Being Human in America: The Pilot Reviewed

Josh, Aidan, and Sally

Well, I told you I’d watch the first three episodes of the SyFy Americanization of Being Human, and I strive to be good to my word, so here we are in part one of an at-least-three-part series.

Okay, full disclosure: I say all of the following as someone who’s both seen and loved the original incarnation of this show, so as much as I try to bracket out my expectations, there is the possibility that they will creep in. That being said, I would really like comments from viewers who are brand new to the concept of this show, who are starting fresh with the Americanization. And, on top of that, I want to hear from those of you who Really Liked The Pilot Episode. I want to hear what you liked and why you liked it.

With that out of the way, let’s get into this point by point, as that’ll make it easier to track how the show matures. Again, I’m going to try to go easy on the comparisons to the BBC version, and judge the new one on its own merits. That may be difficult, but I will try.

Overall Show Structure:

We’re brought in with a poignant voice-over intro; someone talking to us about the things we hide, and how beautiful we are when we indulge our dark urges, and this goes on as we watch a young man walk into the woods and turn into a werewolf, and we get to see the symbolic link between what we see and what we hear and I just have to ask… is this shit going to continue? Because it feels a little heavy handed, and I think it doesn’t work as the framing device it’s intended to be. And honestly I thought voice-over exposition in American non-noir fiction went out with Scrubs.

On the musical front, the integration of emotionally wrought Indie Music is by turns really annoying and Really effective. I’m hoping that the folks in charge of the music selection A) are good at their jobs, and B) have learned from the previous products of some of their coworkers; that way they’ll stray more toward the “Effective” side of things. The use of music to set a mood in a show is vastly important and if that comes down wrong, the whole enterprise can just feel… off.

In the effects department, so far the paranormal aspects are very SFX intensive. Though they aren’t shown very often, Aidan’s speed and strength, Josh’s transformation sequence, and Sally’s ghostliness are all slick and very shiny when we do see them (Sally might as well go “poof!” as she disappears in a swirl of ectoplasm), and this leads to a kind of flashy end product. On the one hand, this could be used to emphasize the disconnect between “daily life” and their “monster sides,” and maybe what we have here actually is more of what even the producers of the original would have done, if they had the money–I can respect that. But the problem is, it also removes some of the subtlety of the weird. When the wall erupts in a spray of plaster, as someone is slammed into it, when we see every transitional chunk of a werewolf transformation, and when, again, the ghost floats and leaves spectral mist, it’s like I’m being beaten over the head with what we’re supposed to expect from these kinds of parahumans. Maybe we’ll see a more even handed approach in the next two episodes.

In that vein, can we ask the cinematographer to ease up on the use of slow motion long shots spliced with flash-cut flashbacks to the horrible things these people did or had happen to them? Using it three separate times in the pilot alone makes for a really overblown sense of drama.

Let’s move on to the Main Characters:

Sam Witwer as Aidan

Aidan, The Vampire: First of all: The vampire’s named “Aidan?” Really? I mean, it’s funny because that’s also the name of the actor who plays Mitchell, in the BBC series, so I’m guessing it’s supposed to be a nod to their roots–a little something for those of us who watched the original–but it comes off feeling like somebody’s Goth Nameâ„¢. In addition, I’m feeling a definite Twilight connection, here, in that Aidan looks suspiciously like the “Sparkly” type of vampire we’ve been seeing in recent days, Cro-Mag face and all.

When we meet Aidan, he’s taking a girl home, and providing our aforementioned voiceover. The problem is, after their encounter and the subsequent unpleasantness, he doesn’t seem to feel any remorse, so much as being angry at himself for falling off the wagon. This may just be an odd side-effect of the fact that his general state of weird zen about being a vampire comes across really well. It’s very clear that Aidan has accepted what he is, and that his true struggle is with whether that has to dictate who he is. So bravo to Sam Witwer for that.

Sam Huntington as Josh

Josh, The Werewolf: I really want to be able to identify with the werewolf character here, folks, but Syfy…you’re making it difficult. I know I said I would limit this but I feel the need to draw a comparison here. I have to say, the whininess of “Josh” doesn’t work well as an American. What was charming, neurotic buffoonery in British George just seems to make American Josh deeply unlikeable. Josh’s stress seems to stem solely from having become a werewolf, whereas George was basically a bundle of nerves, from the start, and becoming a werewolf was just the icing on the cake. We’ll see how Josh comes along, obviously, but for now his rudeness is simply rude and he’s extremely arrogant in his sense of indignation at his situation. His actions make it seem like there actually was a “normal life” for him to have at some point, rather than this being a way for him to recognise that no life is normal.

In other news, Josh has a sister, who is also a lesbian. I only mention the latter part because the introduction of her character seems to be couched in such a way as to make us think she’s Josh’s ex-girlfriend, and our finding out she has a girlfriend was supposedly meant to be a blow to his ego, only to find it’s all a “clever” feint. This would have irritated me far less if we found out she was his sister before we met her girlfriend.

Meaghan Rath as Sally

Sally, The Ghost: This may change as we get to know her, but Sally’s perky, bubbly demeanor doesn’t quite track as genuine yet, and that may be because it’s the very first emotion we see from this supposedly dead-for-a-while person. In fact, when she meets Aidan and Josh and they can see and hear her, her reaction feels like that of someone who’s been dead for about a day, and even then not dead so much as invisible and/or inaudible, or simply just pointedly ignored by other people. The actual fact of her death doesn’t seem to register or have any real weight for her at all, and so it also doesn’t have any impact for the audience when she finds people who can see and hear her. The emotional connection with her character doesn’t land from the moment we meet her, as it does with Aidan and even Josh, so I find it hard to care about her at all, when she’s supposed to be the linchpin to the trio. I’m hoping she becomes stronger as we go forward.

So there you have it. Overall, the experience was nowhere near as bad as I’d feared, and it shows signs that it could definitely become a decent show, in its own right, if things go well. We have two more of these to go, so stay tuned.

By | 2017-09-24T22:44:29+00:00 January 21st, 2011|Stimuli|5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Unidentified Madman January 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

    You are right. Aiden indeed seems a little too Twilight. It’s like he was trying too hard to play up the sexy in more than a few frames when it wasn’t neccesary (director’s fault). That being said his interaction with Josh works.

    I LIKE JOSH. You can only feel so bad for him because he is rude and does say whatever is on his mind. Too many characters get written as likeable or from a pity me standpoint. He’s like George Costanza; only his friends like him. For me that works.

    Sally is really not doing it for me with the exception of how Aiden and Josh respond to her. I like that they kept the premise that Aiden has been around a long time and knows what a ghost is. I loved the fact that Josh A) is a useless werewolf with a spatula and B)Is being very normal by wanting her to get the hell out.

    All in all I agree the show needs work. There is an emotional depth I think the original portrayed that isn’t being captured in the US.

  2. Wolven January 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

    @Madman: I Definitely agree that Aidan and Josh’s interaction works, in fact I think it works really well. That being said, because it works so well, it makes Sally seem unnecessary.

    Re, Josh: I’d like him more if he weren’t so whiny. He Is like George Costanza, but George Costanza as a werewolf, and not as funny? Doesn’t quite land, for me.

    Sally… *sigh* Yeah. I’m hoping for vast and serious improvements in the Sally department, and soon.

    Like i said, I don’t feel emotionally connected to any of these people, yet, and we’re already through the first episode. If they don’t fix this, soon, I fear it’s going to pull the whole show structure down with it.

  3. cailement January 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Really quick overview before I leave for out of town.

    I have never watched the original, and while I didn’t REALLY like the new, I didn’t not like it.

    I thought it moved very slowly, not really a whole lot happened, but when I think back to it, a lot did seem to have happened. Weird.

    I Like vampires. I’ve even watched and (tried very hard to) enjoyed the Twilight movies (mostly because of all of the tweens sqweeing in the audience. Hilarity.) I enjoy the horrible angst of the Vampire Diaries and enjoyed both Underworlds (3 was a different series, doesn’t count). So, yes, I liked Aiden mostly out of default–which is good. It means that nothing he did seemed OFF to me–something that Mr. Sparklepants did do, often. Aiden seemed like a complete vampire, including all of the Masquarade politics of I don’t care about–I like him as a person and a character–I might have future issue with his story archs.

    Josh was adorable, pitiable, and I look forward to seeing him grow. I sit on the edge of my seat for the first 5 minutes of next week because of him. Not so much for the rest of the show yet, but they pulled me in enough right there.

    Sally doesn’t stir an emotional response in me at all. I just don’t care. Maybe it was the bubbly, as you said. Maybe it was the disconnect with her character in any part of the pilot’s plot except for the plot development point that she’s the reason they’re able to afford the house. She’s currently just wallpaper–there to look pretty, but it doesn’t DO anything. We’ll see how she developes.

    At this point, I’m adding it to the shows I watch. I’m not watching it out of supernatural obligation or because someone else said that it is good–however, I am worried that if it doesn’t find it’s feet and stride quickly (first 6 eps or so), that watching it will become more of a chore than a relaxation, at which point I will cease to care.

  4. The Old Songs January 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I feel like I should preface this with: I think I might have seriously horrible taste in TV. Teen dramas (Felicity etc.).

    I liked it. My mom watches the BBC one, but we don’t get that channel. I was pleasantly surprised by its depth. I was sort of expecting supernatural Odd Couple with occasional drama leanings. I think it will have moments of Odd Couple hilarity, but I love that it’s going to be a bit dark.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVED the voice over. I couldn’t figure out why, then I realized, it took the same monologue-y, introducing the theme of the episode format as SATC.

    I’m only so-so on Aidan. He’s sort of bland to me – and a TV vampire should be hotter.

    Josh is hilarious. When he picked up the spatula to ward off the potential burglar, I LOLed. Then rewound the Tivo and watched it again. I guess I never really thought about it, but werewolves aren’t all that tough the rest of the time. I find geeky inept guys endearing. And a werewolf named “Josh”? Hilarious.

    Sally is pretty annoying – but I want to give the relationship a chance to develop, because “annoying roommate” is an interesting dynamic you don’t really see much of on TV. Also, when she was sitting on the couch crying, and Aidan tried to hold her hand and couldn’t, my heart broke for her. I don’t know. I think there is more emotional depth there.

    SO anyway, I’m going to watch it.

  5. Wolven January 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    @Cailement: In that vein, I have to say that the BBC version packs as much plot into single episodes as there was in entire half-seasons of Buffy. And that it does that without feeling Rushed. That’s an amazing accomplishment.

    Aidan’s personality has the potential to be really intriguing, if they play it right, but they’ve accentuated so much of distance from humanity, without giving us an anchor of actual remorse, yet. I hope that changes.

    I still can’t pity Josh. He just seems too antagonistic and demanding, so far. We’ll see what happens, Monday, when we open up the episode.

    Again, in the original, Annie-The-Ghost is the heart of the trio. She opens the show up with her voice-over monologue, but she doesn’t talk in clever metaphors. She talks clearly and specifically about What Happened To Them. What made them who they are, and brought them to the point where they meet, including her experiencing her own Wake, with no one being able to see or hear her as she screamed and cried that she was still there. And it’s from that point that we begin to truly delve into the characters and motivations.

    I agree that if it doesn’t find itself, quickly, it’s going to lose the audience, hence this undertaking. So we’ll keep watching, here, and see what happens because, as noted, it has promise.

    @Songs: See, you watch Sex and the City, so we can’t even have a conversation. ;) I kid, of course.

    The darkness of this version isn’t anything on the Darkness of the original, at least not yet. We’ll see what happens at the start of the next episode, though, as that might Seriously change. If they have the guts to go down that road in the first two episodes, I will have a VAST respect for their undertaking.

    I like the idea of the annoying roommate being there, but there are too many unlikeable qualities in all of them, so far. There is no anchor point, yet, and I begin to wonder why I’m supposed to care about these folks. The being unable to hold her hand would have landed a lot firmer if her being incorporeal had actually seemed to matter to her, at all, when we first met her.

    There’s still room for improvement, but it also shows great potential. So we’ll see.

    Thank you both for the comments! Really great discussion, all around.

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