In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re running out of ideas.
I am speaking, of course, about the dismal state of television in the United States. Many people would scold me for making this claim, and I understand. I have my favorites too, my guilty pleasure shows, as I call them. Burn Notice and White Collar are my go-to for pure, silly fun, and I frequently mainline the Food Network like it is actually made of artisanal chocolate. No, what I’m speaking of is our penchant for taking fantastic ideas from our island of formerly-redcoated brethren, and proceeding to turn those ideas into… I’m trying to find a phrase that’s a little more expressive than “utter garbage.”
If you stop to think, the examples are endless for U.K. shows that turned rotten when they were remade for U.S. audiences. Many will cite The Office as an occasion where it went right, but that’s basically the accident that proves the rule (and also depends entirely on your sense of humor). The sitcom Coupling didn’t fair anywhere near as well. Blackpool became the joke that was Viva Laughlin. Life On Mars, oh, don’t get me started on what they did to that poor, brilliant show. Stateside producers are already trying to get their hands on Misfits, despite the fact that the showrunner isn’t sure it’s a good idea. Unsurprisingly, the MTV version of Skins lost its sparkle in the first half hour. And now, adding insult to injury, the SyFy channel has decided that it’s time for them to offer their own take on the BBC hit Being Human.
For those of you unfamiliar, I will give you the quick pitch of the show: Being Human is an urban fantasy yarn in which a werewolf named George and his vampire friend, Mitchell, decide to share a flat together and have a go at being normal people. This gets complicated when they discover that their new residence is already occupied by a ghost named Annie. So much for trying to avoid the weird things in life.
Now, I’m not being quick to judge here—I have kept up with this show, much as it has irked me, and given it a fair shot. It has a few bright spots and it is trying very hard. I suppose my frustrations with it can be summed up in a point made at last year’s San Diego Comic Con. It happened during the British Invasion panel, in a room populated with writers the likes of China Miéville, Paul Cornell and Toby Whithouse (the man responsible for Being Human in the U.K., and author of two wonderful Doctor Who scripts). In fact, it may have been Mr. Whithouse himself who shed light on one of the key differences between U.S. and U.K. television: the budget.
This panel of beautifully-accented gentleman was giving voice to an impossible suggestion: that this lack of funding actually led to better entertainment. The fact that they had less money to work with meant the writers had to come up with more creative solutions to prevent inflation that they could not afford. The result was interesting, character-driven television.
Sam Witwer, who plays the vampire in the aforementioned SyFy rip-off has gone on record to say that he believes viewers should think of their Being Human like Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica redux. He thinks that the backlash that the show is currently receiving is similar to what BSG had to go through in its first season. There are two problems with this analogy: 1) Ron Moore didn’t do a basic remake of the original Battlestar, he completely reinvented it. The fans were reacting to how new everything was—Starbuck’s a girl! Cylons look like us! Apollo has a brother instead of a sister! (Okay, had a brother. Sorry, Zak Adama.) That is a very different situation. 2) It is one thing to remake something that originally aired over 30 years ago. It is quite another thing to remake something that is still on the air.
Oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I?
That’s right, Being Human is currently in the middle of its third season in the U.K. What’s more, the SyFy Channel has been airing it on their network. I find it hard to believe that someone isn’t going to get confused, and even harder to believe that this is the new Battlestar Galactica.
I’m not going to say that the little things about this remake are its downfall. That would be like those Harry Potter fans who insist that the Goblet of Fire movie was somehow ruined by Hermione wearing a pink dress to the Yule Ball when the book clearly stated it was periwinkle. I’m just not one of those people. So I can handle the fact that they changed the character names (even though turning George, Mitchell and Annie into Josh, Aidan and Sally makes me feel like I’m watching an episode of Full House). I think that the CGI for the werewolf transformation looks cartoonish next to the old-school prosthetics used on the BBC version, but I can deal with it.
I may be a little more upset than necessary about the obligatory Twilight joke (because, apparently, that’s the only thing Americans think about when you bring up werewolves and vampires), but one day, I’ll get over that too.
It’s the budget that kills this show in so many places, along with a few poor choices. To begin with, it seems that someone decided that Josh and Aidan shouldn’t know each other very well before moving in together. Part of what made the UK show so interesting right out of the gate was the clearly established affection between a werewolf and a vampire. George and Mitchell were buddies. They were at home together even with their Odd Couple vibe. You wanted to understand that relationship, and so you kept watching them.
The show’s iconic house was treated badly in the do-over as well. Rather than a quirky pink number on the street corner, the house that the U.S. trio lives in is massive, so massive that the directors seem to be at a loss figuring out how to block scenes effectively in the space. The show is full of awkward close-ups and no one ever seems to be standing where they would if they were having an actual conversation. The set is overdone, and all just to be sure that it looks like a dreaded haunted mansion. It doesn’t need to—it already is one by virtue of its tenants.
But where the show really fails is in its portrayal of Sally, the ghost with a mysterious death. The creative team on this show seems to have traded her character development for a lot of ghostly special effects. In the first episode of the BBC version, George gets locked in a cellar with his former girlfriend just as he’s about to transform. Mitchell is AWOL, so he calls Annie for help. Annie tells him she can’t do it; she hasn’t left the house since her death and she’s terrified. George begs and screams, and Annie finally runs out of the house and saves George’s ex.
Then there’s the U.S. version: Josh calls Sally and begs, but Sally literally can’t do anything. Her hand passes right through the doorknob. Aidan finally gets Josh’s message on his cell and runs at super-vampire-speed (because again, Twilight is all Americans understand about vampires) to save the day. Removing a character’s vital development and taking away her agency so that you can show off some flashy see-through tricks? That equals bad television. I don’t care what country you come from.
Bottom line, the show is called Being Human because that is what the characters are struggling with, the same as the rest of us. If Sally’s problems all stem from her inability to touch a doorknob, then you might as well rip out the show’s beating heart and replace it with a heart-shaped candy made of high fructose corn syrup. It might be satisfying at the start, but afterwards, your stomach hurts and you’re still hungry for something that will actually feed you. So the SyFy Channel can keep their little remake; I’m going back to follow the original gang to the end of the third season and whatever comes next. Because I’m in it to find out what it really takes to be human, and I know they’re going to show me.
Emily Asher-Perrin still hasn’t gotten over what they did to Life On Mars, and no, Harvey Keitel’s presence did nothing to make up for it. She will always have a special soft spot for werewolves. She writes for a few websites, and tweets and all the rest of it.