Syfy’s Being Human is yet another one of 2011’s UK remakes coming to America. Based on the subject matter and the cast, it is also the one I’ve been the most excited about, even though I haven’t seen the original BBC series. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the British version of this series about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost living together and trying to fit in (and get it, BE HUMAN), but it’s just one of those things. There is only so much time in the day, folks.
Although this pilot episode “There Goes The Neighborhood” is more or less a remake of the first episode of the UK series, it feels like a concept that easily applied across cultures and countries. Again, I haven’t seen the BBC version, but I was in a similar situation with The Office and Shameless last week. I could see seams and the strain in those pilots, whereas here it feels like the Syfy version of Being Human works pretty darn well for American audiences. And if this series follows the pattern The Office and Shameless (reportedly) by disregarding the source material at a certain extent, Being Human could become a legitimately compelling series.
Let’s talk a bit about the pilot though. I’m a big fan of Warehouse 13, one of Syfy’s other new programs, but I wasn’t really convinced that Human could fit in with what the network is obviously trying to do with its branding and programming strategies. Warehouse 13, Eureka, etc., these are series full of whimsy with occasional pinches of dramatic heft and even from arm’s length with no viewing knowledge of the original, I could tell that Being Human wouldn’t really work as series full of light-hearted whimsy. I was terrified that the network was going to try this anyway.
Thankfully, this is not the case. Being Human isn’t a heavy drama with a suffocating amount of stakes, but Aidan, Josh and Sally seem to exist in a fairly natural world where their completely unnatural personal circumstances have a legitimate and serious impact on their ability to live among humans. On the other Syfy series it always feels as if no one is actually shocked or concerned about the weird stuff happening around them, it’s just there. In this series, vampire cliques, werewolves and general knowledge about actual ghosts seems to exist to these few people so they aren’t trying to avoid their circumstances, but there is a large sense that these circumstances screw things up for Aidan, Josh and Sally, a lot of the time. Those other Syfy programs let their characters revel in the odd events happening around them. Here, the characters wallow in them.
This approach gives Being Human a lot more heft than I expected (thankfully) and allows the characters’ plotting and reactions to certain events to feel real — even though they’re completely unreal. Sure, in Warehouse 13 the characters have now grown accustomed to the zaniness that is their lives and we sort of go along with it because we recognize it’s a television program and that’s what you do. But here, there seems to be an additional layer of believability to the characters’ lives that makes them more likable and sympathetic. Somehow, it is much easier to believe that the lives of these three individuals suck very hard than it is to believe in a government facility holding old artifacts.
Of course, this vibe wouldn’t really work unless the actors didn’t sell it. I noted up top that I came to be interested in this project because of the cast and I’m happy to say that those performers did not let me down. Sam Witwer of Smallville and Battlestar fame plays the vampire Aidan, Superman Returns‘ Sam Huntington plays werewolf Josh and Mark Pellegrino from Lost and Supernatural continues his streak of creepy puppet masters in the role of Bishop the vampire boss. Each of these three gentlemen embody roles that we’ve seen them play before, but because most of them have been supporting players in the past, it’s kind of nice to get to see Witwer do his super brooding thing or Huntington really dive in to the obsessive compulsive goofball Josh.
More importantly, Witwer and Huntington have really fantastic chemistry with one another. Most of the pilot’s believability hinges on whether or not you can buy that these two dudes support one another so strongly — you know, despite being on the opposite sides of what is sure to be some sort of war — and “There Goes The Neighborhood” wastes little time in making that come to pass. The end of this episode is surprisingly intense because the previous 45 minutes do such a good job of developing their relationship so when Josh calls Aidan for help so he won’t harm his sister during a transformation period and can’t reach him, it really feels like Josh has literally no one else to call and more damaging, he’s hurt that Aidan isn’t there for him. Really good stuff.
Pellegrino is of course ominous and mysterious. That’s fine. And I was not familiar with Meagan Rath beforehand and unfortunately her Sally is the least defined of the three leads, but she’s fine and I’m sure the series will start to give her more to do moving forward.
One final thing: The mythology. We’ve seen our fair share of vampire, werewolf and vampire versus werewolf stories lately and frankly, there’s only so much you can do with that framework. I think Being Human works thus far because it spends more time on the human presentations instead of the monstrous insides, but it’s only a matter of time before the world expands and something awful starts happening. I’m obviously reserving judgment for when something like actually occurs, but I think I might prefer it if the series stayed a bit smaller and more personal. I don’t need any more all-out wars between these races or questions about why they are the way they are. The series has a certain kind of charm with these three people just hanging out, and I hope the first season sticks more to that more personal angle than any sort of quick expansion of the universe.