evilhippo: hippo (125 [herp derp])
([personal profile] evilhippo Jan. 19th, 2011 10:41 pm)
Compare! Contrast! Two of my favorite things!

I should be cleaning my apartment but because of whatever vague neuroses actually dictate my day-to-day life, I've instead spent the evening watching The Cape and (the American version of) Being Human. (While you're all rolling your eyes, I would most definitely like to point out that I did stop watching Glee, so at least there's that.)

So, after devoting my evening to campy sci-fi and pseudo sci-fi shows, I am now consumed with the urge to snark about at least one of them figure out why one of them works and one doesn't!

Actually, first of all I'd like to express my recent confusion regarding Being Human. I'd heard of it before from a few people around the internets, and I figured it was already a season or two in. It has also been promoted ceaselessly on billboards/buses/etc. in Chicago, to the point that I was pretty sure I'd internalized its basic premise. So it wasn't all that strange to me when I found myself explaining it and some of the basic plot arcs to people at work over lunch. Then I got home and discovered that people hadn't been giving me weird looks because I'd just revealed some kind of secret penchant for vampire/werewolf/etc. fiction, but because I'd outlined the plot of a show that, for normal Chicagoans, didn't even exist yet.

Ladies and gentlemen, once again I not only fail to separate the internet from real life, but also my imaginary television-hungry British alter-ego from the me that actually exists, here in the US. (British!me's boss probably worships David Brent and all her friends probably compare her to Dawn, but that's okay because she gets Martin Freeman and she doesn't have to worry about the midwestern nasal "a" slowly creeping in to her dialect. She's probably in Dublin worrying about their nasty "r".)

Anyway! Let's get back to alter-egos here. Because the point of this is mostly figuring out why The Cape doesn't work for me at all. I love superhero fiction, I love darkish realistic fiction. But... all right, I'll admit I'm not really someone who has the background to throw around terms like "silver age ethos"... But here's the problem I have: it's a story that adheres to the tropes of vintage Golden/Silver Age super hero comics but is set in a gritty modern setting. It's moralistic, but its villains are so underdeveloped they're not even straw men. (Ark Corporation is... evil corporate America, I guess? I mean, does that even count as villainous anymore?) I'm sure it's still finding its stride, but right now for something that seems to be striving for some kind of alternate-realism, it's lacking any kind of connection, but it's still very shy about diving in the deep end with the real superhero stuff.

Also, just let me state now for the record that the idea of reading a comic book aloud to a kid is just weird, especially filling in narration that isn't there on the page. (Vince Faraday: Improv Podficcer and Harcore Cosplayer.) Okay, actually, the in-universe comic book stuff wouldn't be so bad if you ever got more than a half-nod that the writers are aware that it's... well... bad. There's a bit of potential in the interaction between Vince and his son, but overall I think the writers have no idea what they're doing. It doesn't seem to be self-aware at all. It's like someone said "We need a superhero show to make up for Heroes' cancellation" and they're working off of a list of what makes a superhero show and they're tossing in other things that people like from other shows, rather than taking an idea that they like and playing with it (I'd actually question whether a majority of writers have even read an actual comic book). It doesn't have any soul at all, which is a shame. Because superhero stories (or any fantasy, really) fall apart without heart behind them.

And that's why I'm actually surprised by Being Human. I don't expect anything from American remakes of British shows (and if it weren't for the fact that I've finally accepted that the American public at large just isn't going to put up with the way that British television is endlessly self-referential I'd insist that we give up remaking shows. I mean, the remake of Life on Mars made me want to cry and, as far as self-referential goes, at least the worst of it was soccer and the rest of it was 1970s culture (and that's basically an alternate universe anyway) rather than, say, references to Jeremy Clarkson and/or the Queen so I don't see why it needed adapted... but what I was saying is basically that I give up on insisting that we not adapt shows because I know it's a lost cause. I think that point nearly slipped by me there. Sometimes it works. I mean, The Office worked. And I actually have high reasonably considered hopes for the American-produced version of Torchwood, because if our puritanical habits of self-censorship are truly meant for anything it might be weeding out craptastic sex pollen omni-sexual-for-the-sake-of-omni-sexual "plots").

Right. I think that was almost an entire tangential paragraph in parentheses. Sorry about that. Moving on!

Being Human, whether it's because it's an idea that's already been broken in by others or because it was ripped word-for-word from the original (something I am now investigating*), actually seems to work. It's an equally stupid idea in summary (vampire and werewolf (unintentionally) share an apartment with a ghost vs. man joins charismatic crime circus in order to become a superhero and clear his name), but rather than being a series of tropes chained together and flogged it's a parade of tropes... I dunno, putting on a show for the google maps car? (I think it's getting late here.) It's not outwardly self-aware, but it... shows a deeper understanding of its genre, I think. Though honestly I'm not sure if my appreciation for this show over The Cape is just me and my adoration for metafiction (in this context: ideas that are generally formulated only within their own self-contained universe transposed into a realistic universe and made to deal with it). It's also entirely possible the acting and directing is just better for this show (though there's no weird police state/underground circus dichotomy to combat, either).

And actually, I think the reason I find it kind of weird that I like Being Human and dislike The Cape is because I normally like self-indulgent campy shows over shows that are about social dynamics and roommates and all that nonsense. But if there's one thing I've learned over the last few years, it's pretty much all about dialog and plot for me. If it's witty supernatural-roommate banter vs. Russian villain killing people with playing cards (I laughed! I laughed so hard, it was terrible) and hitting on Summer Glau, I'm going to take the witty banter.

So, in conclusion (and drawing from information barely even properly implied in the prior eight paragraphs):
The Cape: Trying Too Hard to Be Batman
Being Human: Probably Secretly Still British

* So far, admirably, it is not. The British version, at least as far as the pilot goes, is way more melodramatic. Also I have evidence that the writers were actually playing off the British version but exercising their own interpretations and ideas. All good signs.
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