TV Review: BEING HUMAN, 3.1 - "Lia"

Series 3 of Being Human has a tough job on its hands. Can its high-concept premise of a cohabiting vampire, werewolf and ghost continue to hold audience's attention, now the novelty's worn off and there's a US version snapping at its heels? If the first series was skewed towards black comedy, and the second took things into more dramatic territory, will series 3 find a happy medium? On the evidence of "Lia", I certainly got the impression creator Toby Whithouse aims to blend the successes of previous years, as there was plenty of domestic/relationship humour, off-set with some mythology-building. Picking up after the cataclysmic climax of series 2, where ghost Annie (Lenora Crichlow) was sucked into Purgatory and her friends -- vampire Mitchell (Aidan Turner), werewolves George (Russell Tovey) and Nina (Sinead Keenan) -- were forced into exile, taking refuge in a Welsh farmhouse, we quickly caught up with the foursome's current situation. Mitchell, George and Nina become tenants of a tacky former B&B called Honolulu Heights, all still grieving the loss of Annie, who's being processed in the afterlife for a one-way trip to Hell. As I said last year, the thing that irks me about all this is how nastily the show paints the afterlife, simply to stir up some drama. I mean, why is a nice girl like Annie expected to suffer eternal damnation? What did she do? The show has never really answered that question, leaving us with the feeling the afterlife is just a horribly corrupt beaurocracy everyone's destined to toil in forever. It's a rather depressing thought. Mitchell is still racked with guilt over breaking his abstinence from blood and slaughtering a train carriage full of innocent passengers, but is channeling his self-loathing into a determination to rescue Annie. To do this, he finds a terminally ill man at a local hospital and, when the poor man dies, hitches a ride through his doorway to the afterlife, finding himself in a bespoke limbo with various doors leading to key moments of his wretched life. Curiously, Mitchell is joined by a young woman called Lia (Lacey Turner), a flirtatious but sharp-tongued guide through his many moments of regret, which he gets to revisit -- beginning with a WWI trench containing a dead soldier friend he poisoned so he could suck on his jugular. Meanwhile, George and Nina prepared for their Full Moon transformations, but matters were complicated when George accidentally wandered into a local "dogging" area and was arrested by the police, later finding himself stuck in a prison cell with the event's seedy organizer Bob (Kai Owen). Elsewhere, two new characters surfaced in the haggard form of muscled McNair (Robson Green) and his son Tom (Michael Socha), two werewolves amusingly introduced discussing Benicio Del Toro's "The Wolfman". Their troubles began when McNair was kidnapped by a freakish gang of degenerates, led by Johnny Rotten-alike Vincent (Paul Kaye), an oddball showman who runs an underground cage-fighting business that pits captured werewolves against humans for the sadistic pleasure of vampires. "Lia" was a confident and entertaining start to series 3, neatly answering the leftover questions of series 2. I was particularly pleased they didn't brush Mitchell's unforgivable act of violence under the carpet, but instead found a clever way to have the doleful vampire face his past transgression, literally. Lia herself was an intriguing character, although I wasn't entirely won over by how Lacey Turner chose to play her. Turner's a great young actress who's done six years of excellent work on EastEnders, but Lia didn't get under my skin or make me want to see anymore of her. She failed to charm me, perhaps because she was too much of a plot-device, given a silly catchphrase ("spit spot"), although the ultimate reveal of who she was worked very well. More successful were the McNair's, particularly Robson Green (Wire In The Blood), who seized this opportunity to show a much tougher, rawer, physical side of himself. As an actor who started off playing mischievous characters, then moved into brooding detectives and everymen, it's no wonder he jumped at the chance to play someone far removed from his previous roles. There wasn't much for Green to do beyond act tough and burn holes in the screen with his eyes, but he accomplished both extremely well. Michael Socha likewise made an immediate impression, and it'll be very interesting to see how these two familial werewolves end up interacting with George and Nina, which will inevitably happen. Maybe their story will involve forming a pack to take on the vampires that are mistreating their kind? The comedy and drama was balanced well (a trick Being Human seemed to forget for lengthy periods in series 2), with amusing moments like George and Nina's bedtime romp being constantly interrupted, or Nina having to blag George out of jail while struggling to keep the pain of her transformation in check. It's a show that knows how to play its moments of horror extremely well, too -- with the dual transformation of George and Nina exhibiting makeup effects that are frighteningly impressive. It's such a shame Being Human's fully-transformed werewolves are comparatively silly "giant dog-suits", which the directors have to cut around. I've mentioned this before, but it's a pity the show opted for American Werewolf-style canines over bipedal Wolfmen. Or that they can't afford the CGI werewolf from Doctor Who's "Tooth & Claw". Overall, "Lia" was a strong return for a show that's perhaps slightly overrated, but still produces gripping TV when it hits a stride. The promise of a focus on werewolf subculture this year sounds like a good move, as the McNair's made an immediate impact here, but there always exists a vague feeling that Being Human's premise will soon exhaust itself. In series 2 it was noticeable how much of a struggle it became to give Annie worthwhile things to do, and now she doesn't have to live in fear of the afterlife authorities chasing her down; while George has won the heart of Nina, and they played the breakup card last year. The writers will definitely have to get more creative with the big picture storylines, and develop the characters in less predictable ways from hereon in, but I have faith. Asides It's a small thing, but I'm so glad Being Human's started using episode titles! Maybe someone heard my plea last year. I really hate the tendency to forgo episode titles in UK drama, as it's so handy being able to refer to something with an official title, rather than try to describe each episode's general storyline. Discussions involving phrases like "oh, you know, the one where the vampire nest was destroyed by that bomber" are a thing of the past, thank God. Did anyone else mishear Lia's clue to her identity, "H12", as "aged 12" because of Turner's cockney accent? If I'm not mistaken, Vincent called his followers "The Children Of Darwin", hinting that he believes vampires are the next stage in evolution. So, what, werewolves are a rival branch that needs to be sawn off? You may also have noticed a fairground attraction called EVOLUTION just prior to the scene where McNair was captured. An intentional gag? Michael Socha (This Is England '86) is the brother of actress Lauren Socha, who plays mind-reader Kelly in Misfits. There's no sign of vampire leader Herrick yet, who was rather bizarrely resurrected in the closing seconds of series 2. I'm sure he'll be back soon.
WRITER: Toby Whithouse DIRECTOR: Colin Teague CAST: Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow, Sinead Keenan, Lacey Turner, Robson Green, Paul Kaye, Michael Socha, Kai Owen, Philip Brook, Gwynfor Jones, Trudi Jackson & Rhys Matthews TRANSMISSION: 23 January 2011, BBC3/HD, 9PM
I will continue to review Being Human every week at my blog, Dan's Media Digest
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