Finally, the big vampire villain, Bishop, is played by the one, the only, Mark Pellegrino. Or, as you know him, Jacob from Lost. Walking the line between friend and foe, Pellegrino kills it.
I was given three unfinished episodes to review, so I'm going to keep this short, since FX still needed to be added, the music was filler, and presumably a lot had to yet to be tweaked and edited.
BUT. One glaring thing that could make or break this series is the "Syfy look" that starts to creep into the production in the episodes after the pilot. There are tons of tight shots (so much so you forget where you are at times), including some slightly shaky tight shots. And tons of odd "framed through some obstruction" shots. It felt a lot like SGU's camera work all over again. Granted it was by no means that shaky, but some of the tighter moments were jarred by small shakes for no reason at all. This could all be drowned out by the previous FX and things that still need to be added, so again, I'm hesitant to mention it. But, at times it was a bit jarring and made the production feel like just that, a TV set production. Every odd camera trick only made the set feel less like an apartment and more like a sound stage. Fingers crossed the finalized version will set all of this right.
While the actress who plays Sally, Rath, is beyond delightful on screen and has totally mastered the quirky girlie spirit part to her character, I'm still waiting to get the feeling of absolute helplessness from her. Both wolf and vampire exude a sense of hopelessness. In the beginning of the series the audience literally watches both men bottom out, while dealing with their "condition." Granted, Sally's character still has a ways to go before she bottoms out, but I'm still having a hard time connecting with this particular character's struggles and sadness. Hopefully, the chemistry between wolf and vampire will eventually lasso in the ghost, because if these three can't work together, that could be a huge issue. The best part of the BBC series is the electric connection between the flat-mates. Let's hope they can find it here as well.
All in all, there was enough homage to the original to make me feel like they were respecting the source material, and enough deviations to add a little spice. Witwer has proven that not only is he a sexy piece of sweater meat, he's also a great actor. The chemistry between Witwer and Huntington should sell just about anyone on this series, and hopefully in the future, the trio of ghost, vampire and werewolf will gel even more. I liked what I saw, a lot. And I intend to watch the hell out of this show.