This summer has made itself a home to many sci-fi shows. It’s a good fit because the short season allows for modest budgets and the chance to take more risks with less at stake for the networks. There have been a number of returning shows: Extant, Orphan Black, Defiance, Dominion, Teen Wolf, Under the Dome, along with a crop of new ones, including: Mr. Robot, Stitchers, Zoo, and the Firefly-esque space rogues of Dark Matter, and Killjoys. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get into any of those shows (except Killjoys). However, one quiet little UK-produced series (on Channel4 in UK and AMC in North America) about ultra-realistic androids living among humans really caught my attention.
Humans starts off as a multi-story tale set in an alternate present where people can purchase “synths” (aka synthetic humanoids) in the same way they might buy a car. These androids are very intelligent and behave nearly indistinguishable from actual humans (except for their brilliant green eyes, and blue blood). They act as domestics, servants, and caregivers. One story follows a family where the father purchases a new synth named Anita to help around the house while his wife is too busy at work. There are clearly some fractures in the family bonds which Anita’s presence begins to exacerbate. Another story centres on an old widower (played by American actor William Hurt) who tries to hide his defective, obsolete synth from being taken away because he sees him as a surrogate son, and because the synth possesses some of the only remaining memories of his late wife. There is also a young man on the run with a small group of synths that he’s trying to liberate, and a middle-aged detective working for a synth-focused task force who resents them for ruining his marriage.
In a typically British way, the script and performances are all very low key, but also carry a lot of emotion and depth. It’s wonderful how the episodes don’t just focus on the technology, but truly on how it might affect the lives of real people. All the actors do excellent jobs, especially the actors playing the synths. The way they move and act is not only tranquil and controlled, but also they way they subtly react and respond is very well done. As you might expect, there are some special synths who exhibit a bit more humanity than the rest of them, and that is also superbly performed by these actors.
In addition to the performances, the plots are also well thought-out especially as the stories begin to converge. At the same time, even in a short 8-episode series, there are a few pretty surprising plot twists. I’ve seen a number of TV shows and movies involving androids, including Star Trek: The Next Generation and Battlestar Galactica. Humans is definitely up there with these others in terms of bringing an intriguing and provocative thought-experiment to life, while spinning an exciting tale at the same time. In a summer of mediocre sci-fi, this series really stands out and is well worth the watch. (4.5 out of 5)