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Show is all about 'Being Human'

Aidan Turner, left, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow are the stars of "Being Human."
Aidan Turner, left, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow are the stars of "Being Human."
Touchpaper Tv and Bbc

PASADENA, Calif. — Did you hear the one about vampire, the werewolf and the ghost who share a house in Bristol, England?

That is, believe it or not, the premise of the promising new series "Being Human," which premiered last week on BBC America.

(The premiere episode repeats Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m. on BBC America; the second episode airs Saturday at 7 and 10 p.m.)

And, while "Being Human" is not a whole lot like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," it does share one attribute — it's a very good show that's a lot smarter than you might think.

"We've been asked the question quite a bit about how we felt when we first heard it," said Lenora Crichlow, who plays the show's ghost. "And even when I explain now to people what the show is about, I see them looking like..."

"(Eyes) glaze over," interjected Aidan Turner, who plays the vampire.

And it's kind of hard to describe, except to say that it's a mix of drama, comedy and the supernatural.

"I mean, it just works," said Russell Tovey, who plays the werewolf. "It's almost the most ridiculous idea in the world. I remember getting the call, and I didn't know if it was comedy or drama or what the (heck) it was."

"Being Human" is also almost sort of accidentally a show with supernatural elements. Because that's not what it started out to be.

"The development process for this show was very circuitous and very frustrating," said executive producer Toby Whitehouse, whose writing credits include "Doctor Who," "Torchwood" and "Hotel Babylon." "It started off as a straight drama about a group of college graduates who buy a house together. ... I created the three characters, and went into a lot of detail with them — had them all sort of mapped out. But they were all completely human."

But, as it turned out, Whitehouse "had a lot of difficulty" coming up with something for the three characters to do. "I suggested rather in a kind of kamikaze fashion, saying, 'Well, we could always turn George into a werewolf,' " he said. "And then it just seemed like a natural progression to give way to characters where we were already pointing that Mitchell could become a vampire and Annie could become a ghost.

"I mean, that's a condensed version of a process that took about two years."

At the end of that process, "Being Human" remained a show about three angst-ridden twentysomethings. But George (Tovey) is a werewolf; Annie (Crichlow) is a ghost; and Mitchell (Turner) is a vampire.

And the title, "Being Human," refers to what the three character wish they were.

"They want to be human," said Turner. "(Mitchell) wants to live that life. He doesn't want to be a vampire anymore."

Which adds a level of angst. After all, how does a vampire stop biting people?

"It's comedy, drama, and there's the scariness of it because the show is steeped in reality," Crichlow said.

"It kind of makes sense because that's life, isn't it? Life is terribly dark and sad and then terribly funny. And funny stuff come out as bad stuff. And relationships that won't move on and they change. And that's the wonderful thing about the series as well."

"Oddly enough, I think we're playing real people in this as opposed to playing supernatural on this one," Turner said.

"That's why it's so interesting for us to play a vampire, to play a werewolf. And the sort of typical way, if there is one, wouldn't be as interesting as playing these real characters with real afflictions and real problems and real issues."

Whitehouse admits he's "been a sci-fi fantasy fan ever since I was a kid." But that's not what he set out to do with "Being Human."

"I think had I been hired to write a supernatural show, I don't think we would have ended up with something like this, in regards to the kind of weird synchronicity was completely by accident," he said.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com