“The world is on the brink of calamity. We face an enemy of unimaginable cunning and power. So let’s keep cockups to a minimum.”
And I face a viewing challenge of unimaginable confusion – watching the fifth series of Being Human while also watching the third season of the US version, which surprised me by being every bit as good. Taking the mythology into entirely different directions being a good start. The US version has nine more episodes to go, the British just seven – can I keep them straight in my head?
Well, I’m not blogging on the US version – I have a job now, and there’s Dallas every week, and both Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are back soon, so I’ll be busy enough. So, the real Being Human – the original – it is. And how is our original Being Human shaping up with its new cast?
For me, not too badly. I have my reservations about it, though less than some, and less than my own reservations about the new cast in Misfits. I can understand why a lot of old fans found the new cast impossible to get used to. The schtick of the original concept was that the gang were, on the face of it, normal people who just happened to be supernatural beings; with the new guys, they’re supernatural beings trying, none too successfully, to seem like normal people. It’s a fine distinction, but it sets them apart.
New ghost Alex is the closes we have to a ‘normal’ character – she only died the other week (as it were), and is very much a product of modern society. Hal, on the other hand, is a 500-year-old vampire with crippling OCD; even if he were human, he’d find it hard to fit in. Tom is a werewolf raised in a rarefied, sheltered environment, like a latterday warrior monk crossed with (as Alex remarks) the Amish. It’s almost a reversal of the original premise. Mitchell and George were as normal a pair of lads as you could meet – apart from the whole blood drinking/wolf-transforming stuff. Hal and Tom can barely pass as normal in any circumstance.
Still, I rather like the reversal. But there’s the whole ever-growing mythology thing too. Last year it felt like showrunner Toby Whithouse might have taken that as far as it could reasonably go, with a barely averted vampire-driven apocalypse. But he added that last-minute coda of a shadowy group of Sir Humphrey-types who go around covering for the supernaturals. So you might reasonably expect them to be the main focus of this year, right?
Wrong, as it turns out. Yes, the mysterious Mr Rook (Steven Robertson) is present, and a big player – “our job is to maintain the illusion that man is alone. And it’s been the job of people like us for hundreds of years”. But, as we discover in a series of interspersed flashbacks to 1918, there’s worse out there than anything we’ve met so far. How much worse? Well… it’s the Devil.
Um… yes. At this point, a number of fans may be thinking Mr Whithouse has performed aerial acrobatics over a certain carnivorous fish. That’s understandable; this is a well that’s been pretty much plumbed dry. Plus, it comes accompanied by all the baggage of Judeo-Christian mythology; if there’s a Devil, logically there must be a God, and that’s a whole other can of theology.
Still, Supernatural pulled that off (in its first five series, before the story ended and it was dragged out for another agonising three years), as have various comic series including Hellblazer and Preacher. So why not Being Human?
Indeed, Toby Whithouse still finds ways to surprise me even with the most hackneyed of ideas. In fact, the show’s entire premise – a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost in the same story – seems to come from the fag end of the 1930s/40s horror boom; Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein and the Mummy in the House of Dracula. But Whithouse is a good enough writer to make it work.
So it proved here. Unlike a lot of fans, I’d been pretty much won over by the new gang last year. I think Damien Molony as Hal strikes an interesting contrast between the comical (his OCD) and the horrific – the fact that his OCD is actually therapy that stops him turning into an unstoppable killer. And yes, he’s pretty easy on the eye too, as we got to see in a playful prologue where he fought the glamorous werewolf leader Lady Catherine. Logically, there was no real reason for Hal to be shirtless throughout, but I shan’t complain.
We joined the gang pretty much where we’d left them last year, albeit a few weeks later – with Hal still strapped to a chair, doing cold turkey after his first taste of blood in over fifty years. Marvellously, it was his OCD that made Tom and Alex realise he was (sort of) recovered. Clearly, he was traumatised by the sheer state they’d let Honolulu Heights get into without him; “this is going to be a two sets of Marigolds job”.
Most of the episode seemed to be played at a broadbrush comedy level I didn’t much care for. The introduction of office loser Ian Cram was initially too sitcom for my tastes, as was the sequence of Hal and Tom going for jobs at a local hotel. But it paid off when the script turned dark. Doomed by a chance encounter with a pissed-off Hal, Cram ended up knocked over by a car and vampirised by the well-meaning (or was he?) Hal. He then proceeded to turn up back at his office, covered in blood, and devour the boss’ pet employee/nephew Gavin.
Hal’s attempt to deal with that by killing both Cram and himself was a turning point, as Alex and Tom came to his rescue. And then Mr Rook turned up, and for all his ‘comedy civil servant’ routine earlier, was still prepared to do his job by ramming a pen into the office manager’s brain (“I liked that pen”). It worked precisely because it had been played so much for laughs earlier; when it suddenly turned so dark, the contrast was all the more noticeable.
The flashbacks were also well-integrated, so that by the end, it came as little surprise that the Devil unleashed by Hal, werewolf queen Lady Catherine and ghost wizard Emile was none other than potty-mouthed pensioner Captain Hatch, the Fawlty Towers-esque resident of the Barry Island Grand Hotel. Yes, it’s a deal of coincidence that he ended up in the same town as Hal; but we’ll see whether Whithouse comes up with a convincing rationale for that. Besides, I’d already guessed that Hatch would be a major player. You don’t cast an actor of Phil Davis’ stature in a novelty bit part.
Meantime, we have Mr Rook’s mysterious government department to uncover more about; it was amusing that his department is threatened with the axe by austerity-style government cuts despite being around since “the days of Cromwell”. And Alex has had her hopes of passing on dashed by the discovery that her family have already held her funeral and begun to get on with their lives – what’s the unresolved issue that will conjure up her Door? And Cram – now the self-styled ‘Crumb’ – is a bitter, psychotic prisoner of Mr Rook’s department. I hope to see more of him; he’s as interesting and atypical a vampire as last series’ Cutler.
So, yes, I still understand the reservations about the show. And I appreciate that the increasingly complex mythology is in danger of overwhelming its initially simple premise. But I like the mythology. And I like the characters, different though they may be. There’s still a chance that this reinvention might fall on its arse, and it’s entirely subjective whether you think it will; I was very down on the similar reinvention Misfits had last series, but I know plenty of people who disagreed. On this evidence, I still think Being Human has plenty of mileage left in it – but let’s see whether the rest of the series proves me right or wrong.