So, a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire decide to live like humans do. They get job, a house and a TV license…
These words, although spoken in mockery by villain Herrick, in essence sum up what Being Human is all about. Although spoken in mockery by villain Herrick, these words, in essence, sum up what Being Human is all about. As the protagonists of the series strive for normality they must contend with the realities of their supernatural existences and the subsequent threat of external forces, both human and supernatural.
Whilst series with a supernatural spin are hardly new ground for television, Being Human’s brilliance lies in its fusion of supernatural drama, comedy and horror, its unique blend of the ordinary and the extraordinary. Season long arcs are offset by the pitfalls and triumphs of the characters’, the insidious plotting of the antagonists contrasted against tea with the neighbours, and the awkwardness of first dates.
For the first three seasons Being Human focussed on the exploits and tribulations of ghost Annie, vampire Mitchell, and werewolf George (see Pilot Watch). In season three George’s girlfriend Nina became a regular player and, following several character exits, vampire Hal and werewolf Tom joined the main cast of season four.
Being Human began life as an entirely different series. In its first incarnation it was a house-share drama about an agoraphobe, a recovering sex addict, and a character with anger management issues. This later developed into a flat-share comedy about a ghost, a vampire, and a werewolf, with the characters of the house-share drama becoming supernatural creatures, and eventually developed into the show that is Being Human.
Although Being Human is foremost a supernatural drama, elements of the comedy incarnation still remain, their presence an integral part of the series. Creator and showrunner Toby Whithouse explains this fusion of tones simply as a reflection of real life, of life’s ‘mixture of comedy and tragedy, drama and domesticity’. This comedy is used to great effect in dealing with the problems of the protagonists’. A season two scene brilliantly uses the characters’ domestic problems to subtextually explore their supernatural ones, the comedy of the scene effectively conveying their frustrations. In this way comedy is also used to balance the darker elements of Being Human. When Annie and George are faced with the prospect of rescuing Mitchell from Herrick and his minions the seriousness of their mission is delightfully offset by George gearing up for the fight,
‘George: I’m looking for something to defend myself with. So far I have a whisk and I have… my mobile phone recharger (mimes attacking with each in turn, then throws them down and runs back into the kitchen). What do we take, I mean do… do we take crosses and, and, and, and garlic? I know – we should have watched more films!’
In crafting the mythology of the show the writers’ carefully selected specific tropes of the horror genre, particularly aspects from film and television. In interviews Whithouse has often spoken of his childhood love of Hammer horror films, and this influence can be observed throughout the series. The vampires’ of Being Human generally appear human, their supernatural statuses only betrayed when their canine teeth extend into fangs, and their eyes turn black (similar to Marya in Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Blood and gore soon follow when their vampire natures’ are revealed. The producers of Being Human selected three main rules for the vampires of the show. One, their image can’t be captured on film, and they have no reflection on silver-backed things i.e. mirrors. Whithouse explains this decision as both creative and budgetary. Two, daylight isn’t lethal, but it is irritating. Three, vampires can’t enter private premises uninvited without severe repercussions. Other aspects of vampire mythology have also been adopted, such as the vampires’ aversion to holy symbols. However, these artefacts will not affect vampires if they have a strong personal relationship with the artefact’s owner. For example, while most holy symbols have an effect on Mitchell, he has no ill reaction to George’s Star of David necklace, going so far as to look after the talisman while his friend undergoes his monthly transformations.
George’s transformation from man into beast is a strong example of Being Human’s integration of horror into the series. Like Universal’s The Wolfman (1941) and Werewolf of London (1935), the werewolves of Being Human are a combination of wolf and man. However, they appear far more wolf-like than the creatures of these two films, with the human aspect reflected in the upright structure of the fully transformed werewolves. Typical of the werewolf sub-genre, when transformed the beasts are highly aggressive. Once returned to human form they cannot remember they retain no memory of their full moon exploits, although they can sometimes remember the emotions they were feeling at the time. The transformation is shown to be incredibly painful, the process excellently explained in the opening of season one’s second episode. This transformation is best displayed when dark, shadowy lighting, and close-up shots are used to highlight the stages of the process, such as the spine growing and cracking. The familiar visual of the werewolf howling at the moon also makes an appearance across the series, and is particularly important in the first episode of season four.
The ghosts of Being Human are described as disembodied spirits of once living people, souls who are unable to move on until they have resolved their unfinished business. Ghosts can develop various abilities. Over the course of the series Annie develops several of these abilities, some the result of emotional distress, others occurring as she comes into her own. These abilities include telekinesis, aura-reading, and using touch to feel the emotions and senses of others. Once they resolve their unfinished business a door appears, leading to the afterlife. Being Human crafts an interesting and, at times, alarming vision of the afterlife. Purgatory is a realm of corridors and doors, gateways to the past and future, and threatening figures, ‘the men with sticks and rope’.
Being Human also addresses the world’s general ignorance to the existence of supernatural creatures. The vampires have infiltrated various branches of government and public service. The most important among these is the police. Bribery or threats are used to persuade various human police officers, pathologists, and coroners to cooperate in covering up their crimes. The Bristol (the setting of seasons’ one and two) vampires also operate out of a funeral parlour. This concept of living under the radar is adopted by the protagonists’ of Being Human, although they choose menial jobs in keeping with their attempts at living normal lives.
Despite the prominent horror elements, Being Human is foremost a character-driven drama. The supernatural elements allow for intense character development, causing a range of problems, from conducting romantic relationships to holding down jobs. Each character struggles with what they are, from living a life after death to reining in their darker natures. At the heart of Being Human is the friendship between the protagonists’. In first episode of the series Annie explains,
‘So. What have we got left to look forward to? Us refugees? The flotsam and jetsam of death. Maybe, if we still deserve such a thing as mercy, we find each other…’
Together they face the trials of their conditions and their own small triumphs, as they fight the extraordinary through their quest for the ordinary.