Thursday, 11 February 2010

Overly Humane

This is all getting a bit silly, isn't it?

Yes, yes, I know. I'm complaining about silliness in a show involving a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost sharing the same house (did they ever explain why Annie and her fiance were living in a three bedroom terrace, by the way?), and during a period where every genre TV writer in the country seems convinced that the only way to get anywhere these days is to spend half your time winking at the camera. Surely there's got to be a happy medium somewhere, though, right? How about the entirety of your own series to this point, for example?

Anyway. Let's start with the good stuff, shall we? Get that out of the way, make this all seem Fair and Balanced so that I can really put the boot in later (as always with these Being Human updates, spoilers aplenty below).


George! George was good! Well, he was alright. I give the show credit for having his entire storyline this week almost entirely separate from his identity as a werewolf. In fact, the only real reference to it in the entire episode was my favourite scene. Watching George mention almost casually that having children was on his old to-do list was more emotionally effective than any number of his squeaky tear-stained self-pity sessions, and a reminder of why I liked Tovey so much in the pilot (before they dialled up the histrionics to 11 for the first season). The most important thing to realise about George, at least as far as I can see, is that he's a deeply caring and thoughtful guy wrapped inside a petty self-involved pedant. You could get him to walk through fire for you, but you have to ask, otherwise he'll be too busy complaining that the flames have ruined his throw cushions. I really liked that about him, the fact that he could be so selfless and yet so self-absorbed simultaneously, and that seems to have been buried lately. It was nice to see that side to him again (well, it was still all about his plans and not Annie's, but it was a definite start). I'm not sure how long this thing with Sam can last (though that's partly the point, of course), but for now it's a welcome break from the constant moping.

Also worthy of praise: 1969. Lovely to see Herrick back (even if it did rather remind one that things haven't been as good since he got himself torn to bits), and although the parallels between then and now were a bit laboured and unsubtle, I'm willing to let all the blame for that fall on the contemporary scenes, since I plan on being very rude about them in any case. Oh, and let's cut it out with the naked dead girls. I defended it the first time as being at least theoretically thought provoking, but once a fortnight makes it seem tacky.

Right, onto the bollocks. And there are many bollocks with which to occupy our time. First, and most pressingly, the show really needs to decide what a ghost is. Is it a sorrowful, wretched spirit trapped in its own private purgatory, waiting for the world to avenge its death? Or is it a gossiping absent-minded blonde who needs a babysitter so she can try and talk a dead fireman into a spot of horizontal haunting?

The whole point of Annie's story is that she's alone. She has George and Mitchell to talk to, but she's still alone. Even more so now that she can't be seen by the living. Suddenly implying there's an entire ghost community out there (and if they're going on dates and gossiping about Annie beating the Gatekeepers, that sounds like there's at least something along those lines) makes her a curiosity, rather than a tragic figure. She used to be able to interact with the living but not the dead, and now she's swapped round. Aside from not being able to change her clothes too much or have a cup of tea, not really much has changed. The idea might be to contrast her with George (who is still having problems with the idea of being in a community at all) and Mitchell (who has a community, but a truly disturbing and messed-up one), but if that's the case, it seems like highlighting contrast at the expense of drama.

This is made worse by the idea that random ghosts may just show up at the flat. Annie's not just part of the ghost community, she's a ghost celebrity, meaning anyone might turn up any time as an alternative to actual plot coherence. This time it was ghost mother and ghost baby (raising all sorts of questions about how a baby becomes a ghost, and whether that can happen independently of their mother becoming one too; the idea of abandoned ghost babies crawling through the world is pretty horrible even for someone as cold-hearted as myself), because it was time for Annie to get broody, but who knows what's next? Maybe next week Annie will get upset over her inability to perform bodily functions after a random visit from an undead circus freak accompanied by two fecal-matter-stained ghostly monkeys. The beauty of Being Human lies in its ability to go from comedy to drama to horror in quick succession without (generally speaking) undermining itself, but each "comedy" encounter with a ghost runs the risk of damaging those latter two properties, especially when it's tagged with "Oh, they're just like us!" style punchlines. Once or twice might be fine, but the whole point is they're not supposed to be like us. You can't call your show Being Human once your characters may as well be human anyway.

All of the above is troubling enough without the storyline then developing to the point where Annie decides she wants to keep the baby and attempts to persuade (then trick) the mother into leaving him with her. At this point, Annie is not being cute, nor acting in a way amusingly incongruous with our conception of how ghost would behave. She is just being Full On Mad for the sake of cheap drama ("Aw, she doesn't want to give the baby away!") and cheap laughs ("Hah hah! As if anyone would forget the baby they specifically returned to collect!"). Must try harder, Being Human.

Also needing a good critical kicking this week: Mitchell and the increasingly ludicrous plotline of sulky shouting. Before we go any further, it's time to issue an edict. TV land writers: never, ever, ever demonstrate a character is morally compromised by showing him receive a blow-job from a vampire in an unlocked room. It's cheap, and it's nasty, and considering his very next move is to be so unpleasant about the idea of vampires being redeemable, it's totally nonsensical. This is what I get when I argue the show isn't deliberately gratuitous; moustache-twirling villains getting sucked off in funeral homes. Within one episode Chief Constable Wilson has devolved from a pleasingly grey-shaded character to a bizarre scheming apocalypse-minded sex-fiend. It makes fuck all sense that Mitchell would kill him (though fuck all sense was very much the theme for the episode), but after the damage they did to the poor guy it's probably for the best. Shame.

Seriously, though, what is going on with Mitchell. For a couple of episodes it's looked like he was treading the well-worn but at least trusty path of the "power corrupts" storyline. Now, though? Who the Hell can say? In one episode he went from "I'm too principled to kill paedos", to killing a police officer for being a bit crazy, to running away like a child, to confessing his true nature to Lucy in an effort to persuade her to be his blood-recovery sponsor and fuck-buddy. How does any of that make sense? At least with Josie he had some weird inverted Stockholm Syndrome style thing going on. All he has with Lucy is a single, awkward date. What could possibly make him think it was a good idea to admit he was a vampire? After five episodes of telling everyone it was absolutely imperative that they remain in hiding? Knowing she's been snooping around what she considers insufficiently well-explained deaths? How do his actions make any sense except for the fact that we know Lucy would have killed him had he lied?

And why would she do that? What exactly was her plan, anyway? To kill him before dinner? To kill him after the sexy sex? Why would it matter if he lied if she was just going to stake the shit out of him after the wild thing in any case? Is she just going to befriend vampires one at a time and hope that over a period of weeks she can persuade them round for a meal and then do them in? Is there really not a more efficient method? I get that she's supposed to be morally conflicted, but all she comes across as is dangerously incompetent; most obviously in her decision to not stake Mitchell but then leave the weapon in bed as she snuggles him.

Oh, and whilst I thought it was an excellent point to compare the mob's fear of paedos in the 21st Century to their fear of monsters in the 19th, actually comparing a main character's obsession with blood to a pederasts need to prey on young children is, whilst extremely brave, liable to be counter-productive. It presents a choice between not sympathising with your lead, and sympathising with a child molester. That in itself might actually work, but your comparing a child molester with a vampire who has literally relapsed minutes beforehand, and at that point the parallels get uncomfortable and hard to think about.

All in all, it was a distinctly mixed bag, and the bits that didn't work really didn't work. This season started poorly, really picked up, and is now slipping back into the doldrums. It's still got plenty to recommend it (and in fairness each character has had at least three excellent episodes each, it's just only been once or twice that they've managed it concurrently). Hopefully this is just a factor of increasing the show to eight episodes. By the end of next week, we should be at the top of the roller coaster, ready to plunge into the final two-parter.

I hope.

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