Review: Being Human 2×1

Good, but lacking reality. Yes, I know it's about vampires

In the UK: Sunday 10th January, 9.30pm, BBC3. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: No air date yet, but probably BBC America again

Being Human, an everyday tale of a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf who house-share, was the surprise success of BBC3’s 2008 pilot competition. I loved it to pieces. It was great.

Although beaten at first to the series draw by Phoo Action, it got a series pick-up a few months later once it became clear that it was a vastly better show, thanks in part to an Internet fan campaign, and thanks again in part to people having seen Phoo Action.

Mostly recast, it soon became BBC3’s surprise drama success of last year. Now it’s back for a second series. Can it maintain the quality?

Not quite, and I’ll tell you for why – it doesn’t feel so real any more.

Plot (spoilers)
Being Human is a comedy-drama series about three twenty-something housemates trying to live normal lives, despite struggling with unusual afflictions – one is a werewolf, one is a vampire and the other is a ghost. They face a human threat in the form of the mysterious Professor Jaggat and the cold-hearted Kemp. Jaggat and Kemp are fundamentalist Christians who have discovered the existence of vampires, werewolves and ghosts – and are determined to destroy them or carry out brutal experiments upon them. They believe that vampires are the Devil incarnate and must be destroyed; that werewolves contain an evil gene that can be removed by violent scientific experiments; and that ghosts must be forced over to the other side whether they like it or not.

Is it any good?
The first episode picks up where the first series ended, with Nina, George’s girlfriend, potentially infected with George’s werewolfism after being slashed by him accidentally; Annie’s adjusting to people being able to see her again after she failed to cross over; and Mitchell staying clean, considering a romantic relationship and getting used to not being the centre of attention now Herrick the head vampire has been killed. George himself has to adjust to the fact that he’s killed someone, and the vampire world is looking to avenge that death as well.

So lots to deal with then and those core emotional issues are dealt with in an adult, robust way that doesn’t skirt those issues. There were moving scenes, between George and Nina and George and one of the new vampires that really had depth.

But there’s more. There’s a vampire couple who seem to want to seduce George both literally and figuratively, and there’s also a mad professor and a gang who are doing experiments on those supernaturally afflicted.

Now this is where it all starts to fall apart a bit. As of yet, there’s no clear reason why the vampire couple – or indeed any other vampires – don’t just kill George when he’s not a werewolf, since Mitchell isn’t always around to protect him. I’m willing to wait to see whether a (proper) explanation really is forthcoming, but at the moment, it’s hanging over things a bit. There’s certainly no clear explanation of why female vampire is shagging George while male vampire watches. It doesn’t help that male vampire Matthew Rhys has chosen to ham things up, just as Russell Tovey has decided to play everything seriously.

The mad professor storyline is another issue. Half the joy of Being Human is that it tries to fit the supernatural into the real world, filled with real people acting relatively normally. But here we have some mad scientists in a mad scientist secret base that might as well be under an extinct volcano. Here, they’re doing unnuanced scientific experiments that seem totally devoid of science (apparently, you can use a pressurised deep-sea diving tank to block gravity now); they’re also doing it because they’re fundamentalist Christians. Now, I’m not exactly a Daily Mail reader, but why is Christian (particularly fundamentalist Christian) or even being a scientist synonymous on the BBC with evil?

Evil fundamentalist Christian scientist – that’s taking the piss. These are people doing evil things because they’re evil, the actors playing their roles accordingly, not because they have well thought out motivations. This is a shame, because it strips Being Human of some of its reality, subtlety, charm and depth.

It doesn’t help that Annie’s storyline has become ridiculous – she’s trying to get a pub with only one customer (should have shut a while back, don’t you think, at least judging from the number of pubs I’ve seen closed of late?) to install a climbing wall during a job interview? It’s comedy, Jim, but not as we know it, and it’s not remotely plausible – deliberately, of course, but unsuccessfully, and again, it makes Annie look a bit of a twat, rather than naive or charming.

Nevertheless, although the acting’s still a little wobbly and I do miss Guy Flanagan and Lenora Crichlow, there are clear signs that even if the plots look a bit daft now, they’re going to be improving in future episodes as the whole thing goes a lot darker and nastier. Most of the problems are to do with the production, particularly the cheap effects, the jerky editing and the plastic werewolf, rather than the script.

It’s still a very good show, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for improvements to return it to the quality of the pilot and series one, because this was a slightly shaky start to the second series.