Sunday, March 10, 2013

Being Human: A Series Retrospective

Being Human is a show that was very lucky to have happened. In 2008, looking for new programs, BBC Three commissioned pilots for new shows. Typically, test pilots are not done for British television. By the time the pilots aired, a series had already been commissioned from them. However, the series wound up being shelved and the pilots aired anyway.

However, one pilot wound up being so well-received that viewers petitioned for a series to be made.

In British television, the term "series" is often analogous to what American viewers call a "season." However, given that even the big drama series for the BBC—such as Doctor Who—only air thirteen episodes at most, the result feels more like a recurring mini-series each year.

Being Human presented the story of George Sands (Russell Tovey) and John Mitchell (Guy Flanagan), a pair of unlikely friends: George turns into a wolf once a month under the full moon and Mitchell (as he is called) is a vampire. Typically, these two supernaturals aren't friends, and when they decide to settle down into a home together, they find it haunted by the ghost of Annie Sawyer (Andrea Riseborough).

A vampire, werewolf and a ghost sharing a home automatically sounds corny and silly, but rather than playing up the supernatural side, creator and writer Toby Whithouse found ways to make these supernaturals feel human.

This is not to say that the supernatural aspect of the world was not played up. There are the vampires, led by Herrick (Adrian Lester), who has returned to Bristol with grandiose schemes of taking over the world. A smug and sarcastic vampire named Seth (Dylan Brown) doesn't help Mitchell ignore the goings-on of the vampires, nor the girl Lauren Drake (Dominique McElligott), who he accidentally killed during his ongoing quest to stay off blood and turned into a vampire to save her life.

The result was a comedy drama that had the potential to terrify and chill audiences while they related with the main characters. Audiences wanted more, and made their voices heard. Soon it was announced that Being Human would have a first series of six episodes in early 2009.

All would not be the same. The pilot, while representing very much all that the show could be, was very gothic, and it was decided a lighter tone would be more appropriate. Of the cast in the pilot, only Russell Tovey and Dylan Brown would remain. Mitchell would be replaced by Aidan Turner, Annie by Lenora Crichlow, Herrick by Jason Watkins, and Lauren by Annabel Scholey.

Audiences didn't have to wait to see the new cast. A part of Being Human that began with its first series was the use of online media. In each series, online videos would appear on the BBC website (and sometimes YouTube) which would offer prequels, follow-ups to certain characters stories, or extra bits of story between episodes.

Throughout the first series, viewers got to experience Mitchell's driving urge to embrace humanity while also trying not to kill them; George trying to maintain order in his life, aided by his new girlfriend Nina Pickering (Sinead Keenan); and Annie tries to discover why she's still on earth. However, Herrick, Seth and Lauren all appear to torment our trio and eventually George takes on Herrick to prove to him what it truly means to be human.

The first series was so successful that a second series was soon commissioned. But before it began airing, it was announced that a potential third series would be filming in Barry Island, Wales. However, the number of episodes was expanding to eight instead of six. In addition, a trio of tie-in novels were released, offering a small story arc that seemed to fit during the second series.

The second series found our quartet (now joined by Nina) under secret observation by a group called CENSSA. Led by the defrocked priest Kemp (Donald Sumpter) and the mysterious Professor Jaggat, the main characters have no idea that they are being watched.

Mitchell tries to keep the vampires at bay and maintain a love life with a new doctor named Lucy (Lyndsey Marshal) before he finally loses control. George and Nina are forced to go separate ways, George now trying to take his control of the wolf to new levels that end disastrously. Meanwhile, the "other side" is trying to get Annie, and in the end, she winds up being cut off from her friends by being sent to purgatory by Kemp.

During the break between Series 2 and 3, the thing fans feared worst happened: an American remake was announced for the SyFy Channel. The remake began shortly before Series 3 and quickly let fans see that it was its own beast. Yours truly felt that the remake embraced the supernatural while the original embraced the human angle. Thus, two shows that embraced two different ways you could take the story. You might like one, the other or both.

Series Three found the main characters relocating to Barry Island in Wales, specifically a bed and breakfast called Honolulu Heights. Mitchell is hiding from the aftermath of the last series, how he lost control and now he tries to rescue Annie from purgatory. He succeeds at finding her, but he is warned that he will be killed by a werewolf. Not making things any better for Mitchell is the arrival of Anthony McNair (Robson Green) and his son Tom (Michael Socha), both werewolves. He finds relaxation in trying to begin a relationship with Annie, but soon things come to an ugly head when a mysteriously revived Herrick appears on his doorstep.

George and Nina try to help Mitchell's problems, but they have their own share: Nina's pregnant, and what does it mean to have a baby with werewolf parentage? Also, they wind up taking a young vampire named Adam (Craig Roberts) under their wing, who would later feature in an online spin-off Becoming Human.

Series Three was unfortunately where many viewers abandoned the show. Aidan Turner was cast in The Hobbit and his character Mitchell left the show permanently. Leaving a big hole in the cast, it was curious as to where the show would go in its Fourth Series.

Rumors spread during the break, and many fans were concerned. Sinead Keenan announced that Nina would not appear at all in the Fourth Series, and Russell Tovey announced that it would be his last. Trailers that eventually popped up showed a posh-looking vampire, Annie and Tom on a couch, enjoying tea (a trademark of Annie's character since the first series).

Sure enough, in the first episode of Series 4, it was revealed that after giving birth to their daughter Eve, Nina was killed by vampires. The first episode also saw the permanent departure of George. Yet it also showed glimpses of a terrible future in which the vampires have conquered the world, and a young blonde woman (Gina Bramhill) is killed and her ghost vows to kill "that baby" to save the world.

Also in the first episode, we were introduced to a new vampire/werewolf/ghost trio: Hal Yorke (Damien Molony), Leo (Louis Mahoney) and Pearl (Tamla Kari). The second episode featured Hal and his friends arriving at Honolulu Heights, where Leo dies and Pearl crosses over at last. Both Tom and Hal move in with Annie to help raise the baby, Eve.

Throughout Series Four, the designs of vampire Nick Cutler (Andrew Gower) are made clear: he wants to publicly expose the existence of werewolves, then have the vampires reveal themselves as "the good guys" so a frightened humanity plays right into their hands. He has even summoned the Old Ones (ancient vampires), led by Mr. Snow (Mark Gatiss) to witness this.

This and the blonde woman's ghost (who appears in the present) tie into the unraveling legend of The War Child: a child born of two werewolves who comes from a home containing a trinity (a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost), and it seems baby Eve fits that bill well. Annie has been raising Eve (the baby is not a werewolf, despite its parentage), but soon discovers that her final unfinished business and the destiny of Eve are linked together with the War Child legend.

Meanwhile, Hal and Tom become friends and find love interests: Tom meets fellow werewolf Allison (Ellie Kendrick), and Hal meets Alex Millar (Kate Bracken), but both of these relationships are headed for turmoil, particularly when Cutler kills Alex and feeds her blood to Hal (who's been using strict routines to stay off blood so well).

Thus, Being Human managed to pull off what many shows haven't: the entire cast was changed during Series Four. Series Five would find a new Trinity in Honolulu Heights: Hal, Tom and Alex.

As the wait for Series Five began, fans were met with a bit of news that set them a little on edge: it would be cut back to only six episodes, like Series One. Some feared it, some expected it. And as Series Five drew close, a lack of online content was noted. A small trailer, nothing more: no prequels, no additional scenes. After the first episode of Series Five aired, the worst fears of fans were confirmed: it would be the last series.

Series Five found Tom and Hal finding new jobs in a hotel, while Alex tried to discover her unfinished business. Hal is also confronted by Mr. Rook (Steven Robertson), who works for a government agency to protect humanity from discovering the supernatural. Meanwhile, a sinister disabled man in the Barry Hotel seems to have particular sway over people, and by the end of the first episode, a bloody messsage appears on the wall: HE WILL RISE.

Being Human would find the characters going up against the biggest threat ever: the Devil himself. Trapped in the form of an old man called Captain Hatch (Phil Davis), the Devil manages to make people commit suicide. Using his power to persuade, Hatch causes Tom, Hal and Alex to fight among themselves so that there will be no Trinity in his way when he regains strength. Will the trio of Honolulu Heights unite or fall? And if they unite, will they survive the encounter?

Throughout all five series, Being Human managed to create a compelling story with a strong supernatural flavor about a group of friends striving just to be normal. Perhaps the focus wandered, but the series never derailed, and at the end, it was clear that it was always about these three who were just human. Sure, one was dead, one was undead, and the other turned into a furry monster once a month, but at their hearts, they were people, and the show made us care for them, even when we saw a total cast change.

The cast lives up to the writing well, from the regular cast to even one-time guest starts. The main cast have amazing chemistry together, even when the main cast is being changed. (It was, in fact, Damien Molony who became my first all-out actor crush.)

Bravo, Mr. Whithouse. Bravo.

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