Russell Tovey

What Remains S1 E1-2 (BBC1)

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I’d started to come to the conclusion that I had been suffering from a post-Broadchurch saturation point, after failing to engage with the likes of Top of the Lake and Southcliffe despite how lauded each show had been by pretty much everyone else. As a result, when it came to BBC1’s new four-part Sunday evening serial What Remains I decided that this was definitely one I would give a miss. It seemed like another occasion when the BBC took a seam of current popular programming and endeavoured to make something more serious, meaningful and socially relevant just to suck all the enjoyment out of it – which seems to have been the BBC’s forté on the drama front of late.

It turns out in this case I came very close to missing a true gem of a programme, which took me by surprise by how good it was. Socially relevant to be sure, but it’s also a programme that grips right from the very first scene even so. I’m very much indebted to the BBC iPlayer and its ‘series stacking’ feature for allowing me a second chance to jump on board this show after my initial indifference.

And indifference, of course, is a big theme in Tony Basgallop’s story. We open with a young woman arriving home, trudging up the stairs to her top floor flat in a nondescript converted house in the commuter suburbs. The very ordinariness of it means that even though nothing at all untoward happens, it’s still somehow riveting to watch almost as though it’s showing us ourselves on screen getting back from work. As it is, it’s the last time that Melissa Young is seen alive: after this, the story moves forward two years to the arrival of a new young couple moving in and discovering a mummified body in the attic. Melissa has been dead all that time and not only did no one care, no one even noticed. Read the rest of this entry »

Being Human USA S1 E1-3 (UK Watch)

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It’s taken over two years for the US version of Being Human to get picked up for an airing in the UK – perhaps there was a moratorium on the North American version being sold back to Britain while the original was still in production? With the UK series coming to an end after five seasons, however, it seems we’re finally okay to see what they did with the concept on the other side of the Atlantic.

I was initially dubious about watching this, given that I really loved the early seasons of Being Human with the original cast and wasn’t sure I could be objective about a show that is ‘the same but entirely different’ – it was hard enough to manage that between the original Danish Forbrydelsen and the subsequent US remake entitled The Killing. Everything that’s the same grates, because of course the original did it better; and everything that’s different leads to mounting irritation of the ‘why did they have to muck around with that?’ variety.

Both shows revolve around the concept of a ‘supernatural unholy trinity’ of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing the same ordinary suburban house, devised by Toby Whithouse. In the UK version the characters were Mitchell, George and Annie and they lived in Bristol; in the US version it’s Aidan, Josh and Sally and the location is Boston, although the show is actually shot in Montréal, Québec. Of course it would be grossly unfair to directly compare the shows character for character – so that’s precisely what I’ll do, because it’s pretty much unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »

Being Human S3 Ep7/8 – Though the Heavens Fall/The Wolf-Shaped Bullet

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Toby Whithouse’s show started as a one-off pilot play about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost in a flatshare, but once it was picked up (and substantially recast) it took on a whole new life of its own. With a US spin-off/remake and three popular and successful series under its belt, it’s been one of the BBC’s few unequivocal genre successes outside of the venerable flagpole Doctor Who franchise (for which Whithouse has also written.)

I thought the first season was a triumph, a blend of genuine sitcom fun with serious drama and outright moments of horror. For my money it lost that ability to ‘balance’ so well in season 2 which was heavily weighted toward the darker and bleaker aspects, and there’s been a notable attempt in season 3 to set time aside for the lighter things in life which has been much to its strength, although sometimes it’s felt that those more fun moments have been wedged in somewhat awkwardly, such as a out-of-place “zombie” episode or werewolf George’s bottle show to visit his dead father’s grave. Perhaps the show’s increasingly complicated relationships and mythology gets in the way of the central part of the show reconnecting with that lighter elements. Of course, by the time of the big season finale two-parter there was no longer any time for the fun things and it was all-action and very, very heavy and dramatic.

For one thing we had the return of ‘evil’ version Herrick, after several episodes of the vampire being locked in the attic with his memory and sanity distant acquaintances. This sounds like a really interesting idea, but while well-written and excellently played by a superb Jason Watkins this somehow wasn’t as satisfying as it sounded on paper, and this was underlined by how wonderful it was to have the out-and-out monster Herrick return for the season finale. Also excellent in the supporting cast were Erin Richards as a dogged detective Nancy (I genuinely didn’t see the twist coming about her shouty boss) and ex-EastEnders star Lacey Turner as ghost Lia, plus Spooks star Nicola Walker hysterically funny in a one-episode cameo as a social worker and George Gently‘s Lee Ingleby as a late addition “Old One” stealing several scenes in the final 20 minutes. The biggest guest star name was undoubtedly Robson Green, and he was faultless as hardened werewolf McNair.

In the main cast, Sinead Keenan has really come into her own as George’s werewolf girlfriend Nina and finally made to be a strong addition to the core cast; meanwhile Lenora Crichlow’s ghostly Annie finally got some strong storylines that really drove the series rather than just end up being a comedy B-plot off to one side. If there was a character who had become slightly sidelined in this series it was George, played by the wonderful Russell Tovey, which might explain the need for that “dead dad” bottle story; but he certainly came back in strength for the final episode where the resolution revolved around his relationship with his vampire best friend Mitchell, played by Aidan Turner.

If there’s one person who has been made a star by this show, it’s Aidan Turner. Since the start of Being Human he’s already been the lead in Desperate Romantics and had a major role in BBC4’s Hattie, and now he’s been cast in Peter Jackson’s forthcoming The Hobbit films. His influence on the show is such that the US remake of the series even rechristened the Mitchell character ‘Aidan’. And he certainly dominates the season, with his downwardly-spiralling Mitchell consumed by guilt over dark deeds driving the series forward. His romantic scenes with Crichlow have been both touching and comic, while the look on his face as he arranged for detective Nancy to visit “Uncle Billy” in the attic was a shocking look of dark, evil cunning.

Look away now if you haven’t seen the end of the series and want to avoid spoilers

The problem with the season is that Mitchell’s downwards spiral had left him irredeemable and beyond the point of no return. His fate was inevitable from early on, and while the final scene is nicely played it still ends the only way it can given the season arc – with Mitchell staked and dead. It’s the right ending for the season, but it’s also the right ending for the show which has always been about his and George’s friendship more than anything else (and guess who gets to do the staking?) It’s where the show should finish, which makes the news that a fourth season has been commissioned all the more surprising.

Of course, being dead in a genre series does not need to be final, or even much of an obstacle. But Turner’s presumably now spending a year or more on Hobbit duty in New Zealand which is a bigger, more practical problem for the show: without Mitchell’s dark presence the series loses a lot of its dark core and narrative drive. Who really wants to see a show about a well-adjusted werewolf couple with their once-a-month problem and their ghost lodger, without the ever-present danger of the bloodsucker flatmate and the vampire clans? On a purely commercial level, these days a series that doesn’t have a ‘vampire’ on its cast roll loses a huge amount of marquee pulling power. Most of all, Being Human without Mitchell is just … wrong. It wouldn’t work, nor would pulling in some “Mitchell substitute” to fill the vampire-shaped hole in the dynamic (although Craig Robert’s teenage vampire Adam who appeared in one eponymous episode before being spun out to a digital-only mini-series could be a possibility.)

There have been times during this season where my attention has wandered and I’ve had to force myself to pay attention to it – not a good sign. That certainly doesn’t apply to the riveting two-part finale, and the season as a whole has had some impressive high points, but while the slaying of Mitchell is undoubtedly a dramatic coup per excellence to end the show with I’m not sure I’m minded to return for another series if he stays staked – or that willing to forgive them a “beyond the stake resurrection” either, come to that. Whithouse may just have written a cliffhanger from which Being Human can’t be saved.