Begin Human: “There Goes The Neighborhood” Parts 1 & 2

Whine and Cheese

“There Goes the Neighborhood, Pt. 1 and 2”
Syfy, Monday, 10PM E/P
Written by Jeremy Carver & Anna Fricke
Directed by Adam Kane

Reviewer’s Note: This review covers the American version of Being Human, considered by itself and without reference to the original British series on which it is based.

“You’re not nearly as mysterious as you think you are.” —Emily

These are some of the stupidest characters I have ever seen on television. We have a vampire who cannot figure out what he wants to be, after over two hundred years. We have a clueless nebbish who is a powerful werewolf but pees his pants when attacked. We have a whiny ghost who spends most of her time moping about her lost love. We have her fiancé, who fancies himself a plumber and manages to flood his own property. We have the single most annoying female ever to dim my television screen, who lusts after the aforementioned vampire. We have a lesbian who insults her own ethnic group and can’t figure out what’s happening to her brother, who is transforming before her very eyes. None of these people have enough sense to pour beer out of a boot with the instructions written on the bottom. They whine, they emote, they fumble, and they are so self-involved that every single conversation is about how they feel, almost never about what they are. Any frisson of mystery or intrigue or tinge of the supernatural is sucked right out of the story; the vampires even stroll around in daylight, for crying out loud.

“Are you guys going to go all Twilight on one another?” —Sally

Aidan (Sam Witwer, Smallville) is a two-hundred-year-old vampire with Issues; he wants to wean himself off blood but keeps getting drawn back to the sensual carnality of drinking from the source. Josh (Sam Huntington, Superman Returns) is a nice Jewish boy, a nebbish who somehow wound up as a werewolf and is terribly conflicted about it. They both work in a hospital, which strikes me as being about as smart as an alcoholic working as a bartender. They’re friends, which rules out an Underworld-style war storyline, to my immense relief. They decide to rent a house together where they can “be themselves”, which they call being human, which is silly because neither one of these guys seems to be able to forget, for one second, that they are not “monsters”. Their landlord Danny (Gianpaolo Venuta, Blue Bloods) tells them the sad story of how his fiancée died in that house and he just (sniff) can’t live there anymore. Naturally, the next person Aidan and Josh meet is said fiancée, Sally (Meaghan Rath, Ghost Hunters), who can’t leave the house. Or won’t. It’s not clear. Like most soap opera characters, these folks often say “I can’t” when they mean “I won’t” or “the plot does not permit it at this point.”

“What’s the penalty? What are the consequences? I’m only human, you say, and all is forgiven.” —Aidan

Aidan falls off the wagon in a big way within moments of the opening credits. Appropriately quoting Lord Byron (the poet who not only brought the vampire into English literature with The Giaour in 1813 but served as its first model in The Vampyre), he seduces Rebecca (Sarah Allen, Warehouse 13), a co-worker. But he loses control and kills her; morose and brooding, he calls his mentor Bishop (Mark Pellegrino, Lost) for a “cleanup”. Meanwhile, Josh wakes up naked and bloody in a forest, next to the carcass of a deer—at least it’s a kosher animal. When Aidan shows up to give him a ride home, it’s clear these two have one another’s backs. I liked this friendship aspect to a supernatural duo which has been portrayed at odds with one another since Lon Chaney, Jr.’s werewolf went fang-to-fang with John Carradine’s vampire in House of Dracula (1945). Aidan even finds Josh a convenient cellar to transform in, and promises to lock him in so he won’t hurt anyone.

Josh: I almost killed you.

Emily: I don’t care.

Unfortunately, Josh’s sister Emily (Allison Louder, Crawler), who hasn’t seen him in three years, turns up at the hospital at the bedside of her girlfriend. She demands to know where he disappeared to, follows him into the cellar, and winds up locking herself in with him as he begins to transform into a werewolf. And yet when Aidan lets her out (saving her life), she calmly accepts his vague explanation that her brother has “a condition”. How stupid does someone have to be? Or maybe she just can’t see past her own self-involvement; “I really wanted to rub it in his face that I ended up with a shiksa goddess.” That remark probably sounded hysterical in the writer’s room, but I found it very offensive; since when is a non-Jewish “goddess” superior to a Jewish one? She seems completely oblivious to the implications of Josh’s change, and sees all his denials and evasions strictly in terms of her own needs, never his. Josh himself starts out as a charming geek, but his awkward mannerisms quickly put me off—is anyone his age really going to bow and put on a fake English accent when introduced to a girl? This is an easily tweaked characteristic, however, and I must say that Huntington is the only member of the cast who looks strong enough to carry his part and make us believe it, the only one who could sell this idea of the forlorn human mourning his lost humanity and struggling to find whatever compromise he can.

“That living, breathing thing taking its last breath—it’s gorgeous.” —Aidan

No, it’s hideous. Aidan is a piss-poor vampire and a downright evil person. Instead of the powerful, sexy vampire, we get an emo pretty-boy wallowing in guilt and self-pity. We’ve already seen Vampire Bill doing this in True Blood: one is enough. It’s hard to make a hero out of someone racked with self-loathing and doubt, and frankly his savage murder of Rebecca in the opening scenes repelled me so completely I may never like Aidan. Even learning that Bishop later “turned” Rebecca into the only interesting female in this series did not really redeem that act. When Aidan later runs into Rebecca, she tears into him with a load of accusations that he cannot refute, only evade: “You screw me, you kill me, you never call.” And he has no answer for her; he cannot even stop her from killing the most annoying character I’ve ever seen on TV, nurse Cara, (Katy Breier)—not that she’ll be missed. When Aidan’s not pouting, he’s brooding. Since I have no reason to believe he’s an involuntary vampire, like Bill in True Blood, I have no sympathy for this behavior. He chose vampirism, so why is he so righteous about reclaiming his human heritage? He tells Bishop he’s on the side of humans, but he’s hardly the champion I’d pick—unable to resist his hunger for human blood, unable to defend us from the likes of Rebecca. Vamps are traditionally both sexy and perilous; like their literary father Lord Byron, they are “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. Aidan comes across as inept and vain, a GQ model with a Cupid’s bow mouth trying to look like a badass.

“What if I can’t find my way back?” —Sally

Sally was the most serious disappointment in this trio. She’s the female lead, the third member of the household (albeit involuntarily). She looks smart, she has some of the verve, energy, and wit that Allison Scagliotti brings to the character of Claudia in Warehouse 13. Like Scagliotti, she has the potential to bring a little sunshine and laughter into a very dark story. I have some hopes that that potential may be fulfilled, particularly stemming from her final scene. Having learned that she died on the stairs, she goes air-surfing, an act which embraces her non-human capabilities, unlike the other “monsters” in the house who are continually denying theirs. However, I have had more than enough of her self-pity and heartbreak. She does have the excuse that she’s only been dead six months, but a smart woman should have figured out awhile back that there is no going back, no returning to her relationship with a living man, and it’s time to move on. I can grant her a little more time to mourn, but I hope this character, of all the three major ones, climbs out of her rut of despair the fastest.

“Don’t make me embarrass myself.” —Rebecca

Too late. The trouble with virtually all of the female roles in this series is that they are fundamentally silly. Rebecca, after she becomes a vampire, sheds some of the silliness, but becomes merely vicious and vengeful, not qualities calculated to endear her to us. Cara is, hands down, one of the most irritating and grating characters I have ever watched; I was rooting for her swift demise after her third line. Emily is as insensible as a stone; anyone that deep in denial or oblivion gets no sympathy from me. I could use some much stronger women in this show, some that aren’t shallow, demanding, stupid, or needy.

“What’s the point of any of this? Of playing house, of drinking beers, of joining Costco; if you’re just going to kill all of our friends?” —Josh

The idea of three twenty-somethings shacking up and trying to deal with normal housemate issues (whose turn is it to take out the garbage, who gets to control the TV remote, and so forth) while dealing with supernatural issues (where do you find a place to go werewolf in a crowded urban metropolis?) is interesting enough to fuel two versions of this story: one in the UK and one here. The difference, from what I can see, is that the US version has confused self-awareness with self-involvement. These three supernatural characters spend an inordinate amount of time gazing into their navels and talking earnestly about the problems of being supernatural. The glamour and interest of the supernatural is so damped-down that what we get is Big Brother filtered through The Vampire Diaries, a house of “monsters” that looks like a cheap, ugly bordello.

“Do you accept what you are, or do you refuse?” —Sally

One thing struck me during this two-hour introduction to the mythology of this show. The vampire Aidan seems to fit the profile of the “disorganized” serial killer: impulsive, emotional, and sloppy. You’d think an experienced vampire would know how to conceal his crimes, but Aidan, after two hundred years, still has to call on Daddy (Bishop, his maker) for help. Although Josh calls Sally a monster, she isn’t; rather, she fits the profile of a serial killer’s victim: naïve, trusting, vulnerable, and clumsy. She even “outs” herself in her own home by setting off an electrical surge. Josh himself is closer to an organized killer: he takes precautions to avoid being seen, selects his “crime scene” (transformation site) in advance, and lays plans for a getaway. So far, Josh does not seem to have killed a human (although there’s the possibility he killed his own maker, maybe by accident), but the psychological groundwork is there. If I was a cop who had to track one of these “monsters” down, Josh would give me the most trouble.

“It ends bad.” —Josh

The premise for this show—a werewolf and a vampire shack up with a ghost—sounds like a sitcom—which I’d watch. The treatment of this show is self-important—reflected in the use of voice-overs at the start of every episode. The characters are, at this point, pretty wretched. Two of them show potential, but Aidan will have a long climb uphill to become attractive. The pace is tedious to the point of somnolence, and so far the plots have as much whine and cheese as an English faculty reception. As usual, Syfy rewrites whatever lore we think we knew about supernatural beings to serve the convenience of non-story elements: I’m sure it’s easier to film a “vampire” in daylight than night, so suddenly all these vamps can walk around in sunlight. Some points have promise: I love the idea of a Jewish werewolf, and Rebecca might turn into an interesting villainess. I’m also aware that most pilots bear little resemblance to the series; the difference is that this series is not starting off from scratch, but has its British forerunner as a foundation. In fact, you can watch the BBC original on BBC America; season three starts next month. A runaway hit in Britain, it boasts a more sardonic suite of characters, quirkier storylines, and a refreshing lack of navel-gazing on the part of most of its characters.

Being Human debuted in a two-hour pilot spread over two weeks. The first hour brought in 1.9 million viewers (3.8 million when time-shifted viewing is added) and a 0.8 share in the 18-49 demo, one of the Syfy network’s most impressive debuts to date. Not since Battlestar Galactica‘s debut in 2005 has the network had such a large pilot audience. The network also boasted that it had the largest female audience since the launch of Warehouse 13; I’m betting it was Sam Witwer who drew them in, not the wimpy female characters.