"Being Human": The Yankee Version
The American remake of “Being Human” defies all expectations in that any completely unnecessary Americanization of a contemporary British show is naturally expected to be atrocious. That’s not to say that that the show is terribly good, but it’s certainly better than most Americanizations, which is as faint of praise as one can give short of saying that at least it’s not Hitler.
Although it’s easy to say that the problem with Americanizations is that they inevitably dumb down the concept and add elements from a shared checklist of “improvements” that are inexplicably irresistible to producers whilst offending any viewers with taste, the root of the problem is a lot simpler. Mimicry might be the sincerest form of flattery, but it rarely exceeds the original. Just look at covers of songs. Sure, we remember the Sex Pistols making “My Way” their own, but we desperately try to forget the versions recorded by Fred Durst and about thirty other bands on b-sides. Do it the same and what’s the point, do it differently and what are the odds that you’re going to do it better than something that was already so good that there’s a market for doing it again? Odds are it’ll be worse, just from the tendency to regress to the mean.
The show sets itself up much like the British version, we’ve got the vampire, the werewolf, and the ghost going all supernaturally Three’s Company. Just to utterly confuse anyone who has seen episodes of the original, they changed the names of the characters. So now we get Aiden instead of Mitchell, Josh instead of George, and Sally instead of Annie. That’s perfectly understandable, I mean those original names are just confusingly British, they’re practically wearing red coats and drinking tea.
The positive side is that the show is a decent watch. It’s got a moody atmosphere complimented by mostly solid acting from the three leads. Unfortunately the writing doesn’t hold up to the same standard as the UK version, with plot holes and character problems that tug at a viewer’s brain even as the episodes are more or less entertaining as a whole.
Aiden (played by the same actor as Crashdown in “Battlestar Galactica”) is pale, gorgeous and brooding and although he combines that with being able to walk in the sun (sans sparkles), he avoids Cullen territory because he’s so desperately addicted to blood that vegetarianism and Mormon teenagers are the last thing on his mind. They’ve made a decision to try to go really dark right away with Aiden’s character, but in doing so they’ve fallen across the moral line that always is dangerous when making vampires protagonists. He is a murderer. Blood thumping through veins isn’t just a temptation to him, it’s fucking heroin and he’s a hopeless junkie. The show hammers the addiction metaphor so hard that it’s no longer a metaphor, it’s literal. He loses control and butchers a young woman in the first episode, and comes close to doing so repeatedly over the subsequent episodes.
Engineering a sympathetic vampire requires a delicacy not yet apparent in the series. Either the darkness must be embraced, creating a Lestat sort of character, or the character must be based on redemption, creating an Angel sort of character. While it’s daring to create a character wavering, it’s also difficult to hold sympathy for a mass murderer who just wants to live like a normal human and can’t help slipping up occasionally. There has to be a moral price for that. A character cannot pine for a normal life even as he semi-regularly takes the lives of normal people. Developing a conscience after two centuries of slaughter demands either suicide or redemption. There is no middle road.
Josh is skittish, nervous and shy, and obsessed with the fact that he can never be normal. In the first couple of episodes, Aiden sets him up with a secure room in an abandoned wing of the hospital in which he can safely endure his change into a werewolf every month. In the next episode, Josh decided with no explanation that it’s better to just do it in the woods even though he might kill someone. Gosh, it’s so much easier to advance the plot when you just have characters do stupid things in order to set up the situations that you want. Cage, tranquilizer, friend keeping watch. Your central problem isn’t that you’re a monster, Josh, it’s that you’re an idiot.
Sally is the hardest character to pick apart, mainly because the writers really haven’t gone anywhere with her yet. She’s irritatingly peppy, which sort of goes against the grain of the character’s supernatural problem being a metaphor for their character flaws. Being a ghost that no one can see or hear, someone who cannot touch the world, just doesn’t work as well as a metaphor with a seemingly well adjusted and outgoing individual.
The show also suffers a bit from simply having too many episodes, because the premise isn’t one that works so well with the monster-of-the-week filler that takes up half the episodes of most genre shows. The result is that the characterization seems to progress at a glacial pace, since there’s no apparent over arching plot stringing along in the background.
The end result of these problems is a show that is not terrible, but falls far short of its potential. It’s got good acting, effective atmosphere, a clear willingness to go to dark and uncomfortable places, and a high enough budget that it doesn’t just look silly. Writing is the linchpin of a series: if it’s good enough it can make up for almost anything, but if it’s bad it can sink the entire thing. Right now the show is entertaining enough, but if the writing doesn’t tighten up, it won’t be enough to sustain the series.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.