The U.S. version of Being Human had a bumpy ride during its first season, and never distinguished itself as anything stronger than light, time-killer entertainment, and I suspect that fans of the original U.K. series think that it's shit. It's as big a hit as SyFy has had in the post-Battlestar Galactica era, though, and there are reasons for that. Like most Americanized versions of British series, the show is both softer and more obvious than its predecessor, but that's not automatically a bad thing. The U.K. version tends to be a little hangdog and murky for my taste, and I prefer the cast here—especially Meaghan Rath, who plays the ghost, Sally, and who just stomped all over Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones in an exclusive, privately conducted survey to name the most adorable woman on television. The first season operated under a safety net that may have had a hole in the center: the writers had agreed to model their story line along the first season of the U.K. version, but since American TV networks are foolishly reluctant to agree to the kind of tight, quick schedules common in British TV series, the American series had more than twice the number of episodes as the original, so there had to be a lot of digressions and padding, and the narrative went baggy and slack. The writers have pledged to go their own way now, so the new season premiere marks a new direction, and a real sink-or-swim moment. I'm hoping for the best, but the premiere is a lot less Esther Williams and a lot more glug-glug-glug.
The biggest problem continues to be the stuff connected with Aidan, the centuries-old vampire played by the almost comically good-looking Sam Witwer. (You can imagine Jon Hamm, in a moment of weakness, asking him where he buys his handsome pills.) In the last season, Aidan triumphed over his mentor-turned-adversary, Bishop (played by creepy-character king Mark Pellegrino), who had his own vampire cult leader world-domination thing going on. Bishop may have been a burgeoning menace who needed a dab of Crisco to get his ego through the door, but at least he kept his minions fed. Having displaced him as the vampire king of Balmer, Aidan seems to be having trouble making the trains run on time, and now the streets and hospitals teem with troublesome hordes of vampire "tweakers" who stagger around moaning about how long it's been since they had a drop of that sweet, sweet red stuff. Rather than apply himself to the problem, Aidan concentrates on delivering the godawful, thought-provoking intros to the show that combine the prose style of Carrie Bradshaw with the over-obvious educational approach of Elmo, as in Sesame Street.
The word for tonight is "freedom." Can you say "freedom"? Can you wax eloquently on it, as if you were an all-night disc jockey who's lost faith that there's anyone out there listening and needs an assistant to throw something at him. "Freedom," mutters Aidan on the soundtrack, "is just a pretty way of saying you've gone off the grid. For better or for worse, you're out of options. But we call it 'freedom', write songs about it, you probably crank them in your car, never thinking about it much." Clearly, Aidan's gorgeous face has saved him from knowing what it's like to spend half the night humoring a pretty girl who thinks she's on the verge of saying something profound about "Me and Bobby McGee." The awful thing about this kind of doggerel is that once you've started writing it, it's hard to stop. The next thing you know, another, normally sane character is trying to connect with her boyfriend, and say something meaningful besides, by saying, "Once you've picked your way naked through a theater geek's living room in the clear light of day after a vodka binge…" The boyfriend interrupts her to show that he gets it: "You want to hold my hair while I throw up." There are also pulled-fresh-from-the-ass generalities offered up as pearls of wisdom, such as, "A vampire's only wish is to forsake other vampires!" Maybe that's true; who's done the research to show that it isn't?
Tonight's episode introduces us to "Mother", who is apparently the vampire with the most frequent flier miles. What Mother says, goes. Mother wants to install her daughter as Boston's head vampire, news that the other vamps sitting around the table find disturbing, though it would appear that anyone, even vampire Silvio Berlusconi, would have to be an improvement on Aidan. Truly he is the last five minutes of The Devil Inside of vampires. But Mother isn't after his head or anything. Brushing aside the concerns about her daughter that are voiced by vampire Terry Kinney ("Asking her to return to this place… one wonders… if the memories of… what she… did… might prove… too… overwhelming…"), she offers to leave him the hell alone if he'll offer his services during the shakedown period. "Is that something that might interest you," Mother purrs, "your… freedom?" Aidan does not reply, "Hey, I just did an internal soliloquy on that," but for once in his un-life, he thinks before he opens his beautifully modeled mouth.
But Being Human has developed a bit of a reputation as a chicks' show, so you probably want to hear about Josh the reluctant werewolf (played by Sam Huntington, the most weirdly typecast actor in Hollywood) and Nora (Kristen Hager), the pregnant doctor-girlfriend who wants to hold his hair for him while he transforms into a terrifying, slavering beast by the light of the full moon. There is a twist here: Josh thinks that Nora, who keeps pestering him for details about what the werewolf experience is really, really like—things like, does it hurt and stuff?—is being overly solicitous, but she's also trying to educate herself about what she might expect, because she fears that she may have picked up a case of lycanthropy when she got scratched on a previous full night. Josh has no idea about any of this, because he hasn't noticed the huge, discolored mark where she was scratched. Presumably they do it with the lights off. Some of this relationship is hard to scan, but I'm prepared to put up with a certain level of nonsense where Josh and Nora are concerned because I do think they're a really cute couple.
Two of them barely add up to enough cuteness to budge Meaghan Rath from her place on the charts, though. (Have I mentioned that she's darling?) Rath's Sally has my favorite story line in this episode, when she goes to her high school reunion and, unseen by her former classmates, who have the misfortune to still be living and so can't feast their eyes on her, makes bitchy remarks while hanging with Stevie, who committed suicide in the sixth grade and is stuck roaming the earth in his never-aging, tween-age form. ("I didn't think it through," he has the grace to admit.) Watching Sally and Stevie enjoying the video tribute to them (scored to what sounds like a K-mart version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") and rounding on the shallow, princessy bitch who made their lives hell in high school and who recently died (Stevie: "Malaria. She was a goodwill ambassador." Sally: "Malaria! Well, that's stupid. They have drugs for that.") will remind you what this show is like when it's fun. Watching the cliffhangerish closing sequence, in which Josh and Sally are both put in jeopardy, apparently at the orders of Mother (who tells vampire Terry Kinney that Aidan doesn't need any distractions, heh-heh-heh), is to be reminded what it's like when it's not fun, and why fun is what it needs to shoot for at all times.