Saturday, January 17, 2009

Flatshare horror

To the NFT last night for a preview of the first proper episode of Being Human, which airs on BBC3 at 9 pm on Sunday 25 January. WATCH IT - IT IS FANTASTIC.

The wheeze is that a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf share a house in Bristol. They're sexy young twenty-somethings with angst and problems with relationships, plus the perils of being monsters. It's sort of a mix of Buffy and This Life, but I felt that even this first episode set it up as distinctly it's own thing.

Writer/creator Toby Whithouse (his episode of Doctor Who made me blub) makes it funny, scary, moving, violent, twisty and just so, so good. We also got a teaser trail for the rest of the series, and yikes I am stupidly hooked.

In the Q&A afterwards with Whithouse, star Russell Tovey, producer Julie Gardner and some other producers, one audience member said she'd been surprised to like it since she's not into that "fantasy" stuff. This is one of those things that really annoys me, based as it is on two woefully stupid assumptions.

First, it assumes that anything sci-fi is rubbish or at least unworthy of serious attention. The zine Ansible has a regular "As others see us" column collecting pundits denying something is sci-fi because they thought it was good. That's not to say that everything SF is brilliant, just that there is some very good stuff.

Which leads into the second assumption, that because you like one thing that's got a sci-fi element in it that you must then like everything skiffy. So if you like Doctor Who you must also like Star Trek, if you like Star Wars you must also like the George Clooney version of Solaris, if you like Watchmen you must also like Green Lantern. But a football fan tends to only support two teams - a city team (not necessarily the local one) and one national one. All other football teams must be considered the enemy.

An awful lot of the activity of being a fan is discussing the precise bits you're not a fan of. We wade through the mountains of dross in search of the occasional nuggets of good stuff. It's why we cling to good shows so devotedly: we know they are precious and rare.

I like telly that's exciting, surprising, involving and smart. I like The Wire and Gavin and Stacey as much as I like Doctor Who. It's not that shoving in monsters makes telly suddenly good (hello, Demons). But, as Whithouse said last night, sometimes a fantasy element can lift an ordinary show into being something special.

It's only recently that British telly has caught on to this idea, as a result of the success of Doctor Who. In 1998, Ultraviolet tried a similar Buffy / This Life mix and was broadcast while no one was watching. Most people I know caught up it on video or DVD. It's a brilliant, brilliant series. But Channel 4 hid it away in the schedules, and forced the show to hide its fantasy credentials, embarrassedly. The vampires are never called vampires but instead "Code fives". (Five in Roman is "V", geddit?) Though I think that worked in its favour...

Post Doctor Who, telly is happy to announce its high concepts. The success of the Doctor has made it okay for TV to be bolder and madder. Importantly, Being Human is very different to Doctor Who - it's also got a very different feel from Torchwood, which is probably the thing it will be most likened to.

And yet... This first episode is a retelling of last year's pilot. Some of the cast has changed since then, and also some of the emphasis. And the thing that's most noticeably different, and the biggest improvement, is that they've made the vampires less all-out goth monster, and made them much more mundane.

I guess the fantasy elements work to pepper the drama, but what makes these things work is the people, their characters and relationships. The stuff that all good telly depends on.


Le Mc said...

Someone else recommended this to me, but I didn't realize All Hail Toby wrote it.

N. P. Boyce said...

Well - I see sci-fi/fantasy as being more of a technique than a genre. That is, it works as a sort of amplifier for stories about recognisable characters and basic human concerns. And to stretch the analogy a bit, an amp doesn't work without any input.

Anonymous said...

Good call for the most part. I'd expand upon this bit though:

"But a football fan tends to only support two teams - a city team (not necessarily the local one) and one national one. All other football teams must be considered the enemy."

...cos I don't think that's true. It's not at all uncommon to have, say, a "big" team and a "wee" team, or a Scottish team and an English team, and so on. And odd allegiances to clubs who bought your favourite player off your favourite team. And teams you like cos of the colours they wear, and would support against anyone who's not your *actual* team. And some teams you hate *so* much you'll support whoever they're playing...

Er, I know I've zeroed in on one tiny aspect of an analogy at the expense of contributing anything useful, but what else would you expect of me? Anyway, I only did it cos I think you could extend the point a bit if you chose. I mean, I only like some aspects of Star Trek (let's call it "Hibernian"), am not especially keen on Stargate ("Hearts"), find Babylon 5 and The X Files almost entirely risible ("Aberdeen" and "Rangers" respectively) but quite like Blakes 7 while being fully aware of its myriad faults ("Dundee United").

Am I talking total crap?

D x

Adaddinsane said...

Hello, just started following...

Don't get me started on SF/F is "genre" ... they aren't, they're settings (just like historical, or contemporary). Sorry, I've ranted on my blog enough about this, won't do it here.

Really looking forward to "Being Human", and I didn't see the pilot but seemingly everyone I know did and were raving about it.

0tralala said...

Niall, I like the amp analogy.

Davy, you're right: we support lots of different teams. I suppose even in a match between two teams you wouldn't normally support, you're going to pick a favourite. (Perhaps based on how the outcome of the game would effect your favoured team's placing in the league, or based on one player having once played for your side. But anyway.)

So I suppose I'm a 100% Doctor Who fan, a 50% fan of Blake's 7 and a 0% fan of B5.

Hello Aladdin - and welcome! I think sci-fi is much more than just a setting. As I've blogged before, there's a way you read sci-fi, in the same way you read detective stories looking for clues to whodunnit.