This January, SyFy will be premiering their re-imagining of Toby Whithouse’s popular BBC series Being Human. In it, Sam Witwer (Smallville, Battlestar Galactica), Meaghan Rath (The Assistants) and Sam Huntington (Cavemen, Superman Returns) star as the loveable, but supernaturally unenthusiastic characters Aidan (vampire), Josh (werewolf) and Sally (ghost) with Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Supernatural) rounding out the cast as Aidan’s minacious mentor Bishop.
Like it’s UK counter-part, Being Human will follow these three paranormally conflicted roommates as they attempt to shield the world from their metaphysical secrets, all while trying to live double-lives and assimilate themselves into a world that they feel alienated from. Unfortunately, their quest at “being human” is more difficult than any of them could have imagined.
As any purveyor of television can attest, American audiences have been victim to some of the worst, most convoluted adaptations of UK television series known to man. From the 1978 horrible interpretation of the iconic Fawlty Towers with Betty White, to the most recent abomination that dared to call itself Life on Mars. American television has become the proverbial dumping grounds for over-produced drudge that serves no other purpose than to fill time before its imminent cancelation, while sullying the name of the original series from which it sprang.
Fortunately, SyFy’s Being Human appears to be the exception to that rule. During last week’s SyFy Digital Press Tour, we were able to take a look at some clips from Being Human and talk to the show’s stars Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath, and Sam Huntington. During the panel, they discussed the pressures of remaking an already beloved series (that’s still airing on BBC America), the differences between SyFy’s version and the original BBC series and how they’re not trying re-invent the series, but to supplement it by expanding specific storylines and providing further back-story to the characters.
To be completely honest, the Being Human panel was one of the most exciting, entertaining and reassuring panels of the entire event. Upon finishing, I was left feeling that SyFy’s Being Human is not only an extremely competent adaption of a UK series, but one that may surpass the original series in the hearts and minds of fans around the globe. (This is something that I don’t say lightly, as I proudly consider myself one of the biggest anti-US-remake Anglophiles around.)
If my word alone isn’t enough to make you a believer, keep in mind that Jeremy Carver (the man behind some of Supernatural’s best episodes) will be serving as Executive Producer and writer with his wife, Anna Fricke (Men in Trees, Everwood).
Below, you’ll find highlights from the discussion and the complete 30-min video of the panel with Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington moderated by SyFy’s Executive VP of Original Programing, Mark Stein. If you have any interest Being Human or need reassurance that what I’m saying about the series is indeed true, I implore you to watch the complete panel.
On adapting a show that already has an existing fan base and the possible fan backlash:
SAM WITWER: A lot of shows that have existing fan bases have had difficult — well, not difficulty, but they’ve had a growing period, the burn-in process. For example, no one talks about anymore that when “Battlestar” came on, that there was this huge fan backlash because Starbuck was a girl and all this crap. No one really talks about that anymore. Now we just remember, “Oh, everyone loved ‘Battlestar.’” It’s like, “No. No, we didn’t. They didn’t.” So I’m fully prepared for whatever they want to throw at us. The fact of the matter is what we’re doing, I believe, having seen two episodes, is very good. I don’t think people are going to not enjoy it, but they also have absolutely the right to like the British version if they do.
SAM HUNTINGTON: I’m a fan of the British show. You know what I mean? So, like, I understand that, and I think that — I haven’t seen that much of it, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a lovely, amazing, original incredible show. So I want to say, like, “I’m with you.” Like, I love that show too. But I think ultimately what we’re doing is different and awesome.
MARK STEIN: And I think the first thing that was very important for us was we brought in British exec producer. So Rob Pursey’s involved as a consultant on the show with us and was very much involved with Anna and Jeremy in terms of what was working, what mistakes they’d made that we could avoid. Toby Whitehouse is now also involved. So it was very, very important to us that we do justice to the original because we did like it. And I think we’re very mindful — and there are definitely going to be people that are just going to have a knee-jerk reaction about why do an American version and why mess with success? And believe me, we were the first people to ask those questions.
The differences between the US version of Being Human and the original UK series:
SH: Having this — it’s one thing to create something original, and it’s another thing to try and have original ideas through something that’s already been woven. I mean, it’s tricky.
SW: Having only seen one episode, hard to say. But what we can say is that what they did in six episodes for their first season, we have 13 to go through that sort of — that storyline. So there’s a lot of things that we’re doing that they did not do. In the beginning of the first episode, I inadvertently turn a girl into a vampire. Hey, guys, you can’t blame me. She’s beautiful. But that character is a lot larger of a character and has much more influence on my character than the British version. She’s like a legitimate love interest, whereas in the British version, from what I understand, it’s not quite that way. So there’s a lot of things that where we’ll take maybe an idea that they have and expand it into entire plotlines. And of course, there are other things that go in completely different directions because they didn’t have the screen time.
SH: Yeah, my sister is a character on the show, on our show, which is not in the British series. And so that helps me, the character of Josh, kind of — it helps the audience kind of understand his journey. That actually kind of is through the entire season.
MEAGHAN RATH: And then I think for ours, in our version, we get to see a lot more of these characters’ backstories and how they became the way they are. So we have a lot more time to develop these people than the British one had.
SW: With Mark Pellegrino as Bishop, we get a lot more time with him than, say, we got with the Herrick character on the British series.
MR: And they’re introducing this new sect of vampires that wasn’t in the British one.
How Being Human is going to differentiate itself from the depictions that other films and television series have given vampires, werewolves and ghosts:
SH: I know the vampires on our show are very different than any other vampire you’ve ever seen. I think all the characters are kind of more or less — he’s a vampire, but it’s tweak because I think the theory is they’ve evolved a little bit. They’ve been around for a really long time.
SW: Also, we’re stripping away any kind of glamorous veneer from the vampire thing. It’s very bottom-feeder, uncomfortable, junky stuff… In the case of Aidan, my character, he was a very morally upright person who was corrupted by what he became because of what the Bishop character did to him, turning him into a vampire 200-odd years back, and then lived a life of — sort of in a drug haze, completely becoming kind of, for all intents and purposes, a sociopath and still maintaining a piece of his conscious inside. And then eventually that grew into something that he had to deal with, and then for the past two years, he’s been trying to stay clean, which is very difficult. And the fun about the character, I think, is he’s rediscovering his humanity.
So, you know, he’s 257 years old, so you imagine he’s seen everything, so what would a character like that be? Well, he’d be very internal, and he wouldn’t be very impressed with anything. And he wouldn’t really have — his emotions, they’d be hard to sort of get them bubbling to the surface. But the fun about it is if — if you were in kind of a drug haze for a long formative period of your life and you came out of it, the world would seem like a very, very scary place, and you would have emotional reactions in the most unexpected circumstances. So that’s the fun we have with this character is that while he is this — you know, he’s wizened and he’s seen all this stuff, at the same time, he will sometimes have panic attacks based on what he sees somewhere, or he will freak out about something because his emotions have been suppressed for, like, 200 years, and he hasn’t really been dealing with life in any kind of human way until just recently. So you have this guy who is very, very off balance. And I think in that way, we provide a character that’s kind of accessible, you know.
SH: (jokingly) And that was off the cuff. He hasn’t thought about this at all… [in terms of the werewolf], I don’t think you’ve ever seen a werewolf like this before.
MR: Also, like, that’s what makes our show different from all the other genre of vampires/werewolf/ghost shows is because, for ours, our characters aren’t necessarily embracing their supernatural powers. And it’s, like, you can take away that element of the show, and the story will still be as compelling because it’s about these people trying to retain their humanity.
MR: It’s amazing. It’s so good. It’s terrifying.
SH: Yeah, it’s really, really disturbing to watch the transformation. the wolf itself is very different than anything you’ve ever seen. Also, I think as far as what he is what the character is when he’s not a werewolf is something probably you’ve never seen. He’s introverted, and he’s just scared he’s going to do something wrong, hurt someone. And so he’s not the type of guy you could picture being a werewolf.
MR: The ghost, I mean, it’s not like she’s not running around haunting people. It’s more about her dealing with her issues with loneliness and trying to find her place in the world and coming to terms with her death. So it’s more about her journey as opposed to, like, the classic scary ghost, like a 21 poltergeist. She’s also coming to terms with her powers and what she can do and what she’s capable of, which is pretty interesting.
SW: What’s really fun about it is that all three of the characters — the genre stuff grows out of emotional metaphors that have to do with just people.
How Being Human uses practical effects and lighting tricks to maintain Sally‘s inability to interact with elements as a ghost:
SW: We’ll be shooting scenes, and we will always be mindful to not — we can’t touch her in any way. So we’ll just be kind of sitting next to each other, and our shoulders will brush. “Cut.” “What? What’s wrong?”
MR: I [also] have these things called “Sally’s hard pillows.” I don’t know if that’s the technical name. So anytime I’m sitting on a couch or lying on a bed, it’s all rigged that it’s literally cement. It’s so hard. And because Sally can’t make a dent in anything because she just floats on top of things, which is so uncomfortable.
SW: Which is great because you always have to recline in a comfortable position.
MR: Yeah, I always have to pretend, like, looking really comfortable. It’s so awkward.
SH: The best is when you don’t realize that something is Sally-ized. So you just go to sit down, and you break your tailbone.
MS: But even just talking about the very hard couch, I think it’s a very good example of — I think there’s nothing worse than watching a show where the ghost is supposed to be ephemeral — I’m, like, a logic freak about this stuff — the ghost is supposed to be ephemeral, and then people’s shadow fall on her or her shadow falls on them. It’s like, “But wait a minute. What? How come she can move that pillow if she’s supposed to be ephemeral?”
SW: You guys are watching shadows too? Wow.
MS: Oh, yes… We really are talking about shadows and — it’s all of it. And it’s stuff that hopefully is relatively invisible. It’s not meant to be belabored when you’re watching the show, but I find those things to be more present or noticeable when they are suddenly there in an unexpected way. So you may not notice — these guys didn’t even notice there are no shadows.
Being Human Panel (31:22)
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Being Human premieres January, 2011 on SyFy
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