tue 21/05/2019

Humans, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Humans, Channel 4

Humans, Channel 4

Ghost of 'Blade Runner' hovers over promising new sci-fi series

The synthetic Anita (Gemma Chan, right) with Sophie Hawkins (Pixie Davies) and her mother Laura (Katherine Parkinson)

New sci-fi series aren't exactly a dime a dozen on British TV, awash as it usually is with serial killers, cops and costume dramas, so the fact that Humans not only exists but is also bold and fresh-looking triggers instant brownie points. It doubtless helps that it's a collaboration between Channel 4 and America's AMC, home of Mad Men and The Walking Dead. It pitches us into a contemporary London which looks superficially unchanged, but has been rendered utterly alien by the new boom in synthetic humans, or "synths".

It seems the Smart TV, the Apple Watch and Mr Dyson's latest dust-sucking miracle just aren't enough any more, because now everybody is clamouring for their own personal synth. Among these eager adopters is Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill, stepping out of the shadow of Mr Selfridge), who's getting a bit fed up with his wife Laura's high-octane legal job eating up all their personal time while he struggles to cope with the demands of their three children. The antidote is a trip to Persona Synthetics, where the friendly salesman is delighted to unload another unit, with "your standard domestic profile installed, that'll cover all your basic housework."

The fact that Tom's new domestic droid (which the family will christen Anita) happens to look like a fantasy Asian Babe isn't a problem for Tom, nor his gobsmacked adolescent son Toby, but it goes down less well with Laura (Katherine Parkinson). The moment when she arrived home after an exhausting court case in Leeds to find the new arrival ensconced in the family home was a moment of comic gold-dust ("you're taking it back!" she barked at Tom).

Well he didn't, and Anita (played with an eerie knowingness by Gemma Chan) set about making herself part of the household routine. She tirelessly irons, washes, tidies and prepares meals, but while Tom thinks this is all great, Laura is gnawed with suspicions and doubts. She's especially irked by the way that her youngest child Sophie has bonded closely with the precocious gadget, not least because Anita reads to her. "Reading to you is mummy's job," Laura announced. "But she doesn't rush," retorted her daughter damningly.

In a parallel plotline, we meet Dr George Millican (a derelict-looking William Hurt, pictured above), a sad widower who clings to his outmoded synth, Odi, because it's a repository of cherished memories. He's being harassed by Big Brother-ish social services ("nanny-state Gestapo," he grunts when they come banging at the door) to get an updated model – they propose one called Vera, which is played by Rebecca Front and looks like a prison warder from Shutter Island – but he's determined to defy them by doing his own DIY droid maintenance, though the health service is pursuing a fanatical new-synths-for-all policy and has ordered half a million of them.

However, writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley have cast their net beyond all this caustic social satire, to ask some bigger questions about life, technology and everything. We learn, in piecemeal fashion, that Anita is part of an elite group of synths who have been endowed with human-like intelligence and emotions by their inventor, or perhaps creator, and her role with the Hawkins family is a way of hiding in plain sight. There's a bloke called Leo (Colin Morgan, pictured above) desperately running around trying to save the super-synths from a bunch of droid-hunters led by Hobb (Danny Webb), and round about now you may be thinking that we're looking at Blade Runner revisited. And you would have a very valid point.

But Humans has a look and feel of its own, skilfully enhanced by Cristobal Tapia De Veer's background music, which is dreamy, whimsical electronica with a poignant undertow. With its mix of irony, satire and philosophical inquisitiveness, Humans has distinct cult potential. 

The Smart TV, the Apple Watch and Mr Dyson's latest dust-sucking miracle just aren't enough any more, because everybody is clamouring for their own personal synth

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

I liked it. Good Si-Fi (e.g., Gattaca) can help ask questions that society will need to face, like where Artificial Intelligence will take us in the next few decades.... Robin White

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