Undead and down to earth
Between HBO’s “True Blood,” the “Twilight” series and the CW’s upcoming “The Vampire Diaries,” the whole undead thing is getting a bit, well, old. But don’t let that keep you from watching “Being Human”, which premieres Saturday night on BBC America. Even in a crowded field, “Being Human” stands out, mainly because it has what the others lack -- a sense of humor.
The story of a vampire and a werewolf who move into a Bristol flat only to discover it is haunted by one of its previous tenants, “Being Human” is a delightful balance of modern coming-of-age dramedy and horror fantasy. (If you could imagine the love child of “Friends” and “Dexter” you’d be close, but you might also give yourself a stroke.)
We quickly learn how each met their fate: Annie (Lenora Crichlow), young, lovely and about to be married, fell down a flight of stairs; John (Aidan Turner), a British soldier during World War I, stumbled into a nest of vampires, and George (Russell Tovey), on holiday in Scotland, chose the wrong path for a late-night stroll. Now John and George are mates, keeping low profiles as orderlies in a Bristol hospital and trying their best to control their respective curses enough to not kill anyone. Today.
As far as Annie is concerned, they’re heaven sent -- the biggest problem with being a ghost turns out to be the loneliness. It’s a living situation with more than a few built-in issues. Deprived of human contact for so long, Annie is a bit needy and still longs for her fiance, now the landlord, enough to refuse to leave when he shows up one day. “As long as she stays upstairs, what’s the worst that could happen?” John asks. “I’ll remind you of that as the crowds gather outside with pitchforks and torches,” George replies.
But despite more than a few laugh-out-loud moments, “Being Human” is no sitcom, no “Will & Grace” with monsters (although the friendship between the two “men” is so smart and sweet, so absolutely non-Judd Apatow, you do begin to think there is hope for us all). Creator Toby Whithouse takes all the themes associated with the cursed and the damned very seriously, and if his exploration of them is less baroque than other franchises, it promises to be even more effective.
Addiction is the obvious comparison, and Whithouse makes it nicely -- the relationship between John and Lauren (Annabel Scholey), the woman he hopes is his last victim, plays like classic junkie love, with the insatiable need to literally consume the object of desire.
Turner’s dark good looks (the word “smoldering” comes, rather unforgivably, to mind) lend John both the sexiness and the despair we expect from our good-guy vampires, while Tovey’s George is downright adorable. More important, for all the ongoing tension between their human side and their predatory natures, there is also a lightheartedness here that is refreshing. John and George may be in constant battle with their desires, but they never mope. They’re just two guys trying to be better than they are.
With plot lines as simple as “where will George go when the moon is full now that his safe house is being turned into an office?” and as disturbing as a possible vampire revolution, “Being Human” manages to avoid both the slipperiness of soap opera and the overwrought self-importance of Goth, finding instead a happy normalcy that makes its supernatural elements both more believable and more shocking.
In early episodes, all of the characters struggle with the fact that although they share essential otherness, they are still different from one another, and there are moments when it seems their patchwork tribe won’t survive. But like so many modern stories, “Being Human” is about the misfit family, the connections we create when the traditional foundations have given way, often spinning them out of thin air at the very last minute to keep us from falling into the utter depths.
Where: BBC America
When: 6 and 9 tonight
Rating: Not rated