Preview: Being Human

As dark and as good as we'd hoped

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, BBC3. Starts January 25th
In the US: BBC America (it’s a co-prod). No airdate yet

Firstly, this ain’t the usual kind of preview since it also includes a rundown of a Q&A with the show’s producers and one of its stars, Russell Tovey.

Secondly, I’d like to announce that I’m a cretin (although you’d probably realised that for yourselves). There I was last Friday, feeling all pleased with myself that for once, I’d not had to run for trains, sprint across Hungerford Bridge, etc, to get to a screening on time, because I’d given myself plenty of time to get there. So what should happen when I got there? Why, I discovered I’d got the start time wrong and the screening had begun half an hour earlier. Oops.

So that minor act of spasness aside, let’s get on with a preview not just of the first episode (or at least the second half of the first episode) of Being Human, BBC3’s forthcoming drama about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost, but of the rest of the series, too, as well as that wee chat with the producers.

Plot
Being Human is about George, Mitchell and Annie, three seemingly normal flatmates struggling to keep their dark secrets from the world, and follows their struggle to fight both their curses and the enemies who want to bring them down.

Being Human was first transmitted in February 2008 as a 60-minute special as a part of BBC Three’s drama pilot season. Popular with viewers and critics alike, the pilot peaked at nearly 450,000 viewers whilst gaining rave reviews.

Russell Tovey reprises his role as the lovable George, battling with his double identity as a mild-mannered and geeky hospital porter who for one night a month is transformed into a flesh-hungry, predatory werewolf. Aidan Turner plays the good-looking and laid-back Mitchell who, in contrast to George, has the gift of the gab and an easy confidence with the ladies. But he is also a blood-sucking vampire struggling with going cold-turkey from the blood he craves. Completing the flatshare trio is Annie, played by Lenora Crichlow, a talkative ghost lacking in self-confidence and desperate for company. Annie is still pining after her fiance, whom she was due to marry before the fatal accident that left her with her ghostly afflication – and who happens to be the landlord of their flat.

The series follows the trio as they do their best to live their lives as normally as possible despite their strange and dark secrets. But with unwelcome intruders into their world, rumblings about an impending revolution from the vampire underworld and constant threats of exposure – on top of the usual issues faced by young people surrounding love, work and mates – the only thing they may be able to rely on in their heightened world is each other.

Is it any good?
The pilot for Being Human was a truly rare thing. In fact, it was several truly rare things – a pilot that made you desperate for more; a thoughtful BBC3 drama; and a show that looked doomed from the outset but was rescued, in part, by fan pressure. Dark, melancholic and adult, it was easily one of the best dramas BBC3 came up with last year – certainly better than Phoo Action.

However, there was a certain degree of despondency when we all heard that the series was going to have an almost entirely new, younger cast. Was it going to be lighter, more pitched to the Two Pints…crowd? Would the cast be as good as the louche Guy Flanagan or the quirky Andrea Riseborough?

The good news – judging by the, erm, half episode and preview of the rest of the series that I’ve seen – is that all is well. While there are touches of humour, some of them very funny (eg George’s inept flirting with a woman he’s interested in, in which he makes a joke about how she smells minty like a polo so "she must have a hole"), the show still feels very dark and fits into the ordinary world well. And it’s to the show’s credit that it managed to do urban vampires without making me think of Ultraviolet the whole time I was watching.

The basic plot of the first episode gives each character a strand to play with. Mitchell is having to deal not only with Herrick trying to recruit him to a new cause – coming out into the open to persuade people to become vampires so they can live forever – there’s that female vampire who wants to hook up with him and he has his own cravings to fight, sometimes more successfully than at others.

George is still dealing with being a werewolf and finding somewhere secure to transform, and there appears to be someone who doesn’t want him to hold back. He’s also more than slightly worried that he can’t trust Mitchell not to suck the blood out of all of his friends – or even potential girlfriends.

Meanwhile, Annie’s still trying to come to terms with being dead and the flat’s landlord – her former fiance – appears to have found comfort in one of her old friends. Not that she’s obsessed or anything.

Recasting
So let’s deal with the new cast. The loss of Guy Flanagan is keenly felt but Aidan Turner is no runners-up prize by any means. He’s obviously a lot hotter, but more importantly, the show is really aiming for the idea of Mitchell as an addict, and Turner does suggest someone fighting an addiction more readily than Flanagan did. He doesn’t have Flanagan’s debauched qualities or oddness, but he does seem a lot more dangerous.

Lenora Crichlow is less comedic than Andrea Risborough and less Northern, too. However, most of her part is either comedic or tragic so that change actually stabilises the character. I imagine that if they’d gone to series with Riseborough, they’d have had to have toned her down slightly. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Crichlow’s more emotive moments, which although touching in theory, weren’t in practice.

There’s re-casting elsewhere, too. Chief vampire Adrian Lester has gone, replaced by Jason Watkins, whose somewhat odder Herrick is more believable and ordinary looking, so scarier, even if he does do some odd magic tricks.

The woman Mitchell ‘converted’ in the pilot episode is instead the real threat, sort of a one-night stand who wishes it could be more – but in the Fatal Attraction vein, if you pardon the pun. She’s less arch than her predecessor and a good deal posher, but you’d be pushed to find any noteworthy differences. At least, I think it’s her but the IMDB names don’t match so something might have happened in the first half hour.

Only Russell Tovey remains from the original cast, and while it’s a very good performance – very different from the real-life Tovey – it feels too OTT for my liking. He’s fun all the same.

Production
The production values on this are surprisingly high. Judging by the quality of the showing on the giant screen at the BFI, it’s been shot in high def. It’s been filmed almost entirely (if not entirely) on location in Bristol and even features Bristolians in reasonable parts. There’s a touch of the shaky cam about it, but nothing too offputting. The transformation scenes are very, very reminiscent of American Werewolf in London, even if the final wolf looks a bit rubbish. It even has a great soundtrack, including songs by eels (The Friendly Ghost), Johnny Cash (Hurt) and the Prodigy (Smack My Bitch Up).

Although I mentioned on my previous preview that there were bits from the "prequel videos" that might be too gory for the Beeb, it seems my fears were for nothing, since there’s plenty of people with gaping chest cavities from werewolf attacks and there are pints of blood everywhere when vampires have been feeding. Clearly they’re not worried about post-watershed sensibilities, which is a good thing.

Indeed, with real horror on show, the effects of vampires and werewolves on people seem to be heightened, since people die and do so unpleasantly. It’s not Buffy – this all has consequences, which isn’t what you’d have expected if you thought this was being aimed at horror-addled 18-year-olds.

Still to come in the series, there promises to be some interesting developments, with Annie finding there are other ghosts for her to have relationships with; the house coming under attack from neighbours; Mitchell’s invisibility in mirrors proving an Achilles heel; and Dean Lennox Kelly showing up as a recurring character who wants George to embrace his werewolfness.

Verdict
It’s a little hard (without the first half…) to decide if it all gels together nicely. Mitchell’s possibly a stronger character and Annie, although fixated with her ex, should blossom in forthcoming episodes, although mainly in comedic directions. Her role currently is quite maudlin, but it doesn’t feel like it’s quite hit the depths necessary. George? Well let’s wait and see.

But I would say that on the strength of what I’ve seen that it’s definitely a show worth watching when it comes on.

Normally, at this point, I’d give
you some clips and vids, but since I’ve already done an entry containing vids, including the whole pilot episode, I’ll just point you in that direction instead.

Q&A nuggets
There were various bits of shiny information given out in the Q&A afterwards, although Julie Gardner had to run for a train so it wasn’t the longest ever Q&A, and I never got to ask my rambling trade journo question ("Were you deliberately aiming for an older demographic than the traditional BBC3 audience in an effort to get picked up by BBC2 or even BBC1, or even as a result of BBC America co-funding, and are you worried as a result by the cancellation of shows like Pulling that don’t fit into the BBC remit?"). Here they are, as best as I could remember when hastily scrawling them in a notepad on the train home. The Doctor Who bits were in an earlier post.

The people in the Q&A were: Toby Whithouse (writer and developer of the show); Matthew Bouch (producer); Rob Pursey (executive producer and MD of production company Touchpaper Television); Russell Tovey (George); and Julie Gardner (head of drama for BBC Wales). Interestingly, Lenora Crichlow was in the audience but decided not to participate in the Q&A.

Toby Whithouse

  • Originally it was being written as a "non-specific precinct BBC2 drama" about flatsharers. George was the neat, tidy one; Mitchell was a recovering sex-addict and Annie was lacking in confidence. However, at one point, TW said "Why don’t we make George a werewolf?" The characters then translated easily to their supernatural equivalents.
  • Doctor Who opened the door to everything. Before DW, if you’d gone in with a science fiction or fantasy idea you’d have been kicked out.
  • Normally, with theatre and stand-up, you get a quick audience reaction. Television doesn’t give you that beyond ratings, but seeing the Internet reaction and following it gave him an idea of how popular the show was.
  • He was able to pick and choose the rules of vampires from mythology, but steered clear of too much innovation (eg vampires with feathers). He did insist on vampires not having reflections in mirrors, even though others protested it would be a production nightmare. "Not my problem."
  • Unlike with Doctor Who and Torchwood, there will be no point where "the world knows" about vampires, werewolves, etc.

Russell Tovey

  • George might have changed since the pilot episode, purely because the other actors have changed
  • It took a couple of days to get used to the new actors, but it was fine after that
  • George is posher than he is and evolved over time (did a gesture of wavy handedness)
  • He joked that when he was sent the script, he thought it was ‘shit’. He had to audition for the role for which he did two painful scenes (none involving the transformation).

Matthew Bouch

  • Because it was a pilot and they only had one shot, they put everything into it
  • His work on The Sarah Jane Adventures led him to decide on prosthetics rather than CGI. They’re cheaper, too. There are some CGI shots in the show, though, and these are for minor things.

Julie Gardner

  • The recasting came about because they’d lost the options on the original actors so they decided to take the opportunity to stand back and look at the pilot to see what they would change. The recasting of Mitchell, for example, made the character less gothic, which was something they were trying to move away from (see Rob Pursey’s comment).
  • The fan petition didn’t affect things as much as the mythology around the show suggests, but it was one of the factors.
  • She was ‘outraged’ when she heard the rumour that the six pilots would be put up for a public vote to see which was more popular

Rob Pursey

  • They try to anchor the show in reality and work out for every supernatural thread what the real-world equivalent is. Where the pilot didn’t work was when they forgot that and made Herrick and the vampires too gothic, for example. Making Herrick a policeman changed all that.

 




  • Ooh, ooh, ooh, Rob. Now very excited by this. Loved the pilot, so really hope this matches up. (On the missing the first half hour thing, I once had free tickets to go and see a screening of Aladdin with my then eight year old niece. It was only at the moment the film was about to start that I realised I was standing at the wrong cinema… And this after I also had taken her to see Snow White and mistimed that too, so we came in halfway through…)

  • It’s a shame you missed the first half; I was hoping to find out if they addressed the issue of certain characters being recast, perhaps with a few throwaway lines. (George: You look different. Mitchell: I’m not quite myself. That sort of thing….)
    Sorry we’re not getting Adrian Lester for the long haul, but that’s usually the case with pilots – cast a big name in a supporting role to lure ’em in.
    Well, whenever it crosses over to here, I’ll have to check it out because I did like the pilot so much!

  • Andrea

    Nice one Rob. Glad you enjoyed it. Having seen the episode, I agree that there is some surprisingly gory stuff, that Annie didn’t quite seem affecting enough (she’s actually quite stroppy and angry in parts, so I missed Riseborough’s sweetness) and the plot that was least interesting to me was hers, with the ex (certainly once it seemed that he hadn’t killed her or anything). The songs were used very well, the melancholy ending with Hurt especially.
    I didn’t see Adrian Lester’s Herrick to be particularly gothic, he seemed more like a politician to me – I got a vibe of BNP meeting from his scene (which is particularly interesting with a black actor) – the new Herrick, who I thought was very very good in the role, has a less obvious agenda. He seems more as if he wants the status quo, perhaps, with his sidekick being the one pushing for change. But obviously he wants Mitchell back in the fold. I didn’t think he was really a policeman, thought he was just posing as one?
    I also loved the idea that George can’t really trust Mitchell, but admires him. The wolf was a bit crap but compared the astonishingly awful werewolf costume in Buffy, not too bad.
    That said, while I really enjoyed the episode, it seemed to run a bit long. The woman who fancied Mitchell and Annie’s boyfriend could have had their scenes cut back a bit, perhaps.
    There weren’t any scenes referring to the change of cast, it was quite delicately done so that in theory the pilot could still be accepted as canon, as nothing contradicted it.

  • MediumRob

    “I didn’t think he was really a policeman, thought he was just posing as one?”
    I think the implication of a later scene is that the Herrick, while not starting off as a policeman, is one now – and so are some of his pals in order to cover up vampire activities. The Q&A people talked about his being a policeman, rather than posing as a policeman, but I might have got the wrong end of the stick there.

  • Andrea

    It wasn’t very clear – perhaps he is now got himself into the police somehow as part of their current plans to ‘come out’. Because he can’t have been a policeman continuously for decades without anyone noticing, surely.

  • MediumRob

    “It wasn’t very clear – perhaps he is now got himself into the police somehow as part of their current plans to ‘come out’. Because he can’t have been a policeman continuously for decades without anyone noticing, surely.”
    Probably, but now we’re entering philosophical territory about what it is to be a policeman. If someone’s who 25 joins the police service after having been a sales assistant since the age of 18, are they really a policeman? I’d say so.
    If he’s passed the entrance exams, I guess he’s a policeman; if he faked his way in but still draws a salary, I guess he’s kind of a policeman; if he just walks around with a policeman’s uniform on, he’s probably not.

  • Andrea

    I didn’t put that very well. I guess I assumed he was the latter with some good faked ID, just because it would seem easier than actually joining up for a few years until people noticed he didn’t age. If I were a vampire I would live ‘off grid’. Probably.

  • “in theory the pilot could still be accepted as canon, as nothing contradicted it”
    Having finally seen the episode, I’d go further: it seems that almost the entire pilot is essentially canon. In fact, it’s a shame it wasn’t redone as episode one, because it was interesting to see how they all got together and met, and the first few minutes of this episode were ‘let’s play catch-up’.
    The biggest surprise for me, though, was how enjoyable the entire thing was. I was prepared for a screw-up and got one of the best bits of leftfield TV in ages (and one that made me slightly angry that it’s ghettoised on BBC3, where hardly anyone will see it). The show is smart, looks good (even the SFX weren’t terrible) and works inside its own reality. Having watched the latest Demons beforehand, Being Human is leagues ahead and, dare I say it, even betters early episodes of perennial favourites Buffy and Angel.

  • I was really pleased that I enjoyed this more then hte pilot. My husband and I both agreed that it was darker and less funny (I loved the polo joke though), but kind of better for it. I liked Mitchell feeling more dangerous and that ending was heartrending. Brilliant use of Hurt (I hadn’t heard that song Rob till you put it up here the other day and it was so powerful in that context). So big thumbs up from me, looking forward to next week. But have a problem as 10/12 year olds are clamouring to see it and I don’t think it’s suitable. (Mind you thanks to their dad they have been brung up on Val Helsing and Underworld, so maybe I’m being too wussy about that!)
    I agreed after Demons (which I am still watching cos the kids are and in the vain hope that Philip Glenister might improve) the vampires in this were a great improvement.
    I was sorry Adrian Lester went, but this Herrick is so normal it’s creepier I think.

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