During the snappiest moments of its fourth season premiere, the original, British version of Being Human pulls off the mixture of thrills, humor, and kitchen-sink drama about as well as it ever has, maybe better. This is partial compensation for the intensification of the show's pointlessness. Being Human has only been around for three years, but in its present form, it could pass for a dinosaur struggling to do whatever it can to just keep grinding out one more episode and postpone the cast and crew members' inevitable rendezvous with the unemployment counsellor. The previous season ended in the throes of ludicrousness, with George (Russell Tovey), the reluctant werewolf who already had his hands full worrying about his werewolf girlfriend (Sinead Kennan) and their werewolf-question-mark offspring, committing a mercy staking of his vampire roommate, Mitchell (Aidan Turner). Turner's tearful-but-grateful exit scene was all the reminder anyone needed that he had become a drag anyway, so viewers, who knew that Turner wanted to leave the show, were less likely to join in the crying than uncork a bottle of Grey Goose and wish the actor godspeed and happiness in all his future endeavors.
But since then, Russell Tovey, who's by far the best of all the actors on either this show or the North American version that's often the TV equivalent of a Carpenters cover of a Buzzcocks song, has announced that he wants out so that he can concentrate on his other series, the comedy Him & Her. And Sinead Kennan has also bailed. The new season opens with the news that Nina has long since been killed by vampires under the command of Griffin (Alex Jennings), a would-be vampire Hitler who wants to wipe out the human race, and who looks and acts like the lost brother of James and Edward Fox. Being Human is at its smartest when it makes fun of the class-consciousness that it shares with many shows from the U.K., and Griffin's sniffy, superior airs and steady string of insults, delivered in a crisp, clipped tone, are overripe enough to make him a prime candidate for Upper-Class Vampire Twit Of The Year. Part of the joke is that he's a bit of a dinosaur himself, and primed to be replaced by Cutler (Andrew Gowen), a slick younger number who makes his entrance to the strains of Timbuk 3's classic put-down of yuppie careerists, “The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” Cutler sneers at other vampires' “obsession" with history and tries to conduct a focus group to gauge the reaction of the person on the street to the lycanthropy menace.
The new characters also include a vampire nerd, Regus (Mark Williams), a chubby bloke in a “HERO FOR HIRE” T-shirt who's spend 400 years of his un-life poring over ancient texts and deciphering prophecies. “I'm the Vampire Recorder!” he says pompously, when he's feeling dissed. “I'm sorry," says Cutler. "For a minute there, I thought you had a really stupid name.” It's Regus who reveals that George's infant daughter—who the heartbroken George is watching over protectively but still hasn't named, because “every time I think of a name, all I can see is it written on a tombstone”—is destined to save mankind and bring on the vampire apocalypse. Regus is a relief, just because he's the only vampire in sight who doesn't look as if he ought to be either male modeling or toying with the emotions of one of the Crawley girls on Downton Abbey. (If the American Being Human decides to include an equivalent character, the role will be Judah Friedlander's to lose.) But despite his unmade-bed appearance, he turns out to be so crazy that he devotes himself to saving the baby from Griffin's clutches, rather than risk having the prophecy fail, since that would mean that he's been grinding down his eyesight over a faded copy of the Necronomicon for no reason. When Griffin orders the baby's immediate execution, Regus bluffs like mad to give the cavalry a chance to arrive: “It must be done in a special way. Or it doesn't count. There's a special knife. Special robes. A special hat...”
The only problem with new characters like Cutler and Regus is that they make you wish the show had gone even farther in cleaning house. I wasn't thrilled that Fergus (Anthony Flanagan), the sneering vampire thug who says things like “This is a bit too public, even for me," when he has to explain why he isn't tearing somebody's head off in the park, is still skulking around. (Cutler, an astute judge of these things, calls Fergus “an irrelevance” and a “perennial henchman.”) But the real problem with the new season is that Being Human is a show about a vampire, a werewolf or two, and a ghost living together, and the producers are determined that that's what it's going to stay, even if their vampire and both werewolves are even gone or have one foot out the door. So, before George takes his leave, Michael Socha returns as Tom, the vampire-hunting werewolf prole from last season and is immediately bumped up to housemate and series regular. Borrowing a throwaway gag from Robert Mitchum's Thunder Road, the series treats Tom's thick working-class accent as a joke, seldom missing an opportunity to have a better-bred character point out that it's impossuble to make head or tails out of what he's saying. The writers love to feed him lines such as “Its such a big house”and “Are these the house rules?” To understand why they love it so much, you need to know that every time he says the word “house”, it comes out sounding like “ass.”
Then there's the new vampire, Hal (Damien Molony). Faced with the challenge of providing a plausible explanation for why the ghost—Annie, still played by Leonora Crichlow, who must be wondering if it's her breath—would automatically acquire a new replacement for her vampire housemate to go with her automatic replacement for her werewolf replacement, the writers go for a classic "Just go with us on this.” Hal, it seems, has been living with a werewolf and a female ghost, who have been helping each other restrain their antisocial impulses for decades, and who, to judge from the way they chuckle together while sharing stories from their shared past, have managed to have a hell of a lot more fun then anybody on this show ever has. But now Leo, the werewolf, isn't as young as he used to be, is dying from the effects of his latest transformation, so he takes to his bed and talks like the X-Men. (“We were on the outside of humanity, so we could guard it.”) Presently, he shuffles off his mortal coil, and then the ghost, who looks like Kenley from Project Runway made up to play the Black Dahlia, passes through her door to the next stage of post-existence, so Hal, who has been drawn to the house so that he can meet the messiah baby who will bring on the extinction of his entire race, just up and moves in.
That last sentence contains the germ of why the character of Hal augurs nothing worth auguring. Molony wears his shroud of angst and misery more lightly than Aidan Turner did, but he's still stuck with a character cut from the too-familiar cloth of modern vampire fiction. (He's also an old pal of Fergus', which means that we now get to see flashbacks showing Molony and Anthony Flanagan swanning about in period costume, because that's just how much this show hates me.) Hal is self-loathing and tormented by his unquenchable hunger and supposedly to swoon over. He's a contemporary white knight who has to join the crusade to feel better about the bloodstains on his own armor, though the blood runs so deep that he'll never really feel better about himself, no matter how much good he does.
David Boreanaz got by with this routine on Angel because that show was smart enough to surround him with characters who'd treat his potentially irritating characteristics as a joke whenever they got too heavy. Being Human always treated Mitchell too straight, and while the show is making a welcome effort to use the changeover in its leads as an excuse to get some more comedy into the show, the effort is least successful when Molony is onscreen. By the third episode of the new season, it's the trying to get laughs by having him feel degraded by working alongside Tom in a greasy-spoon diner and dealing with an affected would-be poet with a yen for the dark side of life. The character is so cartoonishly overdrawn that she's like something that escaped from a Saturday Night Live sketch. Right now, this season can boast more good moments and promising ideas than the U. S. version of Being Human. But all that means is that the current U. K.Being Human is now the better of the two pale imitations of the original Being Human.
- We are most likely not covering this show week to week this season. The delay between U.K. and U.S. broadcast really cuts down on immediacy, and the Saturday night timeslot doesn't help either. We'll probably do a drop-in for the finale though. --ed.