April 15, 2015 by Jason Seligson
I am simultaneously enthralled and fed up with supernatural stories. Culturally, it feels like we are long past the point of over-saturation. Alas, they keep coming. There are days when I think I might break something if I’m forced to invest in another new vampire/werewolf mythology; but then there are other days, that come more infrequently, when a campy genre show is exactly what I need. A few weeks ago, I had one of those days. So naturally, I turned to Netflix. And what I found was the BBC’s Being Human.
Being Human is an easy show to become immersed in—and part of this comes from how familiar it feels. I don’t mean this in a bad way: there may be a glut of vampire shows that get by on attractive casts and not much story, but Being Human is not one of those shows. The first two seasons at least, are great genre TV.
Being Human borrows heavily from Buffy. Its humor and tone are that rare mix to that allows for genuine emotion without taking itself too seriously. That is the magic formula when it comes to a lot of genre shows. Being Human has all of this, and it feels straight out of the Joss Whedon handbook. I was surprised to learn that the show’s creator, Toby Whithouse, actually made a pilot episode that preceded the first episode that appears on Netflix (it involved George and Mitchell moving into Annie’s house). To Whithouse’s credit, I didn’t feel like I missed anything. It took no time at all for me to invest in the characters and their world. By the second episode, I felt like I had spent seasons with them.
Unlike so many other genre shows (True Blood and later seasons of The Vampire Diaries), Being Human lays out its mythology in clean and logical ways. For example, Annie, the lead female character (Lenora Crichlow) is a ghost, and one would think she would be the most difficult character to pull off. Other shows might try to chalk up her existence to any number of convoluted reasons, but Being Human’s explanation for Annie’s non-corporeal state makes perfect sense. “There’s life, there’s the door, and somewhere in between, there’s ghosts,” the show explains. Death’s door is presented as a literal gateway to the afterlife for all supernatural beings, and it’s an apt aphorism for the show to draw. All of these characters exist on a spectrum—while none of them are truly human, they are still alive, and are trying their best to lead honest lives.
Taking another cue from the best, Whithouse channels his best Whedon by punishing the characters whenever their lives become too perfect. I found that whenever something good happens for one of the characters, something bad is assuredly seconds away. Russel Tovey’s George, who might be my favorite character on the show, seems to have a string of brutally bad luck. First, he gets bitten. Then, another werewolf appears to teach him how to live with his curse, only to then be revealed as the one that turned him. Then, when he finds the love of his life, he has to live with the guilt of knowing that he turned her. It never ends for poor George. In Season 2, just as he thinks he’s got his transformation under control, he must deal with his inner-beast as it threatens to destroy any chance he has at happiness. Individually, these events are not so dissimilar from supernatural conflicts audiences have seen before, but the show presents these storylines and twists in ways that feel unique and refreshing.
George, Annie, and Mitchell (Aidan Turner) all feel like real people with real problems. Each character on the show struggles not only with living a normal life, but a meaningful one. Such is the human experience, no? George and his best friend Mitchell are both incredibly likable characters but they often do morally questionable, occasionally outright objectionable things. In Season 2, George beats his boss senseless, and like most vampires, Mitchell’s long life has been filled with a trail of considerable carnage—one that has followed him around. Annie is the most moral, but is, interestingly, the character most caught in the middle of life and death. As George says, “We were so eager to be normal and needed that we filled in the rest. We pretended.” Even at their most inhuman, these characters remain flawed, destructive, and lost. That’s what makes the show so compelling.
I owe my discovery of Being Human—and other shows like it, to Netflix. Of course all of their brand-new content is exciting, but ultimately they’re not what I love most about the streaming service. The best part about Netflix is going excavating—sifting through the layers of the critically acclaimed, the canceled, and the cult to find the good stuff, the best hidden Gems TV has to offer.
Netflix has definitely transformed the way we watch TV. By and large, their original series have been strong: House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have both garnered their share of Emmys and Golden Globes, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has easily positioned itself as this year’s breakout comedy. Netflix might not release ratings, but it doesn’t need to. We all know they are dominating.
Netflix may be unbreakable, but they are not infallible. No one’s exactly talking about Hemlock Grove, die-hard Arrested Development fans remain divided on Season 4, and it looks like their most ambitious project thus far, a live-action Legend of Zelda series, has been scrapped. Their ever-expanding slate of content is flawed, but I must admit, even their flops indicate ambition on the company’s part. If the success Netflix has achieved allows them to continue taking chances and hopefully, persist in diversifying the kinds of shows that get made—even if they fail—then I’m all for watching them try. And in between episodes of Daredevil, I’ll cue up something old and obscure.