Channel 4’s suburban sci-fi drama series Humans makes for interesting, smartly written television but at times it can feel too safe.
The premise of the series is an alternative-present where technology has advanced to the point where the latest must have gadget is a Synth, robots that are ‘almost human’. However, with this the lines between humans and Artificial Intelligence start to blur irrevocably.
The series introduces us to the average, if dysfunctional, Hawkins family. Father and husband Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) buys a Synth to help around the house, as his wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is often away with work. The Hawkins children and Joe immediately love their new Synth (Gemma Chan), who they call Anita, while Laura is not so sure and feels replaced.
However, Anita is revealed to be your not-so-average-shop-brought Synth. The first episode shows a flashback to five weeks earlier, travelling mysteriously through the woods with a group of other Synth’s and lead by Leo (Colin Morgan). Anita and two of her friends are knocked unconscious and stolen.
Simultaneous to the Hawkins family, Dr George Millican (William Hurt) can’t bear to send his Synth Odi to the recycling bin. Having developed a father-son relationship with him, Odi keeps the memory of his late wife Mary alive. Elsewhere, D.S. Pete Drummond is unable to match the care given to his disabled wife by their ‘beef-cake’ Synth Simon.
As it can be gathered Synth’s are a modern day plethora, as much a part of life as IPhones or Facebook. They work in our offices, look after our children and even replace human as sex workers with their ‘18+ setting’.
They might be machines but they walk, talk and look like us. Thus Humans must ask: What is it that actually makes us human? What does it mean to feel fear, happiness or love?
Such existential questions feel a little old hat.
They have been covered innumerably on-screen, in Will Smith’s I, Robot, Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence and embodied in Alien: Resurrection’s android Annalee Call. Also of the same vein is ‘Be Right Back’ an episode of Black Mirror, another Channel 4 series, where a woman purchases an android to replace her deceased boyfriend.
While this may feel unchallenging to a more avid sci-fi fan the series has proven popular with the general public, the first episode grabbing an audience of 6million viewers; the last time the channel had an audience of that size was in 1992. Perhaps what makes Humans so popular is its, well, humanness. Rather than set 4000 years in the future or on the Starship Enterprise a bulk of the action takes place in a normal, family home.
To give the series its due it does tackle those philosophical themes in an interesting way. By providing four main groups of characters, who begin to interweave as the story progresses, the parallel between the microcosmic family and wider society is handled in a clever, delicate manner. These interconnections making for some cunningly executed plot twists.
However, at times the series can feel frustrating with characters falling into predictable tropes; lazy when the series is otherwise artfully written. This writing being able to bring us an incredibly touching drama at times. One standout moment coming from Odi in a simple statement of four words, uttered robotically and without emotion it echoes waves for the audience.
A very good effort by Channel 4, Humans is slick, engaging and remains focused on its goals. The final leaving us with a number of loose ends, something to explore in the confirmed second series. I will certainly be tuning in.