I want to stand by an awesome British production and declare the sacrilege of adapting it for a US audience, rather than just shipping the glorious original over the pond as is – but I can’t. Or rather, if they could have shipped over the original as it was in the incredible UK pilot, I would have adored that, but they couldn’t, because that’s not the UK show as it is now. Let me explain:
On 18 February 2008 BBC 3 produced a pilot for Being Human. It was fantastic and utterly original. It was like Spaced if Spaced had been about a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost moving in together. The very premise sounded like the beginning of a slightly off-kilter joke. It was a quirky new view on a genre saturated with angst-laden pretty people. The scene at the end where the three supernatural beings sit in a pub and discuss which house they would be in at Hogwarts was a thing of understated beauty. In particular, I adored Andrea Riseborough as the endearingly pants ghost, Annie, saying: ‘I quite fancy Hufflepuff actually. I’ve always thought in Hufflepuff they just spend the day making stuff with safety scissors and glitter.’*
I was one of the 3,000 signatories on the petition to get it made into a full TV show.
Imagine my sadness, then, to see the show that was actually commissioned, which had jettisoned both Guy Flanagan (as the Vampire, Mitchell) and dear, sweet, beloved Andrea Riseborough as Annie. They had replaced her with a pretty girl (Lenora Crichlow) who didn’t have half Riseborough’s understated, quirky charm, and the show had taken a lurch towards the angsty that jarred with its original premise. And by exchanging Annie’s endearing sweetness for pretty angst, the fact that she was a bit pants just made her seem wet. In short, it was not the show I had petitioned to have commissioned at all. Moreover, although I love me some good pretty-people-being-angsty-in-a-supernatural-setting, the show did not sit neatly in that genre, either. Still stuck with a half-hearted wish to satirise the genre it was now muscling in on, it often undercut the angst in a way that highlighted the awkwardness of situations and triggered my embarrassment squick. I didn’t think it was bad, but it was no longer a show I could comfortably watch.
So, I was curious when I heard it was being shipped overseas. The promo photos were laughable. The stars pout out of their pictures, screaming ‘See the pretty people! Oh how they angst!’. But, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder whether a start-over that fully embraced that angle might work better than the quirky British show trying to make itself into something it wasn’t. And then I read Lee A Harris’s review, Being Original, which suggested that Annie, at least, had been improved upon, and I was sufficiently curious to check it out for myself.
Unpopular though it is to do so, I pretty much agree with Lee. In fact – maybe because I’m biased by having seen the wonderful original pilot – I would go further. The US version is (for me at least) flat-out better. It knows what it is and what it’s doing and it does it very well. There’s still some humour, but it’s more committed to its angst, and therefore pulls it off better. Sally (the US Annie) is still the weakest character of the three, but her emotions and relationship to her fiancé are more convincing and engaging. I didn’t think I would be convinced by Sam Witwer in the role of Aiden (the US version of the vampire, Mitchell), but he’s spot on. Similarly, although the British actor, Russell Tovey, has received well-deserved acclaim for his portrayal of the werewolf, George, I actually prefer his American counterpart, Josh (played by Sam Huntington). Russell Tovey was the only one of the original leads to get carried over from the old series, and he stayed true to it, but again I found the ability to wipe the slate clean and work to a more cohesive formula just worked in favour of the US version. Both actors (Tovey and Huntington) do well in their roles, but they’re doing different things.
So, I know I should be championing a British original, but I guess I sort of feel that the current British TV show isn’t the original, so why should I prefer it over any other re-imagining? Maybe I’m just stuck on my disappointment that the pilot never got turned into all I hoped it would be, but I genuinely feel that the US version trumps the UK one. It’s better than it has any right to be, and fans of the current TV series may not feel as I do, but I still recommend giving it a go!
*I wanted to find a clip of this, but couldn’t, so here’s a link to the original trailer to give just a flavour. Crazy people in the comments think they were right to recast – heathens!