I've been drowning in TV lately, watching the first couple of episodes of a rash of different shows and frankly it all feels like it is getting a little much. Mad Men, The Wire, Arrested Development, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Dollhouse... I am starting to feel a little like Echo with too many imprints in my brain. The problem of having these beautifully made, intelligent series is that it becomes difficult to just duck in and out of them. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want everything to slip back into the tired Monster of the Week style procedural, but it can start to feel slightly exhausting.
Anyway, I have decided that I am going to settle down and focus on one drama and one comedy at a time (am going with Mad Men and Arrested Development to begin with) as a sort of New Years resolution. I have a new found faith in those things since I actually stuck to my join-a-gym-and-actually-use-it one from 2009.
So, round-a-bout way to say that I spent the weekend re-watching all six episodes of the really quite brilliant Being Human. I saw the first season a couple of months ago and liked it a lot but it kind of slipped from my mind in a rush of life stuff getting in the way. Watching the six hours in such a compressed space of time allowed me to properly sink in to the show. And it is brilliant. I have some minor quibbles with some of the plotting and a few places where I think the actors go a little over the top (Russell Tovey walks a delicate balance in his performance and it doesn't always come off), but I can forgive all that because it gets everything else right. This feels like the first new British show in a while to attempt the type of TV which has become so acclaimed from the States. Being Human is dense, layered, dramatic stuff, turning on a dime between genres but with a powerful connective thread to each episode which demands patience and intelligence from viewers.
Of all the things to admire in the show (the very shaggable Aidan Turner and Russell Tovey being prime reasons), I think how it looks at the concept of family is what gives it special resonance for me. Mitchell, George and Annie may constitute one of the weirder families on tv right now, but there is no doubting that a family is precisely what they are. One of the key themes of many of my favourite fantasy and sci-fi stories is the idea of found or created families and communities. X-Men, Buffy, Angel, and Firefly all examine how groups of outcasts come to find support, love and friendship with one another. For whatever reason, each of the characters in these stories find themselves rejected or isolated from their normal or 'blood' relations and have to forge new connections. In each of these stories, these connections are the key to the success of each individual in coming to full realise their own power.
Being Human is no different. For a variety of reasons, our intrepid threesome find themselves alone in the world, isolated from the people they thought would love them and slowly fading into insignificance. But as they begin to live together, to get to know one another's strengths and weaknesses and as they grow to rely on each other, they find a personal strength which changes each of their destinies. They give each other a reason to exist, a deep connection to the world that gives them the power to face their internal and external threats.
It is telling that Herrick, the magnificently hissable main villain, is utterly unable to comprehend Mitchell's connection to his friends. In their confrontation in the final episode, he says to Mitchell;
Herrick: What is this hold they have over you?
Mitchell: You wouldn't understand. In fact you could say that's what this whole thing comes down to
As dialogue, that may be slightly too on the nose, but just as Buffy had to learn that a major part of her strength and the reason for her longevity as Slayer was down to her connections to the Scoobies, so too do Mitchell, George and Annie find out exactly how strong they can be when they have others to help them. It is an infinitely better, and I would argue, more moral view then the traditional lone hero model.
Being Human complicates this vision by giving us a mirror image of this family in the vampire clan headed by the patriarchal Herrick. In many ways, they represent Mitchell's traditional 'blood relations' (in both the literal and metaphorical sense as Herrick is the vampire who sired Mitchell during WW1). It is clear that Mitchell would be welcomed back in to the fold, as long as he was willing to suppress just the part of himself which makes him noble and unique amongst his kind. But there is no space for him to be different. With George and Annie, he finds himself in a group in which their differences are celebrated, explored and ultimately integrated.
I think this will have a lot of resonance for gay people, who have historically found themselves moving to urban centers to escape discrimination and oppression at home and finding a new nurturing unit. This isn't quite my story. I am incredibly lucky in life to have two families I love - my family in Ireland, and the one I have created for myself in London. I find Being Human's exploration of the bonds of family and friendship to be rich, inspiring and quite beautiful.
I am going to have a lot more to talk about in the next week or so about Being Human - how it contains potent metaphors for living in the closet, for addiction and mostly for abuse.