I’m pretty certain that when Being Human begin, long ago in 2009, it held no aspirations to being Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It might have done – I don’t doubt that Toby Whithouse was aware of Buffy, and RTD made it perfectly clear that Buffy was an influence on the re-boot of Doctor Who back in 2005. And why shouldn’t we strive for perfection in everything we do?*
But while Buffy’s metaphor was supernatural occurrences for teenage problems, Being Human chose the supernatural flat-share, the group of people throw together by fate trying to keep themselves going despite the fact that the world was against them. As Willow’s magic became a drug addiction (and later, somehow, also female power or something?) Mitchell’s bloodlust was essentially sex or porn addiction. George was unable to cope with the fact that there was violence in him, and that was why he kept on repeating it. Annie was on the other side – stuck in a relationship she couldn’t accept as abusive, even though she was being hurt – to the point that she had already been killed. The fourth episode (written by the cousin of a friend I hadn’t met at that point) took this reality to its extreme, and was the best episode of any TV series of which I can think off the top of my head (except, perhaps, “The Women of Qumar“) On top of this, the show was witty, well acted, and looked (when they were careful with the werewolf transitions) fantastic. In general, it wasn’t a violent show – it was a funny show, a thriller if anything, and often touching. And Mitchell was definitely the best looking vampire in a post-Angel world.** It was, on British TV, the closest thing I had seen to the logos – the Seraphim of supernatural TV.
That was its first series. Six episodes – and to be honest, what was going to go wrong began in the last two. The second series could no longer hide the influence of Buffy, and directly referenced it in the first episode – although Nina the werewolf was actually in Angel. Overall, the series tried to be Buffy series 4 – arguably the worst series of Buffy*** – introducing a private army/government anti-supernatural thing. The lack of a clear agenda, especially apparent in the character of George, matched with writing focused on cool events (Box Tunnel, for example) the impact of which didn’t seem fully though through, introducing potentially interesting characters which then didn’t get used properly, and generally meandering meant that the show lost its appeal. Worst of all, it wasn’t funny. One of Buffy’s chief attributes was its ability to match being funny with being dramatic and believable – the only way to go with a supernatural show is to have absolute conviction in your monsters, but a sense of humour about life.**** It makes it seem real.
I think that my love of the first series could only have got me through one awful series, so fortunately the third series was a bit back on track. Resurrecting an old villan after only fourteen episodes is a little bit rubbish, but they did it surprisingly well. It leaned too close to the fluff of Buffy, the action which kept it fun rather than the emotional core which kept it brilliant. Introducing vampire killers seems to imply that Buffy remained an influence. And I really enjoyed Becoming Human, and look forward to Craig Roberts appearing in series 4. But the ending – sappy, aimless, unrewarding and a let-down. Which is unfortunate, as it tarnishes my memory of an otherwise good series.
The new series began last night, and I watched it tonight on iPlayer. The episodes now have names – pointless names, with hammer blows of symbolism (“Eve of the War” – ugh, though you will have to watch it to get that one) rather than subtlety or wit (“Out of Mind, Out of Sight”, anyone? …. OK, I concede that point). The awful future timeline running through the episode was a step which I really think should have been avoided – Toby Whithouse has spent too much time with the Doctor recently, I suspect – and my inability to understand WHY these vampires care about a couple of werewolves and a ghost made it difficult to enjoy. But now we’re past the overarching plot, the mythology and history (which Buffy built up, over lots and lots of time) have been thrown at us, and we can enjoy the touching family drama of a ghost, a werewolf, and their saviour baby.
The best thing – or perhaps the worst thing, I haven’t decided yet – was the secondary plotline with Hal, his werewolf, and their ghost. This was Being Human where it had worked. Where they hadn’t gone over-the-top with silly organisations and vampire terrorists. Where they had just kept it to a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost, sharing a flat in Southend. That was the show I wanted to watch. And, with any luck, it is the show Being Human will become. These new characters are the reason why I’m looking forward to this series, and why I will keep on watching.
And anyway, it turns out that the Seraphim is actually Misfits, which even in its sub-par third series remained fun and watchable. Perhaps Being Human will improve now one of its leading cast shares DNA with Misfits’ main character?
* I may be making a hash of Plato’s theory of forms here, but as I understand it (coming mostly via St. Augustine and reading The Republic well before Doctor Who was regenerated) there is an ultimate form of everything, the logos, from which everything else is a mere reflection. So just like a drawing of a chair is to a chair, all chairs are to the ultimate chair, the logos of chairs. It might be that the logos is just the supreme being. Anyway, when it comes to supernatural TV (and maybe all TV) I believe that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the logos. To be honest, it’s pretty much true even if the logos is God.
** Fine, post-Spike world, if we MUST.
*** Personally, Buffy series 4 is one of my favourites. I like how calm it is, and how it works together with the fantastic first series of Angel. But I understand that this is not a widely held view.
**** This applies to science fiction and other drama as well. The West Wing stands out for its sense of humour too.