Humans premiered tonight on AMC, and it’s a promising start. While there is certainly room to grow and some of the ideas are roughly sketched, its science fiction and drama has enough intrigue to keep me interested.
It is, to put it plainly, a theme that we’ve seen before, and often. In the past few months, the incredible Ex Machina explored similar motifs. So, when a film or television show comes out that is treading familiar ground, it needs to offer something new. BBC’s In the Flesh was yet another show about zombies, but it made it about segregation and equality, spinning a familiar genre. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Humans has offered up anything so far that polarizes it from its contemporaries, but it’s only one episode in, and at the very least it’s playing with the idea of artificial intelligence as a commodity.
It also helps that the cast is uniformly great, with some actors who have been around for a while and deserve more of a spotlight, such as Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) and Colin Morgan (The Testament of Youth), to actors such as William Hurt who have always been great, to some new faces such as Anita’s actress as the main “Synth,” Gemma Chan, who is wonderfully disconcerting, playing with the right amount of robotic physicality while infusing the character with a sense of humanity.
The series begins with us seeing how the world has come to integrate these Synths into their lives. The main family has bought one due to the mother being away from home a lot recently for a job, and the father having a difficult job juggling both work and their three kids. He purchases the Synth for a stand-in nanny, ruffling Laura (Parkinson), who believes that human interaction is integral to certain aspects of life. Hurt’s George is using his Synth as a surrogate son and link to his past, determined to hold on to him rather than upgrade. George had his appointed by the government to help him.
There are underlying themes that are worth a second look down the road, such as creating the Synths for a source of menial labor, or how the teen daughter calls Anita a slave. We see hints of discord between humans and Synths, whether it’s more obvious with Leo (Morgan and his band of renegade Synths) or in the background, such as signs not permitting Synth parkers, or heated debates heard on television. There is unease about the Synths, despite the fact that the people in this universe utilize them for tasks they’d rather not do themselves.
There’s a scene early on that speaks to the idea of what this society is trying to achieve–it’s not just a sense of stability, but also of achievement, or picturesque families. Anita is making breakfast and the youngest daughter in excitement asks what the celebration is for such an elaborate meal, to which her father replies, “this is what breakfast is supposed to be like.” To many fellow donut and coffee (make that two) types like myself, it’s an eye roll moment. However, doesn’t that image of a family all seated in the morning, with pitchers of orange juice, bowls of fresh fruit, and multiple breakfast options speak to an ideology of sorts, about this notion that if you have this, or that, you’ve made it?
These are the moments that nail the stronger aspects of the show. While the characters, aside from George, have yet to be drawn as anything more than one-dimensional, the world they inhabit and the beliefs they hold create an eerie mood.
The direction is key, creating that near futuristic setting that establishes a disconnect between viewers and characters. One scene in particular, where Leo walks into a rendezvous point, a prostitution house where Synth’s are sold for pleasure, shows how wildly this version of life differs our own, while keeping some similarities. The rooms are vibrantly lit in purples and pinks as Leo walks down the hallways, scantily clad Synths all postured and alluring on display for the customers. The way it’s set up and the fact that these are Synths make it futuristic, but women without their agency is something that is universal.
I enjoy the performers, and Anita seems like an interesting and unlikely lead. As long as the show refrains from diving too hard too soon in the mythos of A.I.s, it could be one of the most promising shows of the summer.