It does not happen very often, except perhaps with Police Drama’s: two TV shows manage to come up with virtually the same concept independently, and both execute it with a fair degree of innovation and quality.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock (or living in Australia) you will know about True Blood, the R rated TV Series currently airing in the US on HBO. Its premise is that Vampires have ‘come out’, and while society is dealing with the new and dangerous cultural aspects of it, political forces on both sides are trying to take advantage of the perceived power vacuums.
It is all set in a sleepy Louisiana town that manages to lose a few people each week, yet still seems to attract newcomers. No warning at the city limits that the death rate in the town has skyrocketed recently to ten times the national average. Well, you do have to put aside a fair bit of unbelief to watch any fantasy/fiction show. The main characters live or work around the town or at the local bar. Though the vampire would be the logical choice to work in the bar, he doesn’t.
Only UK viewers may be familiar with Being Human. It follows the story of three housemates, a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost living in the city of Bristol, UK. While vampires are still undercover, the political scene is shifting rapidly towards vampocalypse. The housemates deal with their various curses with intelligence, wit and a fair amount of girlish screaming. Two of the housemates work at the local hospital, while the ghost stays home and makes tea.
The two shows started with the same idea of un-dead creatures living amongst modern humans but approached it very differently. True Blood is very Hollywood, with great special effects and a huge budget, but substantially missed the boat as far as deeper concepts go. Its exploration of the complexities unearthed by the existence of the un-dead is superficial and very TV-soap. Still, it has managed to come up with an interesting addition to the canon with a drug-like scene for Vampire Blood. If American Gothic had not blazed the trail, it would have been truly ground breaking. I find the acting to be good and the characters interesting, but the depth is just not there. It makes me wince every time Bill Compton says ‘Sookie’ in his gravely southern drawl.
Being Human has effects that make Michael Jackson’s thriller look advanced, and did I mention the girlish screaming? However, its protagonists and villains are not your typical Hollywood plastic people, and they do delve deeper into the moral quandaries posed by the un-dead. It is also unafraid to point some humour at the whole thing, where the American show is very flat in this respect. It is the obvious intelligence behind Being Human that makes it very watchable. The acting is pretty good from all three of the main characters, and if any place is full of small dark back alleys it’s England. I like that a powerful being like a werewolf can also be very fragile and scared.
Both shows have great soundtracks. While the British show gets some British indie tunes to complement the odd bit of moody Johnny Cash, the American show stays with its haunting theme music and occasional southern R&B.
When you think about Vampires and Werewolves from a predator and prey perspective, you realise that if such things did exist they would quickly over-populate and exhaust the food supply – us. Both shows try and mitigate this by having harder and more complex methods to create their brethren. Personally, I still think it would be a problem, and Being Human has a more realistic take on this: the Vampires are actually planning to do it. As silly as the ultimate aim might be, such things are mirrored in real life — look at what we are doing to the planet that sustains us. Sometimes things are too big to relate to our lives.
The other thing obviously is sustenance. Fair enough you drink blood to live, but how much and how often? The main star of Being-Human can seemingly do without and happily ingests the odd pint or two (of beer) instead. Actually the Vampire in Being Human is not very Vampirish; he goes out in the day, and though he often sleeps in (well he is on the night shift), his Vampire mates are affected by the symbol of David (does any religious symbol work?). But if he isn’t biting people, there is not much to go on apart from the occasional black eyes. In True Blood Vampires can exist on replacement blood in a bottle, but hospital blood is no good in Being Human. The True Blood Vampires are much more traditional, being almost comatose during the day but existing on a high tech blood substitute; it’s perplexing.
Actually when I say traditional I mean early 19th century, because before that Vampires were bloated, ruddy creature with no fangs and could probably have been mistaken for zombies.
It is hard to pick a winner, as they both provide great entertainment. My snooty side wants to pick the British show, while my baser side wants to pick the American one. I am going to go with the British show for its intelligence, but I really think the perfect show lies somewhere in between.