John Walker's Electronic House

Television: Being Human Series Two

by on Jan.14, 2010, under The Rest

The first series of Being Human (BBC 3) made the same mistake in every episode. The tale of a ghost, vampire and werewolf sharing a house began each episode in the manner of the trite sitcom that brief description suggests. Oh, the wacky adventures they must have! But as each hour-long story progressed, it became darker and darker, finishing with a dramatic cliffhanger that ensured you’d watch the next. And yet somehow by the next week it would have reset back to its kooky sitcom cheeriness, constantly betraying its own potential.

The final episode was different. (Spoilers follow.) Enough threads needed to be brought together that writer/creator Toby Whithouse was forced to begin with drama and stay there, and it was a dramatically better programme. Optimistically, the first episode of the second series managed the same.

It’s now the tale of a ghost, a vampire and two werewolves who live together, but it knew to be dark, threatening and often deeply cruel from the beginning. With the danger of the first series resolved, new threats needed to be introduced, and if the episode was particularly weak anywhere, it was here. Between watching Nina coping with her lycanthropy, Annie attempting to adjust to her slightly more corporeal form, George coming to terms with his having killed a man, and Mitchell’s malaise at realising he was no longer, well, under threat (“You’re a piece of deadly furniture.”), we’re suddenly faced with cutaways to some evil wizard’s castle. Well, an evil Christian’s laboratory. Being able to see what he’s up to, before he’s even been introduced to the characters, the story, anything, feels exactly like every bad cartoon. So we see him performing evil experiments on a werewolf, and it feels like we’re snooping on something that’s none of our business. By the time he is connected to the rest of the show, in the final scene, he’s even more ludicrous, shuffling around their empty house melodramatically quoting Old Testament references from the King James Bible to no one at all. Sigh.

There are other problems too. Russell Tovey playing werewolf George seems like he’s being given direction by someone who’s stumbled in from a 1970s sitcom about trousers falling down while vicars come for tea. He seems to be a perfectly good actor – his furious delivery of “FUCK YOU” in Nina’s face is probably the most effective moment in the episode – but for some reason most of the time he seems to be doing a lame impression of Lee Evans, stammering and jabbering idiotically when a scene calls for calm and severity. This was catastrophic in series one, this Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em tedium ruining vast swathes of episodes. It’s more contained here, but sadly still appearing too often. Fortunately most of his scenes are tempered by Sinead Keenan’s Nina, who is just magnificent. (She was one of the few highlights of the most recent Doctor Who finale, as one of the completely pointless cactus people, but still completely engaging with about three lines and four tons of green make up.) She has a skill for facial expressions that had me watch her deliver lines three or four times in a row, just to enjoy the dexterity of the performance one more time.

Lenora Crichlow took ghost Annie on an interesting journey in the first series. She was the (deliberately) nauseating cheery one, whose story turned increasingly dark as she was forced to accept the awful circumstances of her own death. (A plotline that would have been hugely better if the so-called twist hadn’t been so glaringly apparent from the first episode as her moustache-twirling evil ex glowered menacingly into any camera he could find.) She seems to have been slightly reset here, back to optimism bordering on simple stupidity, and I guess that’s fine really. Her sobbing after a night of watching Nina’s suffering as a wolf justified any nonsense that was to come, and she delivered the best gag of the episode absolutely brilliantly:

George: Have you ever worked in a pub before?

Annie: No! But I’ve watched the Apprentice, and in the current job market there is less emphasis on experience, because at the end of the day… it is just about giving a hundred and ten percent.

Followed by an excellent exit, stage left.

Which brings up the other important point: Whithouse is a funny guy, and here having the jokes interspersed throughout makes them far more effective. Rather than wondering why there wasn’t a laugh track for half of each episode, so unrelentingly were they delivered before it was time to get gloomy, the humour emerges more naturally from the situations they’re in. (I’m very interested to see what he does with his episode of Doctor Who in a few months.)

I really hope the “everything’s okay again” ending doesn’t mean we’ll be back into that same state next week. It needs to stay dark, because that’s what it’s good at. It seems that none of the actors bar Sinead Keenan shine when trying to deliver jokes, but everything finds its groove when it’s all going horribly wrong. Although I’m not convinced Mr Bible Basher is quite the enemy to offer us much threat. We’ll see.


5 Comments for this entry

  • rory

    I thought the first series worked well, despite the mode switching. However, the finale didnt make a lot of sense. “I’m a centuries old vampire and I will now fight this werewolf, oh dear, I forgot about how werewolves are big and strong. Oh well.”

    Do agree about the George / Lee Evans similarties, although the superficial ear similarity probably contributes to our opinion of that. And yes, Sinead Keenan is doing a wonderful job with Nina, but I found myself more interested in the story of the female vampire (daisy was it?) with the elderly daughter in the ICU. That was quickly abandoned for George being reunited with Nina.

    That said, I am looking forward to the rest of the series, it’s still bloody good TV!

    Speaking of which, did you catch misfits while it was on?

  • Morph

    I enjoyed it, despite the feeling that it was a little too much of an episode setting up the rest of the series. Hence the ‘everything’s rosy, tea for all!’ ending, which seemed to obviously be setting things up for a big fall.

    That’s fine and dandy in a longer series, but when there are only 6 episodes it feels a bit like wasting time.

    Am holding my reservations about the villains though… science, bible quotations, phsyic medium fellow. Bit of a weird mish-mash at the moment.

  • Quercus

    I thought the scene with Daisy and George in th ICU was really well done and really powerful. As you said, the character of George does seem to flip-flop between being acutely perceptive and astute to being bumbling and obtuse.

    I still don’t understand the dynamic between the werewolves and vampires in the story though – it seems to be that werewolves (when transformed) are more powerful than vampires but when in human form are much weaker (hence the constant bullying). As the transformation seems to take some time (during which they appear to be fairly powerless), the Vamps would logically only need to fear werewolves for one or two nights a month and would therefore find it very easy to kill them at any other time.
    So, why did the powerful head of the vampires to helpfully wait wround while George transformed so that he could be killed at the end of the last series?

    Still, it is entertaining.

  • C0NTiNUiTY

    I think they covered themselves with the Herrick waiting for george to transform. George had a cross around his neck so Herrick couldn’t attack him.

  • Masked Dave

    I don’t think George flip-flops as much as it depends on the circumstances he’s in. When it really matters he can be focused but when it’s about his own personal life or girls then he gets in a faff.

    To me that makes him much more real, and one of the most well rounded characters I’ve ever seen on TV.