Being Predictable

This is not meant to be a critical post.  It will probably come across that way, but I just wanted to be clear on that.  I’m merely thinking aloud (or is that typing aloud?) some thoughts I had while watching Syfy’s new show Being Human.

Being Human is not a bad show.  It’s well acted.  The writing is decent.  The dialogue is believable.  The FX are good.  Unlike Sanctuary, which always comes across to me as something you could see on Youtube, except better and more interesting, Being Human comes across as a competent, well-made television show.  To criticize it on any particular level of quality is difficult because there’s nothing wrong here.

But it’s just so damned generic.

Maybe it’s just me.  Possibly a hazard of being a novelologist is that I write stories, and I think about stories.  I analyze them, break them down, see how they fit together, try to make them fit together in new and interesting ways.  Perhaps, just as real police find most cop shows ridiculous or real doctors find medical shows absurd, a writer of fiction loses his ability to just enjoy something at a basic level.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s something simpler.  As Futurama once put it, “People don’t like clever and original.”

See?  That came across as critical.  For the record, Being Human is clever.  It is sharply written.  It’s not very original, but originality is overrated anyway.  Nothing is really original.  Everything’s been done and done again about a thousand times over.  Everything I’ve ever written is just a variation of something someone else has already done (and quite probably done better).

It’s not a question of originality.  Or cleverness.  But absolute and complete predictability.  Having watched a few episodes of Being Human, I have yet to be surprised by any of it.  Not even a little bit.  It’s not that I expect to be blown away by the show, but after watching the first episode, I could tell you practically everything that happens in the show thus far.  Heck, just giving me the premise and the title tells me everything I need to know.  None of that matters.  Yet at the same time, the show bores me because there’s really nothing new or original about it.  Not even an attempt at new or original.

Of course, the werewolf is a poor schlub who is harmless and almost geekish in his human form.

Of course, the vampire is incredibly handsome and struggling to overcome his primal lust for blood.

Of course, vampires have a secret society that lurks hidden below the surface of the mortal world, manipulating and conspiring.

Of course, the werewolf nearly kills his sister when she tries to help him.

Of course, werewolves and vampires don’t like each other.

Of course, the vampire’s old sire shows up to tempt him to the dark side.

And, of course, vampires love to have sex covered in blood.

And there it goes again.  I don’t want to sound insulting because without a doubt people work hard on this show.  This doesn’t come across as a show that just got thrown together.  It doesn’t seem phoned in.  It seems like people really care about making the show.  All the ideas above are staples because they work and make sense.

The reason I don’t want to sound critical is because I’m not sure the audience wants anything different.  People who like vampires, for example, seem to really enjoy the handsome, tortured, struggling monster archetype.  And a werewolf that’s comfortable with who he is and has learned to deal with his problem makes conflict difficult.  If the vampire had a way of handling his cravings for blood, you’d have to find conflict elsewhere, and then why are we watching a vampire show in the first place?

I don’t know.  It’s not that I want everything in the show to be original.  Or much of anything.  But it’d be nice to have one or two underused touches.  Wouldn’t it be cool to see vampires having a support group who tries to help them deal with their bloodlust?  Or maybe the werewolf could actually like the perks that came with being one (minus the huge inconvenience of being a menace once a month).  What if werewolves secretly ran the world and vampires were the outcasts, the down and out?  What if supernatural creatures of all types got along fairly well in the world?  There are loads of possiblities, but none of these will be explored.  Because they aren’t the possibilities Being Human wants to explore.  And as much as it might bore me, the show is probably right to not try anything very radical.  The audience doesn’t tune in for that sort of thing.  Any more than anyone wants to watch a cop show about paperwork or a doctor show about changing bedpans.  There’s no appeal, no demand.

In Gil’s All Fright Diner, I wanted to make my monsters very human.  Duke doesn’t kill anyone by accident.  Earl’s craving for blood isn’t really any stronger than our desire to eat.  Neither is cool.  They’re just a couple of normal guys.  But I had that luxury because I was writing a story with ghouls, zombies, and monster gods to spice up the conflict.  Without that, a story of just Duke and Earl sitting around talking probably wouldn’t be very interesting.

Being Human isn’t an adventure show.  It’s not about grand adventures.  It has to find its conflict somewhere.  So having the characters being conflicted by their natures is not only necessary, it’s the entire premise of the show.  And judged by that necessity, it’s a good show.  It’s probably better than anything Syfy has had in a while with sharper writing and characterization than its other generic shows.

Still, it would’ve been nice if it had taken one or two chances, changed a few things up.  Nothing groundshaking.  Nothing too radical.  Just something to say that this contemporary supernatural universe is at least a little bit different than all the others.  But perhaps that’s too risky for television, and perhaps they’re right that the audience doesn’t want those kind of challenges.  They want a well-produced show and the rest is irrelevant.

It makes me glad I write novels.  There’s a certain pressure there, too, but it’s less.  I have more options, and it’s unfair to expect television or movies, which are harder to produce and make profitable than books, to take the esme kind of risks.

Oh, and about the ghost.  I didn’t really comment on her because she’s not very original either, but there haven’t been a lot of TV shows with ghost protagonists.  So even if her storyline is fairly standard, it at least feels like something I haven’t seen a million times before from this perspective at least.

Beting Human is a good show.  If you like vamps or werewolves, I’m sure you’ll probably like it.  As for me, I won’t be watching.  Unless they add a giant robot to the cast.  That’d be awesome.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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9 Comments

  1. Posted February 15, 2011 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    When I saw this blog post, I had to laugh out loud. The day the US version of Being Human premiered, a friend of mine made a big deal of pointing it out to me. She gave me the logline of the show, and suggested I might like it. I told her she was correct, I did like that story. Only I liked it a whole lot more the first time, when it was called “Gil’s All Fright Diner.” I ended up watching the first episode anyway. Call me a sycophantic book loving fan, but I’ll stick with the book, too.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted February 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Just for the record, I don’t believe Being Human is based on anything I wrote. I am not the first to team up supernatural creatures. Nor are any of the characters anything like the characters in GIL’S, with the possible exception of the ghost. But even Cathy is less of a sadsack. The setting is urban, not rural. And so on.

      While I might accuse the show of being uninteresting, I would never accuse it of plagerism, a charge that gets thrown around way too casually.

      • Posted February 20, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

        I must apologize! I did not mean to suggest any accusations of plagerism were being made. As you said, the werewolf – vampire combo is certainly not a new. You can go to the fantasy section of any bookstore and find an endless supply. However, it’s hard to get interested in a new show/movie/book when you’ve already seen other authors or filmmakers cover similar ground and make far more interesting artistic decisions with the material.

  2. Nolly
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Of course it’s not original; it’s adapted from a BBC show. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes of the BBC version and haven’t watched the US version yet, but it sounds like both the vampire and especially the werewolf are somewhat less stereotypical in the UK version,

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted February 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen a few episodes of the BBC show and wasn’t terribly impressed with it either. But again, I’m not sure there’s a way to do a show like this other than the way they’re doing it. Just because it doesn’t appeal to me doesn’t mean it’s a bad show. Just not one I planon watching.

      • Nolly
        Posted February 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        Well, to be fair, if the BBC version had really grabbed me, I would’ve seen more than a couple of episodes of it by now. I haven’t given up on it quite yet, but I did prefer the casting in the pilot to that in the actual show.

  3. Posted February 18, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Well wudya know!
    I saw the show
    got hooked
    Was ignorant of the Beeb’s version
    Enjoyed it in direct opposition to
    Twilight, First Blood, Moonlight, etc. etc.
    and wanted something.
    Like Christopher Moore’s vampire books
    Went digging and digging
    BINGO! A. Lee Martinez
    Started reading Monster yesterday
    Am now hooked.
    Google your name,
    BINGO blog entry on what I’ve been thinking about.
    Neat serendipitydoodah!
    Keep up the good work!
    specifically

  4. Seamus
    Posted February 18, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Happenstance, serendipity-doo-dah and the vagaries
    of Google logarithms have brought me here.
    I watched Being Human as wolfs bane for
    Twilight, Moonlighting, First Blood, et. al.
    and it reminded me of how I enjoyed
    Christopher Moore’s vampire series.
    and that sent me off searching for a
    reader’s advisory that wound up
    with me getting a copy of Monster
    which I just cracked open last night.
    Enjoying that and looking forward
    to reading the rest of your oeuvre.

    Wasn’t aware of The Beeb’s original
    version of the show atal.
    Have to agree with you in general about
    the show, but prefer it immensely to the
    alternatives, i.e. nothing at all or worse
    more of the same soap operatic teen Sturm und Drang.
    Kind of funny where we’ve gotten from
    Dark Shadows and Anne Rice to Buffy
    and thence here…

  5. Posted February 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    pardon the redundant redundancy
    Pic which e’re you deem suitable
    (if any)
    and discard the other

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