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Eternal Twilight: An Advance Review of BBC America's "Being Human"

It's easy to sympathize with the characters in BBC America's newest drama series Being Human. Each of them in their own way wants to fit in, to embrace society's definition of normal, and live a life that's bounded by the same pleasures and principles that you or I do.

But there's a catch.

The three lead characters in Being Human, created by Toby Whithouse (Torchwood, Doctor Who), are actually a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. Which makes their quest to understand their own fragile hold on humanity and fit in with mainstream society all the more fraught with peril.

On its simplest level, Being Human is about the relationship between three very different twenty-something roommates: there's polyglot hospital porter George (Russell Tovey) who transforms into a savage werewolf when the moon is full, hospital cleaner Mitchell (Aidan Turner) whose vampiric tendencies leave him hungering for blood even as he attempts to peacefully co-exist with humans, and ghostly Annie (Lenora Crichlow), a woman who died in the home that George and Mitchell now inhabit and who clings desperately to the life she lost.

But there's an unexpected depth, humor, and charm to Being Human as each of our characters stumbles towards adulthood in their own way. Despite being turned during World War I, Mitchell remains trapped in a state of arrested development, a devilish womanizer who wants so desperately to fit in somewhere but is hellbent on denying his allegiance to his vampiric brethren or falling in line with the demands of their leader in Bristol, Herrick (Jason Watkins). George might transform into a beast once a month but he's a nervous, squeaking git every time he gets around a woman and, despite his vast intelligence, works as a hospital porter, content to remain invisble, on the periphery because of his curse. And poor ghostly Annie is so desperate to experience the physicality of life that she makes an endless supply of tea and hot chocolate despite not being able drink it herself.

In the UK, Being Human launched with a pilot episode in 2008 that featured a different cast (other than Russell Tovey) and which filled in some of the blanks in the character's backstories. While it's not essential viewing for those of you in the States coming to the series fresh, I do wish that BBC America had run the pilot episode before launching the series as it does clarify certain plot points in the first episode.

In the pilot, for example, we see George and Mitchell move into Annie's home and duo meet their ghostly roommate for the first time. Likewise, the usage of the disused hospital basement room which George uses for his transformations is introduced as is the fact that Annie can materialize outside of the house and appear to "normal" people. Mitchell also turns his co-worker Lauren (played by Annabel Scholey in the series) into a vampire after sleeping with her, an important plot point that sets up their antagonistic relationship in the series.

Which isn't to say that you can't just dive into Being Human's first episode and enjoy it, because you can. The premiere episodes does a great job at summing up the events of the pilot in a nice shorthand but there are some key facts that are missing. However, this shouldn't diminish your appreciation of what promises to be an intriguing and compelling exploration of humanity that blends together the angst of This Life with the supernatural goings-on of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Subsequent episodes (I had the opportunity to screen the first three episodes of Season One in advance) further explore the tenuous hold each of our three leads has on their own humanity and in their own self-identification. Just how do these three supernatural beings see themselves and their world? Should they be hiding in the dark or are they meant to walk out into the light?

The second episode explores George's relationship with his lycanthropic nature when he meets another of his kind who teaches him how to deal with his secret and embrace the beast within. Yet, said visitor is hiding a dark secret that could change how George handles his double nature. The third episode focuses on Annie, the truth behind her death, and her relationship with a Smiths-loving 1980s ghost named Gilbert (Alex Price).

Yet lurking beneath these self-contained episodic plots lies Mitchell's story and the promise of a coming war between the vampires and the humans. Just based on the first three installments, I'm not sure yet where this is going but it's safe to say that the clouds are gathering on the horizon and the battle lines are being drawn, even if the humans are painfully unaware of what's to come.

My only complaint about Being Human is that I do wish that some of the storylines--particularly Annie's in Episode Three--had been stretched out a bit more. Part of that is due to the strength of Alex Price's winning performance as Gilbert, who I wished had stuck around in the series for longer than a single episode. Longer, more serialized storylines would have provided a stronger hook to the following installment, but that's a minor quibble for a series that's as enjoyable and unique as Being Human.

All in all, Being Human is a fun and cheeky look at the things that go bump in the night, their innate humanity, and the universal need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. They might bite, turn to wolves, and walk through walls, but the characters we meet within these innovative series are just as human as we are, foibles and all.

Being Human - First Seven Minutes



Being Human - "This Is What I Am"



Being Human - Mitchell's Prequel (Web Exclusive)



Being Human - Annie's Prequel (Web Exclusive)



Being Human - George's Prequel (Web Exclusive)



Being Human premieres Saturday, July 25th at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

Comments

Lizzy D said…
I've heard a lot of good things about Being Human and am looking forward to seeing it. After reading your review and watching the clips provided, I can already tell that I'm going to enjoy it! Thanks!
AskRachel said…
Russell Tovey is in EVERYTHING lately. I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up on 30 Rock next season. He's a great actor, though, and I'm sure he makes an excellent werewolf too!

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