Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Review: Humans (C4)

The standout of the show, Anita/Mia (Gemma Chan).
From digitalspy
Artifical Intelligence and Robotics are old, old themes in science fiction, taking a multitude of guises and genres. A small niche genre takes these themes and supplants them into a suburban setting, exploring what life would be like with robots living among us. AMC and Channel Four's new drama Humans, a remake of Swedish series "The Real Humans", does this for Britain, presenting an alternate universe in which human-like "Synths" are in nearly every home, acting as nannies, maids, doctors, call-centre operators and even as sex workers. Through a combination of stellar writing, direction and cast, Humans has set itself up as a clear contender for 2015's best new show, very quickly getting us invested in a universe and a set of characters which take this show beyond a simple execution of concept and into some captivating television.
     The show initially takes its centre from the Hawkins family - workaholic mum Laura (Katherine Parkinson, finally getting a chance to show off her acting chops), work-shy dad Joe (Tim Goodman-Hill) and their kids Mattie (Lucy Carless, in an outstanding second outing), Tobey and Sophie. Joe decides, against Laura's best wishes, to buy a synth, Anita (Gemma Chan), who begins to show signs that there is something more beneath the surface of her programming. Running parallel are the stories of George Millikan (William Hurt, in a similar role to the one he played in A.I.), a retired scientist who is now being brow-beaten by the system, synth-prejudiced cop DS Pete Drummond, and a group of sentient synths led by Leo Elster (Colin Morgan, Merlin). Their storylines eventually begin to crossover and merge as the backstory of the show is revealed, eventually discovering that Anita was once a sentient synth called Mia, and that Leo's group of synths contain a code which can grant sentience to other synths.
     Pretty much any and all concepts regarding the place of robots in our society has been explored in this show, within the first few episodes, as well as the various different ways they're used in science fiction. Synths here are used as substitutes - substitute family members, substitute workers, substitute sexual partners. George Millikan cares for his rundown synth Odi like a son, and early scenes between them often come across as someone attempting to converse with a dementia sufferer - a cruel irony considering Odi's original purpose of helping Millikan remember his life before the stroke which took a great deal of his memory. The rights of human workers are discussed, and the idea of human obsolescence in the face of machines which can replace them in every way, and the threat of synth reproduction.
Watch Humans after A.I. and Millikan is even sadder.
     The show's characters are all developed magically and realistically, there being no moments where I've gone, "Hey, he wouldn't do that." All of the actors playing Synths deserve awards for being able to adopt the mannerisms of a robot without making it corny or weird, with special props to Gemma Chan, whose performance as Anita is a tour-de-force of technical ability, allowing small hints of human emotion to pass between the "robotic" performance, communicating, as George Millikan discusses in one episode, "the things you try not to say, the spaces between words." Speaking of Millikan, and Hurt's performance is one of my favourites. In the past he's been called wooden, and not without good reason, but his performance here really brings out a tired man with nothing left to fear. I'm also going to give props to Katherine Parkinson, who has been criminally underused in her career up to this point, and to Lucy Carless, whom I was astounded to discover has only just started to get work.
     This series isn't quite over yet, but a lot of the show's backstory and mythos has been explored, so I'm wondering where the show will go and if it will go to a second series. Regardless of whether that happens or not, Humans has more than earnt a place in the telly history books. So, if you've never seen it before or just aren't caught up, go out and catch it while you still can. You won't regret it.


Edit (31/7/15): Humans has been commissioned for a second series!

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