A ghost, a werewolf and a vampire all walk into BBC Three. It sounds like the start of a joke, but the only ones laughing would be the producers of this incredibly successful horror drama. When Being Human first appeared on our screens back in 2009, it was to moans, and groans. “More vampires?” the audience would have been forgiven for saying. “I’ve had it with these bloody vampires.”
They didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for.
The first series of Being Human was a triumph. Darkly comic, sadly poignant, and stuffed so full of observation you couldn’t go five minutes without tripping over a metaphor, it bypassed BBC3’s target audience of teens and tweens, reaching critical acclaim and a much wider audience. Of all the things that set it apart from its predecessors, its fiercely, unapologetically adult nature was perhaps the most addictive. Being Human took a long, hard look at the ugliness in our society, yet never stooped to saccharine moralising or trite platitudes. Instead, its observations appeared saturated with a modest kind of bitter-sweet nostalgia, a wish for ‘the quiet life’ and better times.
That all changed with series two. Sadly, Being Human just couldn’t keep up the momentum. The shift in format from six episodes to eight called for more padding, more over-arching plotlines, more twists and more drama. Excellent for viewing figures, perhaps, but terrible for the character of the show. The very thing that had made it unusual was being exploited and drained till there was nothing left. Gone were the ‘slice-of-life’ anecdotes about three misfits struggling along on the fringes of society. Instead, audiences were slammed with some vaguely Underworld-esque power struggle among the vampires and a new werewolf struggling in the first throws of her transformation. Perfectly good plotlines for a Hammer Horror or True Blood special – but the first series had schooled us to expect better, need better, demand better. Audiences were, and are, over-saturated with that kind of thing. The show’s creative thought, its original voice, had faded.
Series three continued with more of the same. Critical and non-critical audiences alike sighed, grabbed some popcorn, and settled into this new, lazier format. This era of Being Human did at least provide some fairly good entertainment, with the abrupt shift in location keeping things fairly fresh. As much as we would come to miss the hideously pink house in Bristol, the retro feel of a delightfully creepy 70s hotel would more than make up for it. The series progressed fairly unremarkably, with Mitchell’s slow decent into paranoia failing to strike the right chords. Despite Aidan Turner’s passionate, convincing depiction of a man on the edge, the plotline remains strikingly flat. The conflict of interests, the divided loyalties this plotline is supposed to orchestrate never really materialises – the events of the Box tunnel seem too far away, too remote. There’s an element of predictability about it too – some remaining trace of the vampire nature Twilight couldn’t quite scrub out – that this is what vampires do, they kill people. Didn’t Twilight ever tell you that?
The series is at least trying to do something clever, but it never quite pulls it off. Mitchell’s departure feels forced, tritely moralistic, and ultimately unconvincing. The final shot of the series finale, though, does look faintly promising: Mitchell’s surviving friends, united against the world – a return to the show’s roots. Right? Well, er, not quite.
Series Four is a perfect illustration of the sad fact that sometimes, real life gets in the way. Occasionally, creative decisions have to be influenced by real-life circumstances. Russell Tovey’s off – he’s had enough, it’s finished. It’s hard to imagine Being Human without him, but imagine it we must – or so we are told, by the people involved. Well, okay then.
Perhaps it would have been better if the show had just given up, then. The two most compelling members of its original cast are gone – and, to add insult to injury, Nina is quickly written out in an off-screen death. How can a show pull itself back from this?
Scrap everything. Start again. The creative decisions behind the show don’t lack guts and determination, but they do lack finesse and a certain subtly. Series Four was an almost unmitigated disaster. Strange forays into time-travel, unprecedented Nazi-dystopias, a couple of new characters dealing with the same old issues; they simply changed too much, too fast. Problems with pacing, problems with plot, problems with characterisation – series four bowed to external circumstances, and suffered as a result.
So, what does this mean for the future? Series five was confirmed to air in 2013, with a switch back to six episodes. Michael Socha, Damien Molony and Kate Bracken are all confirmed as starring. We can only imagine this will be represent some kind of reboot, an essential return to form for the show. However, after four series, innumerable body parts, and four much-loved characters, we can’t help wondering – what’s the point? Shortly after brilliant new BAFTA-winning sci-fi drama The Fades was axed, rumours circulated that the BBC had made its decision by putting its two genre shows head to head. Blatant genre-snobbery aside, this move also represents a worryingly American take on broadcasting coming to our shores. As debate about license fees continues, we can’t help but wonder if these sort of decisions will become a permanent fixture of British television – where quality is sacrificed for quantity, originality for viewing figures, and execs always take the safe option.
Series five may yet turn things around for Being Human. The question remains, however – is it worth it?
How did you feel about series 4? Are you looking forward to series 5? Let us know in the comments below!