Being Normal: the strange evolution of the TV monster

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Was anyone else delighted by the opening episode of the Beeb’s latest monster bash, In the Flesh? Feeling somewhat bereft following the ending of Being Human, it was a relief to have the void filled. I’d watched the show grow over the past five seasons, witnessed the complete annihilation of its original cast, and seen it rise up and walk away utterly unscathed. Tom and Hal, in particular, are beautifully written and beautifully performed and, really, they should be given an afterlife. I’ve got all sorts of good ideas brewing if anyone at BBC3 wants to give me a shout. Although series 5 got off to a shonky start, I was gripped by the final two episodes. And gutted at the end. Gutted that it was over. And, to be honest, kind of gutted at its manner of being over. Not that I think it was poorly done or anything, it’s just that really, honestly, who wants to be human? Other than Tom, Hal and Alex of course. The narrative tackles the discordant desires of characters and audience head on. The characters win. Which got me thinking about how Being Human shifted this genre slightly, nudged its perspective just a little, and how In the Flesh seems to have taken up this baton.

Previously, the monster was all about the big bad. Sometimes the big bad was the other, sometimes nearer to home, and yes, occasionally, it was even the self, but the self as taken over by the big bad, or constructed by the big bad. If you know what I mean. Sometimes the big bad existed amongst us, tricked us into thinking it was normal, for its nefarious plans. Sometimes the big bad had human qualities, was searching for love, redemption, peace. But these shows are radical in their quest for Normality. Ordinariness. Quiet Humanity. In these shows the big bad is kind of small and all right really, most of the time. Inner demons tend to be unleashed by the inhumanity of the world at large. Humans are as likely to be monstrous as the monsters; the monsters’ humanity exceeding that of the humans. Angel once had a storyline centered around a prophecy to return a vampire to a human state. But for these newer shows, this misses the point. Being human is a state of mind not of physicality. And being human is all about being ordinary. Ordinary jobs. Ordinary homes. Ordinary friendships. Ordinary decency. And, more importantly, being allowed to be ordinary.

And there’s something delightfully British in the construction of this ordinariness. Being Human was initially set in Bristol, on an ordinary street, which was ordinary enough, but the relocation to Honolulu Heights and Barry was inspired. And the symmetry of Hal’s backstory, holed up in Southend for fifty-five years, added to the humour. There’s an American version, I haven’t seen it but I’ve heard it’s quite good, which is set in Boston. Whatever they’ve done with the US version though, I can’t imagine it much resembling the British one beyond its having a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. Boston is not Barry. The subtlety is lost. And with it the humour.

In the Flesh has taken up the ordinary with aplomb. Roarton, a kind of fictionalised Yorkshire town, is as ordinary as it gets. Right down to the railway station. And the accents. And the family that our hero, Kieren, who exudes innocence and vulnerability, returns to, post suicide, post zombie, in his newly medicated state. These shows refuse us closed narratives of good and evil, right and wrong. Boundaries blur, distinctions fade, our own humanity is put under the microscope. This is TV for the modern age. War and guilt, the demonisation of difference, and the tyranny of moral absolutes are already emerging as themes. I look forward to seeing how this tale pans out.


Update 04.04.2013: unfortunately the tale panned out poorly. The second episode was entirely plot driven and lacked depth, nuance or character development. Despite a strong central performance, and the final episode recovering a little, this was not enough to save what could have been a great show. What a shame. 

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