Daniel Martin looks at how online fans rescued BBC3's Being Human

A web petition managed to save this excellent supernatural-flatshare comedy – but do the fans have too much power?

The strange case of Being Human raises all kinds of questions about how much influence the public should have in determining what goes on to our screens. Now, halfway through the first run of the supernatural flatshare series, it's the right time (of the night) to have a think about what the fans and the Beeb got wrong and what they got right.

Flashback to last year, and the Lily Allen-themed rebrand of BBC3 heralded a series of drama pilots, one or more of which would be picked up for series. There was no public vote to speak of, and the first, Jamie Hewlett's ridiculous Phoo Action had already been green-lighted.

Next up was Being Human, apparently the result of a desire to combine the BBC's desire for a modern answer to This Life with the latter-day craze for high supernatural concepts. That may sound cynical, but in fact, Being Human worked.

The characters were three twentysomething flatmates with very different problems. Russell Tovey played neurotic geek George, whose "time of the month" saw him turn into a bloodthirsty werewolf, mirroring a human struggle with anger management. In the real world, Guy Flanagan's louche Mitchell would have been an alcoholic – a disorder that squares neatly with what he ended up being: a vampire with a conscience, trying to wean himself off the blood.

Their attempts at being human saw them banding together to rent a house and try to blend in. So they found an enviable property in Bristol that, miraculously, had not been snapped up. The reason? Tenants had been scared off by the meddling of Andrea Riseborough's Annie, who had died in the house a year before, but couldn't bring herself to move on to the next life. The result was that Annie had become an agoraphobe. George and Mitchell, being supernatural creatures themselves, could see her, and agreed to let her stay so they could all help each other manage their conditions. Alin all: a flatshare comedy with added blood and guts. Perfect.

Sci-fi and horror fans went wild, but the BBC weren't sure. They stuck with Phoo Action. But then a journalist from the Reading Chronicle set up an online petition to get a series commission. It's seems unlikely that the 4,000 people who signed it were enough to swing the decision, but the fuss and publicity generated worldwide interest (not least from certain gay websites who wanted to see more of Tovey's naked transformation scenes). Phoo Action was mercifully dropped, and Being Human was commissioned.

But with a few tweaks. Although all three leads were under 30, bosses were still not sure it fitted with the BBC3 demographic. Flanagan and Riseborough were out, replaced with the younger and more glamorous Aidan Turner and Lenora Crichlow in the same roles. And so the messageboards went wild again, with the same cries that greeted the news of Matt Smith's casting as the next Doctor: "They're turning it into Hollyoaks!"

To my mind, BBC3 made the right decision. Nothing against those actors, but their earlier versions of the characters were too close to caricature. The original Mitchell was too stylised – too vampiric, even. Turner plays him perfectly as a bohemian with hidden depths, an old man in a young body.

I was less sure at first about the new Annie, who went from being a smart-talking Tyneside kook to a more standard version of the female leading lady. But that's to insult Crichlow (who was impressive in Sugar Rush). Riseborough's version was played too much for laughs, and as Being Human has gone on, we've realised it isn't a comedy at all.

I love Being Human, and not just because it effortlessly smites ITV's Demons. As a twentysomething male sharing a house with a man and a woman, I can identify with every situation except the rampant bloodlust (and actually, sometimes even that).

You can still catch the first three episodes on iPlayer here. The BBC claims you don't need to see the pilot, but really you do, to understand properly what's going on. It's all over YouTube, so you can judge for yourself.

Daniel Martin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
BBC3's Being Human to return for second series

BBC3 drama will return for eight-part series next year thanks to strong TV ratings. By Leigh Holmwood

Leigh Holmwood

26, Feb, 2009 @7:25 AM

Article image
BBC3 commissions superhuman drama from the makers of Being Human
Tatou is the first drama in the pipeline since plans were announced to move the channel online. By Mark Sweney

Mark Sweney

03, Jul, 2014 @12:00 PM

Article image
Being Human: will fresh blood bring new bite to Honolulu Heights?

Daniel Martin: Hal, Annie and Tom are ready to vamp it up as BBC3's supernatural comedy drama returns for a fourth series

Dan Martin

03, Feb, 2012 @11:02 AM

Article image
Being Human: was the BBC right to kill it off?
Dan Martin: The supernatural flatshare drama comes to an end on Sunday. But the cast was excellent, the storylines strong and the ratings respectable. So why is BBC3 dropping it?

Dan Martin

08, Mar, 2013 @1:02 PM

Article image
BBC3's Tatau: a drama as twisted as the fortunes of its channel
With its compellingly weird plot, Tatau is set to be another cult hit for BBC3 – but will the corporation continue to back quality drama from the channel?

Dan Martin

13, Apr, 2015 @3:58 PM

Article image
Being Human axed by BBC
Supernatural drama that featured stars including Russell Tovey, Aidan Turner and Mark Gatiss will not return after season five. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

07, Feb, 2013 @10:47 AM

Article image
Being Human: five reasons why BBC3's drama is essential viewing

Daniel Martin: It may feature a vampire, but the BBC drama is much more than a British version of True Blood

Daniel Martin

08, Jan, 2010 @11:55 AM

Article image
Being Human: Series three, episode one

Dan Martin's series blog: The BBC3 supernatural drama returns with dogging, a vampire fightclub and Robson Green

Dan Martin

23, Jan, 2011 @10:34 PM

Article image
Can BBC3 find its new Being Human?

Rebecca Nicholson: It's pilot season on BBC3, but will we fall in love with Pulse, Stanley Park or Dappers in the same way as we did with a drama about a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost?

Rebecca Nicholson

08, Jun, 2010 @11:56 AM

Article image
Being Human: series three, episode five

Daniel Martin: After last week's slayer-fest, there's a timeless Pinteresque intensity to an episode that's like a closed-set teleplay

Daniel Martin

20, Feb, 2011 @10:05 PM