“Being Human” premiered on the Syfy channel on January 17th, introducing American viewers to the “template” developed by master storyteller Toby Whithouse—the creator behind the hit BBC version of the series. But can the adaptation by Syfy hold a candle to the incredible depth of character, complicated storylines and phenomenal acting seen in each episode of the original “Being Human?”
The premiere of the American version ran very close to the first scenes fans saw of Mitchell (Aidan Turner), Annie (Lenora Crichlow) and George (Russell Tovey) in the BBC TV show, giving it a nostalgic appeal for viewers already craving new episodes of the BBC version. However, Syfy’s “Being Human” is quickly proving to be a watered-down, superficial adaptation of the great storytelling being told over in the UK; the actors simply appear to be acting. Visibly striving to create a believable character on camera is one of the quickest ways to ensure you do not succeed. There were plenty of moments when the actors channeled humor, sorrow and want; perhaps Syfy can manage to flush-out their personalities into a new set of protagonists with desires and challenges unique to the American “Being Human” franchise.
The iconic original characters have been Americanized into the names Aiden (Sam Witwer), Josh (Sam Huntington) and Sally (Meaghan Rath). The “Being Human” premiere episode is set as Aiden and Josh are moving into the apartment that Sally, the ghost, haunts. Aiden is the stereotypical brooding, tortured modern Vampire. Josh, who lacks the loveable vulnerability and pure heart of Tovey’s George, is a Werewolf I found myself incapable of sympathizing with for the first 90% of the episode. As the plot shifted away from being an exact duplicate of the BBC “Being Human” premiere, Josh found himself locked in his basement room with his little sister—the room found by Aiden as a place he can transform into the wolf every 28 days without maiming innocent people. The room he cannot open from the inside. Cue the first cliffhanger of Syfy’s “Being Human!”
Is “Being Human” an example of what happens when something British becomes Americanized, devolving into a watered-down story lacking true depth and substance? The disappointing, dramatic difference is no less extreme than comparing a Big Mac to a juicy steak; the former will have some loyal fans, but the latter is a time-tested superior to most indulgers. We had the opportunity to interview “Being Human” creator Toby Whithouse last summer, prior to the release of series 2 on BBC America. Whithouse explained that at the core of the TV show is the characters of “Being Human.” “’Being Human’ is an attempt … to be a more realistic approach to that kind of genre,” he explained during the interview. “There are … moments of horror and tragedy, there are also lots of moments of comedy and … their humanity.” You can read more about our interview with Whithouse, and the BBC version of “Being Human,” in this article.
Sally lacks the charm of the BBC Annie, a trait which quickly made her the warm, gooey center of the supernatural trio. At the climatic end of the BBC “Being Human” series 2, viewers saw first-hand just how important Annie is to George and Mitchell; can Sally develop the same bond with Aiden and Josh? While the characters seem just as deliciously flawed as their BBC counterparts, there is something insincere in the delivery—some spark missing. Sally was charming and vulnerable, but lacked the determination and spunk of Annie. Josh is just as crippled by “the curse” as BBC’s George, and yet the heartbreaking desire to just be normal has not yet manifested on the screen. Aiden certainly has the “the cheekbones … and slightly tortured look of other vampires,” as Whithouse described modern TV vampires, yet he lacks the overshadowing human qualities which make Mitchell so appealing despite his being a blood sucking, murderous monster.
It is not necessary for Syfy’s take on “Being Human” to exactly replicate that which makes the BBC version so appealing; in truth, the writers and crew should stay far away from that line of thinking, and the evitable disappointment. However, if this new “Being Human” series is going to succeed—especially among fans of the real “Being Human” show—it would be better for the writers to focus less on mimicking that which hooked the original fans of the show, and instead spend their time creating a whole new supernatural world. With so many duplicate themes, so many shadows of the BBC “Being Human” in this American adaptation, Syfy may be setting themselves up for a short-lived TV series without the ravenous fan-base the original “Being Human” enjoys. Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but it will quickly go stale if you just can’t quite manage it.
Syfy’s “Being Human” airs Mondays at 9/8c, and extensive bonus content is available on the official website.