By Paul Whitelaw
IF YOU’LL pardon the pun – and I’m afraid you’ll just have to – there’s a lot at stake in the fourth series of supernatural drama Being Human.
Rakish Irish vampire Mitchell, who was central to the show’s appeal, was dramatically killed off in last year’s finale, with his lycanthropic best buddy – and reluctant slayer – George (Russell Tovey) also set to depart soon. So the question is: can it survive the loss of two such popular characters?
Well, if the first two episodes are anything to go by, the major cast reshuffle may actually have given it a new lease of life. This Is England’s Michael Socha, who was introduced last year as an itinerant young werewolf with a brutal hatred of vampires, takes Mitchell’s place in the house alongside George and sweet spectre Annie, and wastes no time in encouraging them to wreak revenge upon those responsible for the murder of Nina, George’s formerly annoying girlfriend and mother to his newborn baby.
Inevitably, this plan gangs badly agley, especially when a cabal of vampires known as the Old Ones decide that a child born of two werewolves is vital to their own survival.
Meanwhile, in a neat suggestion that an alternate series of Being Human has been unfolding off-screen, we’re introduced to another set of pan-ghoulie housemates, namely an elderly West Indian werewolf, a glamorous 1950s ghost reminiscent of a young Elsie Tanner, and an intense yet sensitive vampire called Hal. Yes, I know, intense yet sensitive vampires are the most hackneyed archetypes in all of modern fiction, but this one is buoyed by a nice line in dry sarcasm and a suave performance from newcomer Damien Molony.
It would spoil the fun to explain how this “supernatural trinity” fits into a storyline which also encompasses flash-forwards to 2037 (bear with me here) revealing that the human race has fallen victim to a vampire apocalypse. But despite having to lay so much groundwork, series creator Toby Whithouse doesn’t appear to have been cowed by the challenge. Instead, he’s seemingly succeeded in broadening its scope and rebooting the established character dynamic, but without altering the series beyond recognition.
And if it means we’re to be spared further histrionics from the increasingly hammy Tovey – who’s never met a piece of scenery he couldn’t masticate – then, if anything, this generally entertaining series may actually have improved.
I love a spoof documentary, me. Not, you understand, of the nonsensical Life’s Too Short variety, but rather those spot-on parodies of pop culture epochs such as Eric Idle’s magnificent Beatles spoof, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, and Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s criminally underrated Smashie and Nicey: End of an Era.
As well as being packed with exquisite gags, those mock-docs worked so beautifully because of their loving attention to detail, proving that the very best parodies are made by those who know their subject inside out. And while Peter Capaldi’s the cricklewood greats doesn’t quite reach such giddy heights, it certainly delivers in terms of affectionate irreverence and the care with which it’s made.
Charting the wavering fortunes of a fictional British film studio – think Ealing by way of Hammer, and all stops in between – it functions not only as an impressively realised parody of the average BBC 4 entertainment documentary, but also of those insight-free films in which a celebrity hijacks an interesting subject in pursuit of their own meaningless “personal journey.”
Written in conjunction with his The Thick Of It cohort Tony Roche – who also penned BBC 4’s splendid Python biopic, Holy Flying Circus – Capaldi directs and also stars as himself, paying overly-reverential tribute to the ghosts of the Cricklewood dream factory, including thinly disguised versions of Gracie Fields, Peter Cushing and Kenneth Williams (the acutely observed pastiches of his withering diary entries are a particular highlight).
No “tears behind the laughter” cliché is left unturned in this modest treat for connoisseurs of archive film and television, which, although merely amusing rather than hilarious, is still witty and charming and thoroughly commendable.
Fans of understated comedy will also be delighted by the return of roger & val have just got in, in which Alfred Molina and Dawn French trade tender blows as a childless middle-aged couple dealing with the minutiae and enormity of everyday existence.
As before, each slow-burning episode consists of a digressive exchange between the pair as they rattle around their careworn house, with the viewer cast as a silent eavesdropper gradually assembling the details of their unseen outside lives.
And though I’m loath to describe it as a gentle comedy – so often a pejorative euphemism – it really is apt in this case. Humour and pathos arise naturally from the comfortable eccentricities of its endearing protagonists, whose unwavering love and support of each other makes for a refreshing change from the usual antagonism of sitcom marriages.
And yet despite that, there’s nothing cosy about Roger & Val..., as an underlying sense of impending tragedy is never far from the surface. Indeed, in its own quiet way, it’s one of the most ambitious comedies on TV, almost like the anti-Mrs Brown’s Boys.
And that can only be a good thing.
• BEING HUMAN
Tomorrow, BBC 3, 9pm
• THE CRICKLEWOOD GREATS
Tomorrow, BBC 4, 9pm
• ROGER & VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN
Wednesday, BBC2, 10pm
Small screen movies
Friday, ITV3, 11:05pm
Seminal 1960 shocker from Alfred Hitchcock about a woman on the run who gets more than she bargained for when she stops at a remote motel owned by a shy young man and his overbearing housebound mother.
Today, Channel 4, 12:20am
Released in 1968, this Lindsay Anderson-directed avant-garde satire of the British public school system – and by extension, society at large – is one of the era’s key countercultural films. Malcolm McDowell excels in his debut screen role.
ABOUT A BOY
Tuesday, ITV2, 8pm
Charming 2002 adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel about a selfish thirty-something (Hugh Grant) reluctantly thawed by his unlikely friendship with a bullied little boy, played by
THIS IS SPINAL TAP
Monday, ITV4, 9pm
Arguably the unsurpassed king of the mock-documentary, this classic semi-improvised comedy chronicles the ailing fortunes of an absurd – yet no more so than the real thing – British heavy metal band on a last-ditch tour of the US. The painful rituals of overblown arena rock and the dullard pretensions of its purveyors are skewered mercilessly, and yet an underlying affection for its hapless characters stops it from being too cruel. A hugely influential masterpiece.