Being Human

Does no one have an original idea in TV land anymore? Judging from tonight's latest batch of mid-season offerings, it hardly appears so. Programmers have either gone to England for inspiration, rarely improving on the source material, or back to the drawing board of tried-and-true formats like the courtroom drama, resulting in an unhappy epidemic of deja view viewing.

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The best of tonight's premieres is Syfy's remake of Being Human (9/8c), and even it is a pale imitation of the provocative British original. Given the relatively limited reach of BBC America, and the inexplicable reluctance in some corners to embrace anything with a European accent, I get why Syfy would snap up and adapt this fetching premise for the American audience. In terms of production and casting, though, it leaves quite a bit to be desired.

For the unacquainted, this is the story of three supernatural roommates sharing a house in working-class Boston: an immortal and broodingly Byronic vampire (Sam Witwer, who comes the closest to embodying the spirit of the thing), a mild-mannered werewolf still awkwardly adjusting to his monthly curse (Sam Huntington, whose rhythms are a bit too sitcom-like) and a female ghost (shrill Meaghan Rath) who can't leave the house in which she died under mysterious circumstances. If all of this is new to you, the appealing mix of humor and horror may very well hook you. If you've already fallen in love with the British version, as I have, this uneven carbon copy will seem wildly unnecessary. And like me, you'll just find yourself counting the days until BBC America begins airing new episodes later this year.

Still, Syfy's Being Human is a gem compared to the mess MTV has made of Skins (10/9c), another British transfer that could just as well be titled Barely Human. What in the original incarnation was shockingly cheeky, in its graphic and profane depiction of teens indulging in sex-and-drug debauchery, has been neutered and tamed in a remake that is unconvincing, amateurishly produced and very poorly acted. (The exception being a lesbian cheerleader — a gender-reversed version of a male gay character from the original series — who is the focus of next Monday's episode. She's good, even when the show isn't.) The titillating content is still very front and center in this new Skins, but it only goes skin-deep, lacking sting or zing when so clumsily executed. Everyone involved deserves a long stay in detention. And here's an assignment. Watch a boxed set of Degrassi to see how this sort of thing is done right.

Amazingly enough, I've saved the absolute worst for last. David E. Kelley hits rock bottom in the derivative courtroom cartoon Harry's Law (10/9c), which makes last fall's defunct and equally ridiculous Outlaw look as noble as The West Wing. A very bored-looking Kathy Bates stars as Harriet "Harry" Korn, a jaded patent lawyer who's sacked from the corporate world and starts a makeshift storefront law firm in the remnants of what appears to be a foreclosed-upon shoe store. Shades of bowling-alley lawyer Ed (but minus the charm), this low-rent loser of a show sets up shop in a shoe-store law firm in Cincinnati, as the show nearly pulls a muscle ladling on the quirkiness.

Examples: A suicidal schnook leaps from a building and falls directly on Harry, and she makes him her paralegal. She is then hit by a car driven by an "arrogant little snot" she once opposed in court, and he naturally jumps at the chance to hop off the fast track to work for her. With Brittany Snow of American Dreams as her perky assistant, who takes charge of the shoe inventory, they take on impossible clients and make ludicrous legal arguments in courtroom scenes so ham-fisted that after one case, even Harry has to admit, "That's what I call a lucky verdict — if not preposterous." And that's Harry's Law in a cracked nutshell.

Viewers are much better off tonight sticking with the devil you know. Your best choices include, on CBS, How I Met Your Mother's follow-up to the sudden death of Marshall's dad, or on Fox, the return of new episodes of House with a special guest star: Candice Bergen as Cuddy's headstrong mom, who shows up for her daughter's birthday dinner. These shows are hardly spring chickens, but they still feel fresher than the new kids on the TV block.

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