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Being Human: Season One

(2010) *** Unrated
343 min. BBC.

/content/films/3816/1.jpgSo a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost walk into a bar...Science fiction and fantasy have longstanding traditions of asking what it means to be human by examining non-humans, whether they be aliens, anthropomorphic animals, or androids. Now, Toby Whithouse  (Doctor Who, Torchwood) has created Being Human, a series whose raison d'être is to explore humanity by telling the story of three post-human roommates: a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost.

How these three became roommates in a Bristol flat emerges slowly, but one thing is immediately clear: they're a mutually supportive bunch, each of whom has a unique way of getting on the other's nerves. Mitchell (Aidan Turner) and George (Russell Tovey)—the vampire and werewolf—work together at the local hospital, as a janitor and porter, respectively. Left at home during the day in maddening isolation is Annie (Lenora Crichlow), a ghost who died in the flat she now shares with Mitchell and George. The boys' landlord Owen (Gregg Chillin) is Annie's ex-boyfriend, and her emotions go into overdrive at the thought of seeing him (and seeing him move on with his life). Whithouse and his cast swiftly establish the characters: seemingly blase Mitchell, who's nearly seen it all over the course of 120 years; milquetoast George, a nervous Nellie not cut out for the life of a werewolf; and emotionally messy, hyperactive Annie. Whithouse strikes an engaging balance of drama and comedy, playing up the awkwardness of a vampire in suburbia and peppering the show with amusing pop culture references.

The journey of Series One involves the characters—who've had their "monstrosities" chosen for them by others—coming into their own, accepting themselves as they accept each other, and making moral choices about what to do with their post-human abilities. Since all three used to be strictly human and now strictly aren't, there's an ironic theme, expressed by Annie in the first episode, that "Everyone deserves a death." The option dangles at a few points in Series One: might one sacrifice his or her life for others? Might Annie give up the ghost and move on to the afterlife? All three characters also have impulses they try to control. Annie is compelled to haunt Owen, especially when her ability to be seen and felt waxes. One episode explores how George can best deal with his "time of the month," as he gets tips from a roguish werewolf. As for Mitchell, he's "on the wagon," having willed himself not to kill for blood. This choice has him out in the cold from his vampire brothers and sisters, who intend to take an evolutionary step and claim the planet from humans. The vampires are led by the evil, darkly charming Herrick (Jason Watkins), the very same vamp that initiated Mitchell.

All in all, Whithouse provides an interesting perspective on the natures of the beasts, and their perfect evolution into predators. Despite their powers, it's far from peaches and cream: at one point, circumstances cause Mitchell and George to be mistaken for that other kind of predator: the pedophile. Like all successful British properties, Being Human has drawn attention in America. The original series runs on BBC America, and an American version of the series is set for SyFy Channel that's rumored to star Sam Witwer (Smallville) as Mitchell, Sam Huntington (Superman Returns) as George and Meaghan Rath (The Assistants) as Annie. It's understandable that the high-concept premise of "Friends meets True Blood" (or, ahem, Twilight) proved irresistible to American producers, but it's unlikely that a remake will retain the subtler comic and dramatic tones of Whithouse's original.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Street date: 7/20/2010

Distributor: BBC

Like most BBC releases to date, Being Human arrives on Blu-ray in 1080i transfers. They don't have the eye-popping depth of the best 1080p transfers, but they are clearly superior to standard definition. Being Human also looks like most British series you've ever seen in the sense that lighting is a bit dimmer and colors a bit duller than we expect from an American production. That's not a bad thing, as Being Human is precisely meant to weird us out by putting "monsters" into environments we expect to see in run-of-the-mill Britcoms and dramas. At any rate, detail and black level are good, making for solid HD transfers. Audio is unfortunately lossy Dolby Digital 2.0, which will have audiophiles howling at the moon: it's not built to impress, but it does get the job done with clear-enough dialogue. A larger concern is an apparent (if mild) lip-sync issue that may prove bothersome to some.

The two-disc BD set includes some nice bonus features for fans. Disc One includes an "Alternate Scene" (1:02, SD) from Episode  3. "Character Profiles" (20:03, SD) covers the major players, with clips and interviews with Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow, Aidan Turner, Jason Watkins, Anabel Scholey, and make-up designer Marcus Whitney.

"Vamping It Up" (4:06, SD) gives an overview of the series' approach to depicting vampires: what rules they'd play by, and which they'd throw out. Participants include creator Toby Whithouse, Watkins, producer Matt Bouch, Turner, Dylan Brown, and Scholey.

"Toby Whithouse on the Journey" (7:03, SD) gets into the making of the series and the storytelling of the first season. Spoiler alert: don't watch this until you've seen the whole first season!

"Locations" (9:50, SD) finds Whithouse, Turner, Tovey, and set designer Andrew Purcell discussing the locations and sets, with Purcell leading a set tour.

"Costumes and Make Up" (2:37, SD) is self-explanatory. Interviewed are Whitney, Crichlow, costume designer Stuart Meachem, and Turner.

Disc Two kicks off with seven "Deleted Scenes" (8:41, SD) and six "Extended Scenes" (15:22, SD).

"Stunts Package" (10:03, SD) covers the stunt work, mostly using a pedestrian car hit as an example. Interviewed are Ep. 3 & 4 director Alex Pillai, Gregg Chillin, stunt co-ordinator Tom Lucy, Chrichlow, Mykola Allen, stunt performers Paul Lowe & Will Willoughby, and Turner.

"Our Journey's End" (4:11, SD) includes Series One reflections from Tovey, Crichlow, Watkins, Turner, and Whithouse.

"Becoming a Werewolf" (5:03, SD) examines the process of making Tovey transform into a werewolf. Participants include Whithouse, Tovey, Whitney, and Paul Kasey.

Lastly, we get some entertaining "Video Diaries" (14:47, SD) from the three leads: Turner, Crichlow, and Tovey.

With the BD set available at almost the same price as the DVD set, this one's a no-brainer pick-up for sci-fi/fantasy fans.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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