What does it mean to be human? It’s a question we have been asking ourselves since we first started telling stories around camp fires. Is it our devotion to the gods, our rebelliousness, our ability to laugh and love, our ability to hate? Nobody has quite nailed it down but most people agree we have a little something extra, a little spark that makes us, us. What happens when we are finally able to pass that spark onto something else, when Frankenstein’s monster finally shuffles off the table? Enter Humans a new joint production from AMC and Channel 4, based on the Swedish show Real Humans. In an alternate present questions about the nature of humanity press on everyone as every home becomes equipped with their own very human looking robot (synth).
Technology once thought revolutionary eventually becomes common place and taken for granted. Indoor plumbing, electricity, telephones, washing machines, televisions, computers, once luxuries are now necessities. Families who are late adopters or simply cannot afford the new technologies eventually get left behind. For the family that can afford it there’s that moment of realization that they are simply making things harder on themselves for no reason. We meet the Hawkins family during a hectic moment. Mom, Laura (The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson) is out of town for work, which seems to be a regular occurrence, and dad Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) is overwhelmed with running the household. As Joe looks around at his mess of house you can see him come to the decision that enough is enough. He grabs his youngest child Sophie and heads off to purchase a synth.
Synths are not supposed to think or feel. They follow Asimov’s rules of robotics and cannot question or harm their human masters. Of course that wouldn’t make a very interesting television show, so their is a fly in the ointment. Some synths are becoming sentient. A flashback shows the Hawkins’ synth Anita (Gemma Chan) 5 weeks earlier. She is on the run with 3 other synths and one human. These synths are different, they clearly have personalities and Anita (known as Mia to her friends) is in love with the human, Leo (Merlin’s Colin Morgan). This ragtag gang is on the run from both a mysterious man probably working for the government and poachers who sell synths on the black market. Anita and two of her friends are captured by the later and Anita is reprogrammed and resold. The reprogramming isn’t perfect. Laura is alarmed by Anita’s quirks and it’s clear by the end of the episode that mom is not just being paranoid.
In a world where newer is always better what would happen if the smartphone we replaced every 2 years became a part of the family? William Hurt plays George Millican a former engineer who’s old synth is due for an upgrade. His synth Odi has blue goo oozing out of his nose, messy breakdowns at the local grocery, and memory lapses. George’s memory isn’t doing so well either and Odi is a critical link to George’s lost wife but he’s also more than that. George calls Odi son and his family photo album is full of pictures of Odi. After Odi accidentally injures an employee at the grocery store he is due for forcible recycling but George can’t let that happen because Odi “knows too much,” dun dun dun. In a truly affecting scene George kisses Odi on the head and then prepares to bash said head in, but when Odi’s memory whirls back to life and he recalls a day with George and his wife Mary, George can’t bring himself to do in his old companion. When our appliances look and sound like us these Ikea commercials won’t seem so funny.
The themes explored in this series are nothing new. From movies to video games we have been fascinated with the inevitable robot revolution. Humans could even be an alternate prequel to Battlestar Galactica (or since this is earth a sequel), but that doesn’t mean this subject matter is played out. This series is like watching a slow motion car crash. We usually come in during the aftermath exploring the wreckage but here we are at the beginning. We have just spotted a car swerving in and out of it’s lane and another car is about to turn right in front of it, we know what’s probably going to happen but we can’t look away. Besides it’s not about the destination it’s about the journey, and this series is posed to take us on one hell of a ride. The writing and acting are strong in the first episode. I would say Laura, the overworked mom feeling displaced in her own home, and George, the regretful father with secrets, are the most fully realized characters so far, while Anita is the most intriguing, how much does she remember really? The episode leaves you wanting more and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Humans premieres Sunday at 9pm EST on AMC.