Being Human – Mini Review

// 11 April 2009

I have tried to avoid major spoilers in this post, but feel free to let rip in the comments.

I recently finished watching Being Human, BBC Three’s drama about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost in a flat share, trying to mingle with humanity.

annie_about.jpg

I enjoyed the series a lot, but was slightly disappointed with the writers handling of the main female character, Annie, who plays the ghost. Whilst the character is lovely, sweet, and well-performed by Lenora Critchlow, as the series went on I noticed:

– Annie spends most of the time in the house, doing housework and making tea whilst the two male characters go out and about in the world.

– Her whole existence and plotline revolved around her pining, obsessing and reacting to a man, her fiance.

– The two male characters, the vampire and werewolf, were both portrayed as extremely edgy, exciting, and dangerous. Annie is definitely not dangerous, and only gets to use her special ‘powers’ in one short sequence right at the end.

– Whilst the vampire and werewolf get cool special effects as their characters demonstrate their non-humanness, Annie doesn’t. I was hoping she would get some scary ghostly changing sequence, but she didn’t. The only thing that changed about her was her outfit got slightly adjusted.

– When she gets her revenge on another character, its with the help of her two male friends standing threateningly behind her, and by whispering something. I found it a disappointing anti-climax. I wanted her to become powerful, to sort it out herself, to blast the person across the room or something, but…. nope.

Also, I’m sure the point has been made a million times before, but it’s interesting isn’t it, how werewolves are usually portrayed as male. The two main things about being a werewolf, which Being Human also emphasised, were monthly changing in reaction to the moon, and the intense physical nature of the change, with bones realining themselves and suffering agonising pain. Obviously the nearest things in the human experience to those are menstruation and childbirth.

What did you all think?

Comments From You

The Boggart // Posted 11 April 2009 at 1:07 pm

I think that there is a very simple reason that TV werewolves are predominantly portrayed as male. Admittedly I haven’t watched a lot of the genre, but “transformation scenes” involve nakedness, which is often implied by focusing on the top half of the body. Additionally, if there is an “aftermath” scene where the character becomes human again, they are without their clothes.

Funny how we are comfortable with showing all the bloody violence wrecked by werewolves, but turn into squeamish puritans the moment we consider showing women’s breasts in anything other than a provocative, sexual context.

Jean // Posted 11 April 2009 at 2:34 pm

There is actually a horror film called ‘Ginger Snaps’ in which the main (female) character turns into a werewolf. Her transformation coincides with the start of puberty and menstruation so the whole werewolf myth becomes a metaphor for the change in her personality.

It’s a pretty excellent film.

Jules // Posted 11 April 2009 at 3:51 pm

*Spoilers – loads of ’em*

I have to disagree here, I also really didn’t like Annie’s character in the first couple of episodes, finding her much to submissive and domestic, but I thought it was really clever the way that this was revealed throughout the series to be as a result of the domestic abuse she’d suffered. I saw the main focus of the series as being Annie’s development as a character, from pining after an abusive man to realising how much had been wrong with the relationship, to eventually becoming an autonomous person making her own decisions, for example to reject death and stay to look after her friends. And she was pretty much the one who saved the day in the final episode.

I also wouldn’t really describe George’s character as exciting and dangerous – he seemed the wimpiest of the lot of them! And it looks like Nina’s going to be a female werewolf in the next series

Jane // Posted 11 April 2009 at 4:16 pm

I am not sure the writers were being lax in portraying Annie that way. The whole point of her character’s arc was that her initial position, subsumed by her partner, was proven to be both negative and detrimental to her as a person. The growth and emergence of her powers is a direct result of her rediscovering her worth and independence. Although Mitchel and George are there to witness her show-down with the person who had robbed her of her independence, it is the power of her words and her superior knowledge which ultimately serve as the tool of her revenge. I think this was preferable to her telekenesis being the weapon as that would have reduced the relationship to a tit-for-tat exchange of violence. It also carries the stigma of being associated with uncontrolled emotion and victim-hood ala Carrie. I felt the scene was supposed to imply that Annie was firmly in control of her “life” again.

I think the next series (does a little dance when she thinks of it) will be the one to judge the writers on. They now have Annie established as a winner; an independent woman who knows her capabilities and strengths and, from what I have seen of Toby Whitehouse’s other work, I don’t think he will disappoint. He has also placed himself ready to answer your other point too which will make for some interesting viewing.

David Abstract // Posted 11 April 2009 at 6:21 pm

I’d like to second Jean’s recommendation of ‘Ginger Snaps’ and also to mention an issue of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, in which a frustrated American housewife turns into a werewolf and takes revenge on her exploitative and sexist husband.

As far as Being Human goes – well, yes.

There should be more female vampires and werewolves – but then again there should be more lead female characters on TV in general.

Mephit // Posted 11 April 2009 at 6:28 pm

Isn’t Annie’s initial restriction to the home due to being a ghost? I think she can leave later in the series, but (as far as I understood the lore of the series) she always seemed to require a connection in someone she knows to do that.

Because she had been a victim of domestic abuse and her partner had eventually killed her, I think that it fits that it took her a while to gain confidence to fight back. Although I see your point about being uncomfortable that it’s only through the support of her male friends she gets there.

I’m hopeful that the second series will have her taking a more active role, and there is of course the potential for Nina to become a werewolf.

Debi Linton // Posted 11 April 2009 at 7:42 pm

I also found Annie’s storyline a very sensitive and believable portrayal of a woman coming out of an abusive relationship, and I was actually touched by how little the boys actually did in helping her; providing moral support only.

As for male werewolves – frankly I’m surprised. I’ve been a werewolf fan for a while, and a lot of my favourite stories (Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps, Blood and Chocolate, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld) feature female werewolves. I’d say the split was about even.

Amy2 // Posted 12 April 2009 at 3:21 am

I think the problem with any female super hero, it has to be done in either a sexified way (as with Buffy and in Ginger Snaps), or in a second- fiddle- to- the- men way. An intelligent, superpowered girl is rarely a lead; and if she is, she’s male gaze material. All boils down to what any kind of TV fantasy presents – the male perspective.

To add another suggestion – Buffy had a female werewolf who kicked Oz’s butt. But whereas he was able to control himself, she couldn’t. She had a great line when Oz asks why she’s eating a plate full of burger and fries – ‘I hate girls who are all, does it have dressing on it?’ Win there :D

Katrina // Posted 12 April 2009 at 9:54 am

Don’t Annie’s visibility and other abilities wax and wane according to her self esteem?

As Jane noted, Annie has to face reality and get over her blind devotion to her fiance as the series goes along, and she becomes a different person.

I love the way she gets to be girly and fragile and indoorsy and still an important character with plenty of lines.

The way she and George are similar and often react badly to each other is brilliant. So like real life and so unlike most scriptwriting.

Charlie // Posted 12 April 2009 at 3:13 pm

On a slight aside, you really could view Buffy as a very feminist programme – particularly how it ends at the end of series 7. There is quite a theme running throughout all the seasons regarding Buffy’s anger that she is ‘the chosen one’. The male elders (I think, if I remember correctly) originally created ‘the slayer’ almost as a punishment for women. The fact that all the potentials became slayers was a kick in the teeth to the patriarchy, in a sense, as it resulted in loads of strong women fighters; reducing the ‘other’-ness of the concept of a strong women. The more slayers there are the less difficult it is for each girl. If that makes sense…

Amy2 // Posted 12 April 2009 at 9:20 pm

Charlie never thought of it that way, taking away the ‘otherness’ and abnormality of a strong woman..

I mean in the comics, it’s clear the whole ‘make an army of super women’ is done with feminist intentions. But then I’m sceptical ‘cos for every feminist line or theme in the comics, there’s double the amount of sexist male- gaze inuendos. I think that’s a big problem for writing that seems to be female empowering. There’s often a sexist backdrop. Buffy is powerful and strong, sassy and independent – but also a sex object. An army of slayers is surreal, but when told from a male fantasy perspective it seems it’s only been allowed within the limits of sexiness. The amount of times I’ve heard ‘nubile’ in the buffy comics and series; I get the sense I’m with the pervy uncle types!

Saranga // Posted 15 April 2009 at 12:13 pm

Going slightly off topic, if I may..

@Amy2: “An intelligent, superpowered girl is rarely a lead; and if she is, she’s male gaze material.”

True enough. I figure you are talking mostly about TV here and I agree with your statement but I’d like to add that there are (some) non sexualised female superheroes out there. For example, the Runaways comics have awesome women in them, the Huntress Year 1 mini was not sexualised at all (and a fantastic story), and the Promethea books don’t sexualise the lead. Some of the recent Supergirl issues don’t sexualise her (i’m thinking of the Reanto Guedes ones, not the Michael Turner ones). Manhunter wasn’t remotely cheesecakey (but then it got cancelled..but will appear as a backup story)

But as always, I’m somewhat depressed that there aren’t more decent comics out there and that all 99% of female sueprheroes have to have teh sexy injected into them.

David // Posted 14 June 2009 at 8:29 pm

How on earth somebody managed to be offended by the fact Annie’s character was female is beyond me entirely. Does the writer of this reveiw sit in front of the television waiting for things to be offended by?

If the character of Annie had been male (obviously with a different name), it still wouldn’t have been out out of place for a newly dead person to be pining for the people they left behind in a world they can no longer touch or be perceived by. The fact she was female was possibly due to the fact the writers wanted the two shape-changers to be male so that they could bond in a non-sexual way, but also wanted a female input and influence within the group. Or perhaps there was some other reason; either way, it’s nothing to take offence at.

Personally, I don’t think this series could have been made any better by heeding the advice contained in this review. I believe that this was a perfectly formed to the point whereby any change risked being a change for the worst. Other productions in which the ‘hero’ is female, such as the film Underworld, would also have suffered adversley from a change in gender of the lead role. In this film, the role played by Late Bekinsale needed to be female – it would have lost something by changing it to male. The same goes for Being Human – it works perfectly well the way it is.

And whilst I’m sure childbirth is very painful indeed, since when has menstruation involved, or even been close to the pain realised by, the re-alignment of bone formations within the body??? I’m pretty sure I’d rather menstruate (or give birth, for that matter) than have my spinal column, shoulders, legs, arms and skull broken down and reformed without any form of anaesthesia. I’m pretty sure the nearest thing to this in human experience is actually having bones broken and realigned.

I hope there is some actual thought put into the next review on here. I also hope this isn’t perceived as anti-feminist – it isn’t. It’s anti-whining for the sake of it.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 30 June 2009 at 4:05 pm

You nearly made a full bingo set of classic anti-feminist techniques, congratulations!

Ok, here goes, I’ll try to be brief (rolls up sleeves).

I didn’t say I was offended, I said I was “slightly disappointed”. Gosh, how terrible of me. Is that ok with you or am I not allowed to think that and express it?

I actually said I enjoyed the series a lot. I certainly don’t sit “waiting for things to be offended by”. This just means that you think I’m not allowed to have an opinion on popular culture. I just don’t passively accept everything I watch without criticism because I have a brain and engage with, and like to discuss, programmes that I enjoy watching. Dear me, how *strident* of me.

I knew someone would say ‘but she’s a ghost, that’s her character’. That isn’t the issue. The issue I was pondering is the fact that the writers chose to make that particular character. with those particular character traits and plotline, female rather than male. Other commenters here made good points about why they thought it was a good portrayal. It’s called *having a discussion*.

Why couldn’t two female characters bond “in a non-sexual way”?

I compared the werewolf myth to menstruation because it’s a monthly physical change that the female body (generally) endures. I would have thought that’d be pretty bloody (ha!) obvious.

When you start trying to argue that fictional male werewolves suffer a worse time than women undergoing childbirth in THE REAL WORLD, then you really need to get a grip on reality.

And when you accuse a woman expressing an opinion of “whining”, that pretty much makes you anti-feminist.

HTH, TTFN! Please don’t bother to reply.

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