I was racking my brains as to what I wanted to write about. I’m not sure why it didn’t come to me sooner….my most beloved of vampire-related series! Being Human.
And, an added bonus…there’s also the US version which I will inevitably castigate. Even though I have a secret soft spot for it. Anyway….
I’m sure many of you reading this have seen or at least heard of Being Human. It is a wonderfully creative and at times, tenderly poignant series. For those who have no idea, the premise is this: a werewolf, a vampire and ghost live together in a small house, trying to muddle their way through an existence on the fringes of society. George, the werewolf, has to disappear monthly and exile himself to the nearby woods where he (rather painfully) changes into a wolf. Man and beast are separate, an overwrought Jekyll and Hyde. George lives with his condition much like someone with a crippling illness. He has learnt how to cope, yet at times, it is desperately painful to watch him struggle with the loss of normality. Mitchell, the vampire, harbours an addiction to blood and a repressed desire to commit acts of wonderfully brutal violence. He toys with ‘sobriety’ but in many senses, he is just as human as the rest of us, so falls off the wagon. The only difference being that when he does so, an entire train carriage gets drained…Annie is the ghost (although thinking about this now, it’s just occurred to me that the only female is a weak, somewhat ineffectual presence. Not sure how I feel about this) who has to adjust to the peculiar dichotomy of living and being dead. She is perhaps the most ‘normal’ character in the series, forever making cups of tea, and being perpetually gossipy and cheerful.
Later on in the series, we were introduced to Nina, who George ‘infected’. The whole issue surrounding her integration in the group lends weight to werewolves being a more powerful metaphor for HIV/AIDS than vampirism ever was.
The timing of the series was perfect: just on the cusp of the burgeoning vampiric revival, but not so far in that media had been over-saturated by monsters. Saying that, I can’t think of any other series on British TV that deal with these themes. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) The last (British) vampire series we had was Ultraviolet (starring Stephen Moyer, no less). Being Human has put forward a case for a British obsession with monsters. The film industry is so bloated with pale, sexually active vampires that it can be easy to dismiss them as irrelevant. I do not think this is the case however. The central themes in Being Human capture everything my PhD is about. The dilemmas the characters are faced with are moral, ethical, and sometimes rather banal. They fight to retain a sense of ‘humanity’ despite being given ample reasons why they should shun all notions of it. Like the Lost Boys, the characters are absolved of duty. Yet both Mitchell and George work in a hospital. Although the reasons are also quite practical (it gives Mitchell access to blood without death, and the night shifts suit both), there is still no escaping that it gives them a chance to help those who need it most, and witness the highs and lows of human behaviour. Aside from that, there’s murder, difficult pregnancy, addiction, loyalty, and religion. [At some point I’m sure, I will cover one of these topics in more detail. But for now, I’m content to give overviews on the texts/programs that I am dealing with.]
The series itself is popular, so much so that the Americans just had to make their own version….
Whilst I can’t deny that I much prefer their marketing of the series, it’s just…not the same. The first episode follows in much the same way as the first of the UK series. But from then on, it is completely different. The characters themselves are different – for starters, as many people have noted, the vampire, Aidan (named after the actor who played Mitchell in the UK series) has a look that’s far more ‘Twilight’. He storms around, broody, but somewhat lacks the same charisma as Mitchell. Josh, the werewolf, doesn’t have the same endearing awkwardness as George. Instead, he seems to portray a tortured soul, wounded by his ‘affliction’. As for Sally, the ghost, I hate her. She is whiny, and pathetic. Annie is quirky, thoughtful. Sally is more preoccupied with getting revenge for her untimely death at the hands of her emotionally challenged ex. In the UK series, Annie has the same problems, but doesn’t get quite as obsessive, or selfish. The series itself lacks the humour of the BBC version. However….the themes of religion are so strong in this one, it’s almost as if it were a different series. Both series have the issue of monsters masquerading as humans, or humans and their hidden monstrous nature, but in the US version of Being Human we see how religion is often the face for this monstrosity. The head vampire, Bishop (whose very name is suggestive) reveals the religious lynchpins he has in place. It turns out that many religious figureheads are vampires, and the authority helps them keep their existence under wraps.
There is a tendency for filmic vampires to be presented in a caricatured manner, which whilst entertaining, detracts from the metaphorical usefulness of the figure. Being Human, in my opinion, is a successful attempt to reinstate the vampire in its rightful place, as toeing the line between human and morally compromised monster, working out (as we all have to) how to be human.