By Caryn James | James on Screens February 17, 2011 at 5:37AM
It sounds like a bad joke: a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire walk into a bar. As fans of Being Human – both the original British cult hit, shown here on BBC America, and this season’s American version on SyFy - know, these three are actually roommates, banding together to face the peculiar challenges of their quick-change existences.
Season 3 of the British version begins Saturday, and it’s by far the better show – not because it’s British but because the actors are off-the-charts charismatic in completely different ways, and because they seem like real people even when they’re vanishing into air or growing fangs.
Aiden Turner plays Mitchell, the sexy, tortured vampire (is there any other kind?) who is trying not to drink fresh blood but occasionally falls off the wagon, a thrill for him and for us. Russell Tovey is the good-hearted, sweet-natured werewolf, George, who last season accidentally turned his girlfriend, Nina (Sinead Keenan) into a wolf; that’s never good for a relationship, but she has forgiven him. And let’s face it, her options have narrowed. Lenora Crichlow plays the cheerful, loving yet sad ghost Annie; you’d be sad too if your fiance pushed you down the stairs to your death.
I didn’t instantly love the series. I was put off by the cheesy effects, especially when the wolf transforms; frankly it still looks a little cheesy. But Being Human quickly became one of my favorite shows, as the characters knitted into a weird, warm little family. Settled in Bristol, away from the big city’s glare, Mitchell and George worked as hospital orderlies while housebound Annie left cups of tea all around the place for the boys. But drama always caught up with them: at the end of last season, Mitchell fell in love with a dangerous woman working to eliminate vampires.
As the new season begins, the hunted-down trio and Nina have escaped to Wales, but Annie has accidentally been pulled into Purgatory and Mitchell goes there to bring her back. While on the other side, he confronts the evidence of his own violent past; it’s one of the series’ best, most intense episodes, but the hallmark of the show is still its wit and humanity. The series has none of the teen angst of The Vampire Diaries. It’s not as overwrought as True Blood, which went haywire last season when it brought in Nazi werewolves, as if being a Nazi or a werewolf wasn’t bad enough. Being Human is simply addictive, off-the-wall, unmissable.
Toby Whithouse, the show’s creator, is also an executive producer of the SyFy version (photo below), which follows the first series so thoroughly that Annie - renamed Sally for no good reason - wears the same gray sweater with extra-long sleeves. Even if you’ve never seen the original, this Being Human, set in Boston, is innocuously pleasant but never gripping. The problem is the actors.
The vampire - in a weird turn, he’s called Aiden, the name of the actor playing the British vampire - is played by Sam Witwer, who has such a sheet-white face and such blood-red lips, you’d spot him as a vampire legions away. Meaghan Rath, as Sally, doesn’t have anything like the effervescence of Crichlow’s Annie, which does so much to give the original its joy and bubbliness. Only Sam Huntington - George renamed Josh - makes the character work. The wolf is still puppy-eyed, but Huntington give him a soulfulness that is distinctly his. Josh has also had better stories so far, including an unexpected meeting with his sister. How do you tell your family you’re a wolf?
The American version might improve, but why wait when the great original is here? Take a look at the new season on BBC America:
Season 3 begins Saturday at 9 ET on BBC America, and there are several ways to catch up on earlier seasons. BBC America will have a day-long marathon of seasons 1 and 2 beginning at 6:00 AM ET Saturday, and those seasons are also available on iTunes and DVD.
New episodes of SyFy’s Being Human premiere Mondays at 9 ET; earlier episodes are on SyFy.com and iTunes.