“Why would she want to come back to this!?” howls poor Josh, the reluctant werewolf, in the season premiere of Being Human. It’s a better, more nagging question than Josh, or the writers who come up with his dialogue, may realize. Over the course of two seasons, Being Human quickly went from pleasantly undistinguished hang-out entertainment to grueling endurance test, and it shows no sign of letting up in its third season. The normally soft-spoken Josh is emoting all over the place because he and his main squeeze, Nora, have employed the services of a witch to reconnect them with their ghost friend, Sally, who disappeared into some other dimension at the end of last season. They also wouldn’t mind hearing from their other roommate, the guilt-stricken vampire Aidan, who has gone and gotten himself interred out in the countryside.
Before the new season can properly get under way, the show has to reassemble the gang—and toward that end, the witch demands that Josh and Nora present her with the heart of someone they murdered. (It has to be a heart because “the life, the force of life, was in your hands,” and “The heart is everything!” I seem to recall speeches much like this from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, except that the Being Human writing staff has ingeniously freshened them up by crossing out the word “blood” and sticking “heart” in its place.) Some shows entering their third season would be eager to start things off with a bang, throw in something that’ll excite the audience, make them giddy, and make sure they’ll be coming back for more. It says a lot about the particular scale and dimensions of Being Human’s death wish that at least half of its season premiere is devoted to scenes of people out in the woods with shovels, bitching and moaning while digging up bodies.
Aidan himself is dug up by a hammy actor with a sinister grin and an accent that’s from Pepperidge Farm by way of Mars. Boston Torgo snaps the weakened hero into a Hannibal Lector headlock contraption and passes him along to an Amish vampire who briefs Aidan, and us, on what’s happened with the show’s jerry-built mythology in the year that he’s been underground. In an astonishing plot development that the ghost of H. G. Wells can take a bow for, practically the whole vampire race has been wiped out by flu, a virus that lays them to waste, their super-powered constitutions be damned. (Thank you, Being Human, for giving people another reason to avoid getting vaccinated.)
It seems implausible that, in all the centuries that vampires have been gamboling around the countryside, no vampire scientific genius ever noticed that they tend to keel over after getting the sniffles, but it’s duly reported that “Mother” and most of the other vampires from the show’s previous seasons are now dead, and given how little those characters every brought to the party, to quibble with whatever killed them off seems like looking a gift horse in the mouth. However, Aidan is hallucinating, so there is a cameo by Mark Pellegrino, as his long-dead mentor-turned-nemesis, Bishop. Damned if he isn’t the highlight of the episode; compared to the cast members whose feet are still bolted to the deck of this sinking ship, he has the raffish magnetism of an actor who’s just passing through, picking up a quick check on his way to a better gig. Because Josh and Sally are part of this hallucination, they get to watch in amazement as he steals the scene from them. “I kind of get it now,” mutters Josh. “He’s super compelling.” “I kind of want to make out with him,” says Sally, crushing geek hearts from coast to coast.
Bad TV comes in many flavors, but there may be nothing more frustrating than a show that does have some talent on hand, but has no interest in serving that talent (or the audience) by letting them do what they do best. With Sam Witwer’s sheepishness hunkiness, Sam Huntington and Kristen Hager being adorable together, and Meaghan Rath’s lovable sultriness, Being Human has the tools at hand to be a spiffing, lightweight romantic comedy about being young, cute, and monstery, but it’s hell-bent on being a dark, brooding, mythology-heavy drama, and it’s just not good at it. Any show has the right to be the show it wants to be, not the show the smartass writer for The A. V. Club thinks it ought to be, but while Being Human is failing in its intended goal in life, all these cute profiles are going to waste.
I’m not convinced that the original British version of the show was ever that much better, but at least it feels as if the creators are working with the right ingredients for the tone they want. Maybe that’s just because the country that gave us Graham Greene, John le Carre, and Alan Moore is better at cloaking its thrillers in dark, doomy colors; if all else fails, British pop artists can always fall back on the idea that they’re so depressed because they’re making a statement about the class system. But Being Human is Canadian. How depressed can you be about the fact that the national health system doesn’t cover flu shots for vampires? Actually, the show is set in Montreal-passing-for-Boston, which only makes it feel that much more unrooted.
Will Being Human get any better as the season progresses? Well, next week, Xander Berkeley shows up as a werewolf daddy on a vengeance trip, and his crazy, wild-eyed intensity, liberated from spending all that time spent in cramped spaces in The Booth At The End, spills over in a way that threatens to keep a fuse burning through the episodes to come. But I’m not sure that getting better is that high on Being Human’s bucket list. Some shows fairly kick with ambition, but this one feels satisfied with the little rut it’s dug out for itself. It’s another question how much longer fans will feel satisfied with that rut, especially now that it’s sandwiched between two shows, Lost Girl and the new time-travel series Continuum, that far outclass it in terms of ideas, execution, and general entertainment value. Neither is the greatest show ever to come down the pike, but that just proves that it doesn't take a lot to make Being Human look pitiful by comparison.