So a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost walk into a rental property… if you’re a BBC viewer you might have heard this one before. Being Human is one of the latest British shows to make the migration to North America, rejigged for a fresh audience. Needless to say, if you count yourself among the many already burned out on ubiquitous supernatural entertainment then stay well clear, but those still onboard with the nouvelle gothic revival will likely enjoy the mash-up.
As is becoming increasingly apparent these days, monsters live among us. And in the case of Being Human, there’s a rather startling diversity of them. The trio of cursed-yet-pretty twenty-somethings making up the show’s core case have decided that, despite their paranormal advantages and handicaps, they wish to live as the humans do.
For dark and broody vampire Aiden (Sam Witwer), this means resisting the heavy-handed temptations of a nasty vampire society bent on tempting him back to the blood-sucking fold. For doe-eyed werewolf Josh (Sam Huntington) it means not beating himself up so much after his monthly rampages under a full moon. And for the house’s resident ghost Sally (Meaghan Rath) it means – well, not too much because only those of supernatural ilk can even see her.
Carrying a tone more akin to Buffy than the sulkier, morose recent productions like True Blood or The Walking Dead, the shows tries admirably to mix its dark angst with down-to-earth levity. While none of the housemates are above a little flesh-rending or house-haunting, they’re also up for a few drinks down the pub with all the other beautiful, trendy youths of today.
We follow along as Aiden tries to suppress his bloodlust while working as a nurse at the local hospital and endure Josh’s bumbling attempts at a relationship (that would probably have been hard enough for the timid young man even without his lunar condition). All the murder and carnage hangs on a foundation of unlikely friendship, which gives the show its appealingly grounded feel. In theory, anyway.
Unfortunately, thanks to the broad strokes and abundant neurosis that so often accompany ‘reimaging’ characters for a US audience, the trio aren’t quite the loveable kooks they needed to be. All too often their feeling how good it feels to feel comes of as whiny, repetitive and annoying. The cast is solid enough but far too often the characterisation misses the mark entirely. The result is an audience impatiently waiting for the blood and guts to start flowing, where it was supposed to simply be window dressing for the human drama elements of the show.
But to the show’s credit it does have some teeth (and claws, and rattly chains), when the monstrous side does show things can get appreciably nasty. Be it a little ultra-violent vamp-on-wolf brawling, malicious poltergeist-ing of an ex, or kinky blood-soaked bedroom action, the show has a fair amount of both the good and bad things that go bump in the night. None of it gets as raunchy as an HBO-type show (it’s made for the SyFy channel), but where the angst gets too thick the action often serves as a decent release valve.
If you’re the type who enjoys the slowly unwinding season-long narrative arcs and melodramatic character intertwining then Being Human has you pretty well covered. It’s melding of different supernatural folkloric elements into the modern day is done well enough, though if you’ve seen any of it’s thematic predecessors you’ll have seen it all before, often better. Fans of the British show should also take warning, season one of the North American version retraces the original’s story almost step for step (albeit stretched out from six to 13 episodes). Though word has it the show takes more of its own path in future seasons.
If you like your Munsters with a healthy dose of post-teen spirit then Being Human has plenty to offer, though viewers could well be excused for already feeling exhausted by this kind of carry on before giving it a go. It won’t be the show to change any minds.
Season one of the North American version of Being Human is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.