[This is a review of the Humans series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Imagine buying a servant the way you buy a vacuum cleaner or a dishwasher. That is the world AMC’s Humans paints. Readily available for purchase, Synths (or Synthetics), are customizable and one-of-a-kind android helpers who take menial tasks off the hands of their human owners and push mankind further into a society totally dependent on machines. The premise behind Humans isn’t new. The show itself is based upon the Swedish series Real Humans. The argument surrounding the concept of technology replacing humans and the journey into affordable and easily accessible AI is an ongoing hot topic. But Humans brings the debate to the suburban family level and pulls off a well-paced look at what draws the line between human and machine.
Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill) is barely managing his family of three children and a working wife in London. When the stress of work, moody teenagers, and a strained marriage proves too much, he heads out to purchase a new Synth (Gemma Chan), which is met with mixed reactions from his family. His youngest child Sophie (Pixie Davies) is delighted their new toy is pretty and spends time with her. Hormonal teenage son Toby (Theo Stevenson) is in awe of an anatomically correct hottie android moving in. His oldest daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless), once a brilliant student with an aptitude for computer science, sees Anita, as the Synth is named, as proof her generation will be obsolete. Wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is the most upset at the new purchase. As Anita creeps silently around the home cleaning and reading to her children, Laura is resentful the machine can do what she can’t —care for her family.
Elsewhere in society, we see where Synths have become the norm. They do tasks like grocery shopping and ticket taking. Insurance companies use them in homes to make sure elderly patients are following medical instructions — which is how we meet reclusive widower Dr. George Millican (William Hurt). George clings to his outdated Synth Odi (William Tudor), who is fatally breaking down but is a sweet reminder of George’s late wife Mary. When health services insist George use their new model Vera (Rebecca Front) as his caretaker, George hides Odi. With an actor like William Hurt easily playing the cranky George, we can only hope he gets a meatier role within the overall story.
All of this feels like familiar territory as Humans asks the big open-ended question: what role do humans play in a world run by machines we created for our own benefit? While the question is familiar, Humans brings an emotional depth not expected from the shiny world seen on screen. The relationships presented so far jump out as real and flawed in direct contrast with the androids that operate placidly around them. Humans then dives deeper to examine the nature of what we have created, even if it is still a machine. A group of Synths, shown in flashbacks, are set apart from the rest of the assembly line models. Designed to think and feel for themselves, these Synths are on the run, from who we don’t yet know. As we learn more about this group of Synths, which include Anita prior to her life with the Hawkins family, the questions get philosophical. If a machine is sentient, does it still exist as a machine? Leo (Colin Morgan) doesn’t believe they do and is on a mission to reunite the small group and hide them. He is especially connected to Anita — real name Mia -- showing the intriguing possibility for Synths to have emotional connections.
Humans explores multiple plot lines that will inevitably intersect with Anita/Mia at the heart of it. Subtle hints about her strange, un-Synth-like behavior are dropped throughout the first two episodes and can only build into the central mystery. The pilot does a good job of slowly pulling back focus from one family to the larger issues facing this parallel world. The Synths, with all their ethereal and cool beauty, put a compelling magnifying glass on the humans around them. Well written and cleverly designed, Humans brings a realistic spin to good sci-fi mystery. Kudos also go to the composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer for a fitting and delightfully creepy score. All in all, Humans is a solid new show that should provide some fun summer food for thought.
Humans returns with episode two next Sunday at 9pm on AMC.