Being Human in America: The Pilot Reviewed
By Wolven - posted 01.21.11 @ 3:19 am
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.
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:
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 Name™. 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.
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.
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.