Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Being Human US and Being Human

Imagine this opening, a young man walks into the woods, and mysteriously begins to undress, then covers his genitals with his hands and waits. As the full moon rises, he has spasms of pain and begins screaming. Suddenly, he begins to transform, growing claws and his face expanding into a snout. He's a werewolf.

Meanwhile, another young man is talking with a beautiful young woman. She lets him seduce her and welcomes him to casual sex. And through this, his eyes suddenly turn black, though she doesn't see that, and as they become intimate, he bites her neck with fangs that have suddenly appeared. He's a vampire.

So, that is how Being Human opens. But which version, the original BBC production that began with a pilot in 2008, or the just premiered new series on SyFy? The answer: both.

So, yes, I am a fan of the original BBC Being Human, so that really tainted my view of the SyFy remake. As someone in a review I read pointed out, remaking British shows like The Office and Skins (neither of which I've really watched either version of) is understandable, because while the humor may be global, the cultural difference can be keenly felt in places like jobs and schools. Being Human, on the other hand, is a supernatural show, and aside from accents and Annie's fondness for tea, there is little that is exclusively British. Yes, it was Being Human that sent me into my descent to Anglophilia.

I suppose the "little that is exclusively British" would also be an argument for remaking it as an American series. The big problem a lot of people really worried about was that the original series would use the supernatural to examine the human condition and unfortunately, a lot of American series are not known for being deep, but just really developed stories. (Or barely developed.) Every now and then, something really good comes along, but it eventually degrades. (And don't think that I think only American series degrade in quality. It's happened in the UK.) Has the time of great American TV programming passed? Well, you can barely try to use a remake of a British series to win that argument...

So, I did watch the first episode of SyFy's Being Human. Twice, in fact, as it was available on SyFy's On Demand channel through my cable provider. My thoughts?

First off, I was very disappointed that the story of the first episode was very much modeled on the original's withdrawn pilot and first episode. (Withdrawn? Yeah, the original recast from pilot to series, whatever, back to SyFy's show.) My enjoyment of the show would largely be based on what was new and fresh.

So, what did I get in that area in the first episode? Extremely little. As I already pointed out, the pre-titles opening of the episode mirrors that of the original's pilot.

Josh is a werewolf, Aidan is a vampire. They both work at a hospital and get a house together, only to discover it is haunted by Sally, a young woman who recently died in the house (her ex-fiancee Danny is the landlord), though she can't remember how. Josh discovers his sister, Emily, is visiting her girlfriend at his hospital, and the two meet, Josh having left his family behind after becoming a werewolf. Meanwhile, Aidan is dealing with with his accidental killing of Becca, the girl he bit in the opening. Bishop, an older vampire who works as a police officer, is pushing Aidan to come back to the other vampires. At the end of the episode, Josh is transforming locked in a room in the hospital basement, desperate for someone to get Emily out of there.

There are some changes in mythology for ghosts and vampires. Sally, unlike the original's Annie, is completely intangible and is confined to the inside of the house. (At least, for now. I'm expecting that this may change.) In the original, Mitchell the vampire curbed his bloodlust with food, claiming carbs had become his blood substitute. Aidan cannot eat normal food. (Great, Josh will have dinner with his two roommates just watching him.) And while not a change in mythology, the vampires appear to use "blood whores," women (or other vampires?) who bleed themselves willingly for vampires to feed from. This wasn't exactly present in the original, though the second series did have an emo girl visit the vampire headquarters expecting to be fed from.

Just about the only other changes I noted was that the original's pilot didn't have George the werewolf's sister, but his ex-fiancee, who was admitted into the hospital where he worked. In addition, the pilot didn't end with that cliffhanger. Annie managed to rescue George's ex before anything could happen to her. I am also unsure as to whether or not Aidan has sworn off blood. They might be having him come to the decision.

Now, a critical factor in the original was that the main cast gelled. Even in the original pilot, the cast had chemistry before two thirds of them were recast. And then it worked again after the recasting. Here, Aidan and Josh do act off each other very well, but both seem very distant from Sally, thus making her the character I sympathized with the most. However, if the ensemble cast is going to work, this really needs to change. (I understand from a press review that it is still felt in the third episode.) In the original, George grudgingly put up with Annie's presence, while Mitchell whimsically entertained it, before Annie managed to endear herself to George.

Josh feels a lot like a lighter version of George, not quite as neurotic or even as funny, but then Russell Tovey is a hard act to follow. Aidan, on the other hand, doesn't strike me as quite genuine. He's supposedly 200 years old, or so I understand from press releases, but why is he so weepy and upset when he accidentally kills Becca in the opening? You'd think that after two centuries of drinking blood, if he was going to reform and slipped, he'd be disappointed, but not crying over it. And he doesn't strike me as mature enough for 200. It's not just the actor's look, it's the way the character is being portrayed. I've never seen most of the cast in anything before (Sam Huntington, Josh, I did see briefly in Superman Returns as my favorite supporting character Jimmy Olsen), so I'm hesitant to write them off as bad actors. It can be entirely in how they were directed to act, or how the part was written.

Is SyFy's Being Human different from the original? Yeah, but the differences in plot aren't too big. The other differences aren't building any confidence. Now, yes, the show has just started, so I've decided to try the next couple episodes, but if we keep seeing retreads from the original show, I doubt I'll be coming back.

Which really is a shame. I know my tone has been largely negative here, but the fact is, I really began to hope I could enjoy both the original show and SyFy's version. However, if I feel like I'm watching the same show again, I see no point to continue.

(Real quick, I'm going to refer to the original show as Being Human from here on. SyFy's will be called SyFy's or Being Human US.)