Humans: Season One Review

Humans is a science-fiction show about a near-future world in which synthetic humanoid robots (“Synths”) are the new hot technology. Set in Britain, it aired simultaneously on Channel 4 and AMC, and is based on a Swedish show called Real Humans.

The first season is just eight episodes, which means you, like me, can watch it all in one day. (I am nothing if not efficient.) In fact, I would recommend that strategy, as the show is beautifully paced, parceling out emotional revelations, character development, and plot turns with considerable elegance.

The first few episodes follow three different plots, but focus mostly on the Hawkins family: Mom Laura (Katherine Parkinson, who is excellent), Dad Joe, a teen, a tween, and a cutie pie little girl. Joe throws off the entire family dynamic when he, without consulting Laura, purchases a Synth to do housework and tend to the children while Laura is on a work trip. Laura sees it as a commentary on her mothering skills, and the kids’ affection for Anita, as they christen their robot, doesn’t do anything to reassure her. (Gemma Chan, who plays Anita, is wonderful. I don't want to say much more than that for fear of spoilers.)

The home life of George Millican (William Hurt) is equally fraught, albeit lonelier. He lives alone with an out-of-date Synth named Odi, and resists the attempts of Social Services to supply him with an updated model to act as his minder. (It’s not just a nanny state. It’s a ROBOT NANNY STATE!) George’s compassion for obsolete Odi, especially given his knowledge of just how unhuman the robots truly are, made this one of the most heartbreaking stories in the entire series.

The third plot follows a ragtag group: one human and a few Synths who seem to have achieved a sort of sentience not seen in Anita, Odi, or others in this world. In the early episodes, this plot seems disconnected from the others, but the fate of these sentient Synths drives the action, and emotions, of the second half of the season.

And that’s what I really loved about this show: everything on screen has emotional consequences that feel real and complex. At one point, a human decides to explore the 18-and-up functions on a Synth. What seemed at first to be a tawdry one-off about robot sex and/or assisted masturbation wound up having emotional ripple effects on the lives of numerous people and Synths, some of which play out with no more than a telling glance or awkward moment.

That is not to say, however, that this show is dour. I’ve becoming increasingly sick of shows that have no humor, no love, and no characters that seem to think deeply about whether or not they’re doing the right thing. Almost everyone on this show thinks they are doing the right thing, and they often make the best decisions they can for their family, their friends, and those they choose to help, even if those decisions wind up having unforeseen consequences.

The Hawkins family, in particular, is a fascinating set of character studies. They fight among themselves, but band together when they need to. They may seem petty when things are good, but when things get bad they—for the most part—immediately choose to make necessary sacrifices and take vital risks because it is the kind action. Considering the intrafamilial tensions of the first few episodes within the context of the second half of the season, we could say that the family is petty when they can afford to be, and loving when there is no other option.

The science-fiction technology side of things is less showy, but still interesting. The Synths are fancy robots, and society treats them as such…Or does it? In one episode, we see a Synth “smash” club: an illicit gathering in which humans pay to beat up Synths with baseball bats. Evocative of both Fight Club and that horrible trend of wealthy teens paying homeless people to beat each other up, situations like this show just how earthshattering Synth technology would be on an emotional level.

Bigger social considerations, like a dearth of entry-level employment opportunities in a society in which robots can be programmed to do anything from surgery to bagging groceries, hit closer to home, since those are challenges we are facing now with far less humanoid technology. (Save mankind. Don't use the self-checkout lane at the grocery store.)

The second season of Humans will air in 2017, and I’m excited to see where the show goes in terms of exploring the characters, society, and technology that these first eight episodes handle so deftly. In the meantime, I recommend streaming it (hooray for Amazon Prime!). All in a day, remember. Efficiency is all.

Four out of four Dolls.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Lovely review, Josie. I watched this series when it aired and was pleased that it turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be. They really thought about what they were doing, and explored a lot of uncomfortable and unsettling possibilities.

Definitely looking forward to season two.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I also liked this one and am eager to see where they go in season 2. However I have to say it is inferior to the original show and anyone who likes it should watch that as well. I wrote a little piece on it about a year ago.

A short comparative review between Humans and Äkta Människor

Corona Zschusschen said...

I agree with Thomas, the family dynamic and the gender roles in the original show feels much more layered and real. Though the original show also had its flaws.