BBC’s “Being Human”

August 4, 2009

It sounds like the setup to a joke: a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost all move in together . . .

Except, it’s really the pitch to a new BBC television series, Being Human. And what’s more, it’s not a comedy. It’s a down-and-dirty urban fantasy that’s quite dark — and quite welcome. Deena and I stumbled across it a couple weeks ago while cruising through the free on-demand offerings of our cable TV provider. (Readers take note: yes, I actually just paid a compliment to Comcast. It won’t happen again, I promise.)

Mitchell is a rockstar-looking vampire who dates back to WW1. He’s made a momentous decision: no longer will he prey upon humans. Except he’s having a hard time fighting his impulses, and, in a bit of poetic justice, is being stalked by the woman he recently turned into a vampire. The local vampire population, headed by a creepy police officer with a thing for hot chocolate, wants to recruit Mitchell into a brewing conspiracy against the humans.

George is an emotional, dorky werewolf. He and Mitchell both work as low-level nurses at the hospital. And like Mitchell, he was turned into a supernatural creature against his will and isn’t too comfortable in his own skin. His biggest problem, as far as I can tell from the first two episodes, is finding a decent place to transform during the full moon. Doing it at home tends to break all the furniture.

And finally, recently deceased Annie has found herself in a world where no one can see or hear her, and where she’s doomed to spend eternity wearing the same ugly gray sweater. She’s insecure and still pines after her old boyfriend. However, now that she’s found she can interact with the physical world, she compulsively makes cups of tea for her roommates.

Yes, I said roommates. You see, these three characters have all decided to move in together into Annie’s old townhouse. (Mitchell and George can see the ghost.) Post-move is where we find ourselves in episode #1. Apparently, an unaired pilot episode with different actors explains how they wound up in this situation.

In its first two episodes, Being Human suffers from a bit of first-draftitis, mainly in its inability to establish clear, understandable rules for its supernatural world. Vampires can walk in daylight, but there’s still some stray dialogue that confuses the issue. The ghost can’t be seen by anyone except for other supernaturals, and, for some reason, the pizza delivery boy. Things like that. But what’s important, the characters and their “humanity,” have been well established in an interesting and compelling way.

It’s worth watching. I’ll be looking forward to this weekend, when the next episode will air on BBC America . . . and then right after that, I’ll tune into HBO for that other addictive urban fantasy series, True Blood.

Yes, I sure am carelessly throwing that “urban fantasy” term around, aren’t I? Tor just released an interesting press release about this sub-genre that raises as many questions as it answers. But I’m starting to get a feel for the landscape. Right now I’m plowing through Carrie Vaughn’s excellent series about a werewolf who hosts a late-night call-in radio program for the supernatural population. The first novel is Kitty and the Midnight Hour and was a fast, enjoyable read.