Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Being Human (U.S.): “Mama Said There’d Be Decades Like This”

Illustration for article titled Being Human (U.S.): “Mama Said There’d Be Decades Like This”
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For most of its existence as a commercial medium, television was derided as dead landscape devoid of imagination and originality. TV wasn't where you saw new storytelling ideas and untested kinds of material being tried. It was where old movie plots (and, often, even older actors) went to collect their pensions. Because of the degree of repetition and familiarity that seemed to be built into the whole series concept on TV, even science fiction and fantasy shows used to have an earthbound quality that industry sages would have told you fans needed, because it felt so comforting. I think that Franklyn Ajaye was the first standup comic I ever saw do a whole routine listing the cliches of Star Trek—the extra crew member who beams down with Kirk and Spock for the express purpose of being killed, the sentence construction “Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a fill-in-the-blank,” etcetera, etcetera —but by the time he went there, every junior high in America probably had a wise guy who could have done the same five minutes with barely a glance at his notes.

Then the TV Renaissance began at some point in the '90s, and now, we've got a spate of fantasy-based shows that, whatever concessions each of them may make to the repetition syndrome of a TV series, all wear their originality and imagination on their sleeves. However perplexed Gene Roddenberry might feel about all this, I'm sure that Willy Wonka would be pleased. Imagination and originality are value-free qualities that mean nothing without judgement and what we old-timers used to call “a freakin' point,” and we'll be guaranteed a weekly reminder of that at least until this spring, when Desperate Housewives will finally wheeze its last. I confess that, sometimes when I'm watching Fringe or The Fades, I'm not completely sure what the hell is supposed to be happening, but I am, at least, usually persuaded that the people responsible for the shows think they know, which instills me with hope that I may yet catch up and that it will all be worth it when I do. Then there is this show, where I always have a pretty good idea what's happening, except that I find it increasingly hard to imagine why anyone thought it would be a good idea, and we've all seen it before anyway.

Tonight's episode is the one where Aidan's vampire “father” Bishop (Mark Pellegrino) returns to haunt him in what may be hallucinatory visions. For some reason, SyFy seems to be as proud of this development as if they had invented this gimmick for bringing a character sort-of back from the dead all by themselves, which they did not, big time. Being Human owes it status as a ratings hit—relative, that is, to the usual numbers to the home of Sanctuary marathons and original mockbuster TV movies —to a devoted core of female viewers. Fans are thought to be drawn to the show for its attractive and perpetually lovelorn regulars (whom I like just fine myself) and for its strenuously emo vibe (which has been known to aggravate the hell out of me). Did I miss Mark Pellegrino's top-selling centerfold layout in Tiger Beat?

Or does SyFy think there's something hugely exploitable in the fact that Pellegrino was on the biggest fantasy-based show of the last several years, Lost? There, he played a mysterious, seemingly omniscient character who had been around since practically the beginning of time, and who was killed, but who kept returning to force his wisdom on the only living character who could see him. Since then, he's had a recurring role on Supernatural, where he plays a mysterious, seemingly omniscient character who's been around since practically the beginning of time. After a while, he was basically killed, but he keeps coming back to force his wisdom on the only living character who can see him. Pellegrino's character was back on that show three days ago, after an absence of a few months. Maybe the writers gave him a sabbatical so that he could fly to Canada and resurrect his mysterious, seemingly omniscient character from the first season of Being Human —the one who had been around since practically the beginning of time before he was killed, and who now forces his wisdom on Aidan, his killer, who's the only unliving person who can see him. The most mysterious thing about this episode is the big question it raises about why Mark Pellegrino doesn't fire his agent.

Why has Bishop returned, or (assuming that it's all in Aidan's mind) “returned”? It turns out that it's because Aidan, who's presently caught in a massive battle for his own safety and the safety of his friends, the control of his city, the state of the vampire community of Boston, and his own soul, needs to spend a couple of days working on his daddy issues. He still hasn't come to grips with the fact that he wasted Bishop, never mind that Vegas odds heavily favored Bishop to waste him right up to the minute that he administered the killing blow. On top of that, his own troubles with his own baby boy, Henry, have made him feel more sympathetic to what he put Bishop through. All this makes Aidan feel more tortured than ever, if you can believe that, and he responds to the situation not with his customary pouting into the middle distance but by snarking it up, using his friends' problems as the jumping-off point for some ripe, nasty bits of sarcasm. You can tell how different he is from the usual, because he's never been this entertaining before. But it says a lot about where Being Human's head seems to be these days that, when it wants one of its bloodsucking monsters to behave monstrously, the best it can come up with is to have him act fed up with listening to his friends bitch and moan. If the “Innocence” episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had happened on this show, Angel wouldn't have gone on a killing spree after he and Buffy had made love. He just would have hung out in the boys' bathroom between her classes and waited for his next chance to make fun of her hair.

In the end, it turns out that Bishop, or “Bishop,” is there to help Aidan accept what he did to him, and also what he, Aidan, can't seem to do to Henry, because the father can't kill the son, whereas “the son always kills the father.” This doesn't sound like the Bishop I remember, and it doesn't seem like the way Aidan would remember him, either, but it at least provides the excuse for a flashback, this time to 1918, with Aidan and Henry in doughboy costumes and Bishop in a hat that he could lower into the water, jump into, and use to row to Jamaica. (The whole flashback looks like a junior high production of Boardwalk Empire.) One of the many reasons for rolling your eyes at the whole thing is that it's highly reminiscent of “White Noise”, a second-season episode of Wiseguy in which Vinnie Terranova got thrown in  a rubber room, shot full of meds, and hallucinated a whole surreal reunion with Sonny Steelgrave, the lovable gangster he'd brought down in the series' initial story arc and which he still hadn't forgiven himself for! I remember that episode creating a powerful swirling vortex of sheer pointlessness that nearly sucked my TV into another dimension, and it was especially sad because of the subtext that came with it. It was like a physical manifestation of the creative team's realization that they'd lost their way and would never again hit the heights they'd reached during their second season. At that point, Wiseguy already had way more episodes under its belt than Being Human does now, and though I swear I remember having enjoyed this show once, it never had any business being mentioned in the same breath as Wiseguy anyway.


Elsewhere, this episode about vampire daddy issues deals with dead-mommy issues; Sally's mother dies in the hospital, and soon, the two of them are blissfully reunited. The bliss is short-lived, because it turns out that Mom once had a boyfriend on the side who also died, and it isn't long before Sally, to her horror, catches the two of them snogging in the graveyard, within plain view of the mourners at Mom's funeral. (At least, it would be plain view, if the mourners could see dead people.) Sally invites Mom to dinner with her roommates to hash all this out, and Mom brings her boyfriend along, which is awkward. Mostly this storyline gives the show the chance to show how it can misplay promising comic material, either by not quite getting the timing or perspective right or by not seeming to realize that it ought to be played as comedy. But at least it provides the opportunity for one great, long-overdue moment of insight for Josh: “Why," he asks himself midway through the evening, “am I yet again cooking dinner for people who don't eat?”