BBC3’s new vision rolled on last night and we’re really beginning to feel the Russell T Davies-isation of drama as we know it. Give it a year and all telly will be like this: action, a bit risqué, cheeky, with obvious pop, and real accents. And you know what? That’s not such a band thing. Last nights’ Being Human was basically Queer As Folk meets Torchwood but, you know, without the Gay stuff. Check the pedigrees: Writer Toby Whithouse has written for Doctor Who (RTD) and Torchwood (RTD), Director Declan O’Dwyer comes from the very-much post-RTD Robin Hood, producer Matthew Bouch worked on the Sarah Jane Adventures (guess who?) and actor Russell Tovey was in the 2007 Doctor Who Christmas Special.
Being Human is BBC3’s latest try at proper, hip drama with an edge. Last weeks opening gambit –Phoo Action- was hit and miss to say the least (but still managed to get commissioned for a full series), this latest offering has a little more going for it.
In the spirit of optimism, let’s start with the good stuff. Fundamentally, Being Human is a good show. It really is. It’s a bit hammy, and there’s plenty wrong with it (of which more later), but fundamentally its beating heart is in the right place. It has teeth. It has an edge, and it says everything about the Beeb’s approach to teen-to-twenties drama in 2008.
That beating heart we mentioned comes from Werewolf Russell Tovey (George), he’s a joy. A clumsy, cockney, loveably jug-eared joy. He keeps the whole thing afloat until Ghostly Andrea Riseborough (Annie) appears, and she’s a joy too, all broad Barnsley loveliness (“Am a Gorst…am not fonder the word”). The two of them are so genuinely likeable you wish they’d come round and haunt your bedroom.
Secondly the balance between light and dark works quite well: this is, after all, meant to be a bit Penny-Dreadful, but with sex and jokes (Post Torchwood again), and it pulls it off. The climax, with the changing George locked in a room with his ex was properly scary. It was well paced, it worked really well.
The script worked too, for the most part. Witty one liners, and well thought-out characters, decent gags and situations, and some real invention splattered here and there. Like everything else it was a bit RTD, but as we said, everything is these days (and in Russell we trust.).
And if only we could stop there. If only it was just jug-eared George and lovely Annie. But it’s not. This is a show about three people. It’s also a show about three different takes on immortality and monstrosity, and it’s about three different mythical monsters: A Ghost, a werewolf, and a Vampire. And in this third all the problems lie.
Leaving aside Guy Flanagan’s performance for a sec, the problem here is in Vampirism itself. If you’re going to write about Vampires, then you need to create a Vampire Mythology: who are they? What do they do? What are the rules? No-one can ever seem to resist the gathering-in-night-clubs-plotting-world-domination-tortured-by-what-they-are- beautiful-sexy-blood-ritual-sophisticates route. Blame Blade and Bram Stoker, it’s all their fault. More to the point blame bloody Anne Rice, whose Vamprotica (™ that joke isn’t funny 2008) pretty much defined Vampire Fiction post-Interview. Buffy pulled it off, but Buffy was a bit special. Similarly now-forgotten Jack Davenport vehicle Ultra Violet managed it by making the mythology itself a bit interesting and adding a dash of pre-CSI technobabble. Being Human had none of this. There has clearly been a Vampire mythology here, and bits of it are dangled in smart suits in front of us, attempting to tantalise the audience with suggested depths of back story. You get the impression the back story probably isn’t very good.
The Vampire stuff just seemed to get in the way of the more likeable characters. Tortured Vampirism here is represented by Guy Flanagan’s Mitchell, a skinny, dashing Orlando-Bloomish chap with little hints of goth in his outfit (wristbands, jewellery), dark hooded eyes, and a slow, deep stillness to his soul that suggests something fractured and uncomfortable, but old and dangerous. Or at least it’s meant to (we know because someone goes to the trouble of describing these qualities for us in the first 5 minutes), in truth he just feels wooden. In fairness to Guy, Brad Pitt fell victim to the same problems in Interview With The Vampire: tortured introspection coming off as wooden under-acting.
He’s not all bad though: when interacting with his Pal’s, best friend George and new Friend Annie, he’s a lot more likeable and the chemistry in the trio works. It’s just when he’s taken off on his own it goes a little wrong. It’s not the worst Vampire performance ever, but it’s getting there. When the mass-Vamps are stuck in an underground nightclub you actually realise you’re watching the first Vampire-Mythology on screen that is even worse than Queen of the Damned.
And Queen of the Damned was rubbish.
There’s other stuff too: the music choices were an uninspired Ad-man’s view of what a teen/cult show needs :Amy Winehouse’ ‘Rehab’, Pulp’s ‘Common People’ and maudlin-introspection-soundtrack-hit-of-choice ‘Chasing Cars’. Although in fairness this is from the RTD school of soundtracks too. It could have been worse: it could have been all NIN and The Cure (every goth-horror ever) or sub-Dawsons Creek acoustic warbledge (Buffy). It’s such a wasted opportunity though. What about little tounge in cheek nods: ‘For Lovers’ by Wolfman and Pete Doherty? ‘Ghosts’ by Laura Marling? Anything by the Howling Wolves or Vampire Weekend? It would have added a sense of fun and a little more genuine youth credibility.
Thing is, we genuinely think we could get into this. There’s enough tantalising little snippets to explore (how did Annie die? What happens after death? Why is she still here? How did George become a Wolf? How old is Mitchell? Why does he object to his Vampish instincts? How come that bloke from Hustle gets in everything?), and the answers could hopefully be intigueing. The difficulty is walking the line between great character drama and spooky gothed-out cult hit. It can be done (Buffy and Angel) but it’s very very hard when dealing with these subjects. But if Phoo Action can be picked up, then surely this is a safer prospect?