By Arturo R. García
Two episodes in, and the North American adaptation of Being Human is uneven, but not without some merit. In fact, the show is less hemmed in by its’ brilliant British predecessor than by storytelling cliches on this side of the pond.
Spoilers and a quick explanation after the cut.
I waited an extra week before writing about the show because I wanted to give the American/Canadian version of BH some time to find its’ legs, and see if we’d get more storyline developments for its’ own ghost, Sally (Meaghan Rath). I was glad to get positive answers on both counts, and so far, the show’s best choices have come from side-stepping the mythology in the original show.
For instance, last week’s series premiere was set “before” the events of the British version; we saw a more fleshed-out take on Aidan the vampire (Sam Witwer) and Josh the werewolf (Sam Huntington) getting their newly-haunted pad, and their first encounter with Sally. As a result, it gave the opening of this week’s episode – pretty much a remake of the original’s opening flashback sequence – a little more texture. That little bit of extra context was much appreciated.
Also appreciated was the extra spotlight given to some new characters: Josh’s sister, Emily (Alison Louder), who was not only shown in a same-sex relationship in a respectful, non-titillating light, but supplied some much-needed depth to Josh, whose histrionics, as written by Jeremy Carver and Anna Flicke, veered north of “quirky” and into grating. (More on the writing later.)
The character who seems to be benefitting the most in this crossover, oddly enough, isn’t part of our primary trio. Early on in both series, we saw the vamp go “off the wagon” and kill a young woman. In the BBC version, Mitchell turns his lover, Lauren into a vampire; she would on to become an ancillary figure before sacrificing herself for Mitchell at the end of Series 1. Here, Aidan’s victim, Rebecca (Sarah Allen), is turned by the Herrick equivalent, Bishop (Mark Pellegrino) and set loose, and she’s been written with a more aggressive presence – the Darla to Aidan’s Angel, to reference another post-fatal attraction.
In fact, one might say it’s Joss Whedon’s spirit that’s haunting the proceedings more than original BH creator’s Toby Whithouse’s. The new version is written in a Whedonesque hyper-“quirky” fashion that clicks when it works and stumbles when it doesn’t – and unfortunately, so far it’s missing the mark at the worst of moments: in the second episode, as Sally’s ex-fiancee, Danny (Gianpaolo Venuta) finishes telling the boys about her death, he says, “But that’s for VH1 Behind The Music, right?” If this were a screwball comedy, you could accentuate that line with the sound of a record screeching off its’ player.
At least such a sound cue might break up the show’s other bad import from Whedonville: an over-reliance on the “introspective” montages that plagued Dollhouse. The second episode went from one overbearing piece of music to the next over the course of its’ final few minutes. And included in those few minutes was a sequence that went from introspective to ridiculous within seconds, as Sally re-enacts the cause of her death, letting herself fall down the stairs. She ends up floating down, with some Adult Contemporary piano-driven nonsense telling us this was “deep.”
Rath seems to have a handle on her character, but those kinds of stylistic choices threaten to undercut her performances, as well as Witmer’s and Huntington’s. Because the parts of this show that are truly different from the original show some promise. It just seems like this creative team chose not to import the little things that made this concept so watchable in England: the settings that felt truly lived-in when we discovered them; the moments of silence, balanced out with those scored and presented like something truly out of a horror movie; and most of all, the real tension our protagonists have been facing throughout the show.
Perhaps the revival’s biggest obstacle is the fact that the original Being Human is still going; the third series kicked off Monday night, gave us a better take on the new one’s “best part” – the cliffhanger involving a werewolf – and still delivered another scary, uncomfortable sequence to top that. It’s tough enough to try and adapt a show with an existing fanbase. But knowing the original is out there, getting better and increasingly easier to obtain online? Not much of a ghost of a chance of fighting against that.