“Could you use some extra help around the house?”
Foggy London Town, where Bobbies ride bicycles, two by two? Things have changed, mate.
Set squarely in a parallel present, Humans: Season 1 finds the people of dear old Blighty coming to grips with the latest modern convenience: Synths — short for Synthetics; programmed robotic domestic helpers that look and function almost exactly like their human owners, albeit for a four-to-five year span, if properly up kept.
Truth be told, their eyes gleam with an unnatural light, and they do exhibit a certain lack of fluidity that gives their mechanical roots away, but that’s as it should be, isn’t it? After all, one wouldn’t want them to be indistinguishable from people right? But we’ll come back to this point later.
We’re first introduced to average Londoner Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill, Mr. Selfridge), husband and father of three. Over-worked and overwhelmed by trying to juggle career and family responsibilities — particularly as his attorney wife Laura’s (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd), professional obligations increasingly require her to be away from home — poor Joe heaves a sigh, goes against his better judgment and purchases a synth named Anita (Gemma Chan, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl), to help with the chores.
He’s expecting trouble from the wife, and it arrives almost immediately after she does. They’ve already discussed this, Laura reminds Joe, and she made her position clear: she’s adamantly against having an A.I. in the house — think of the kids; what kind of example will this set about personal responsibility? How might their minds be warped?
Just as clear is what Laura doesn’t say. How can she, as an aging, clearly overextended wife and mother, be expected to compete with this perpetually youthful (not to mention stunningly beautiful), inexhaustible supermodel?
On the other hand, elderly widower George Millican (William Hurt, The Accidental Tourist) can’t bring himself to part with his own outmoded synth, despite the governmental promise of a brand-new replacement, absolutely free. Odi (Will Tudor, Game of Thrones) frequently leaks fluid, and a chronic series of programming malfunctions have predictably sapped both his energy and efficiency. But after six years, George has developed a paternal bond with him.
There are also a seemingly ragtag group of synths, whose human leader (Colin Morgan, Merlin) does his best to keep his merry band of ‘bots to the back roads and on the run. From whom are they running? Take your pick. Mechanized strays are the prized bounty of poachers, dealing in black market operations (synthesized sex slaves, anyone?), as well as newly-appointed police squads, dedicated to ensuring that every humanoid is duly accounted for.
What’s more, there’s an elite unit at the highest level intersection of government and the police bureau, who are keeping an eye on these programmed pets for another reason altogether. Given the widespread proliferation of illegally modified synths coming out of that black market, it’s hardly unreasonable to fear that some devilish genius can be marshaling these robot troops for world domination, after all.
Over the course of eight episodes, Humans — adapted from a Swedish television series called Äkta människor — vividly realizes a microcosm of modern British life that easily translates over the pond. Go ahead, I dare you to tell me that the anti-synth “We Are People (Keep Britain Human)” rallies depicted here don’t remind you of a certain presidential candidate’s campaign stops currently plaguing our homeland.
The acting here is solidly above board all around, so I mean no slight to the fine gentlemen of the cast when I point out that Humans positively leads with superior women’s roles, and a cadre of English actresses well up to the task, including (but certainly not limited to): Parkinson, Chan, Lucy Carless (as teenaged Matilda, the oldest Hawkins child), and Emily Berrington (Sons of Liberty) as Niska, who very well might be that rogue synth the government so fears.
What’s William Hurt doing here? Some of the best work of his career, that’s all. Blessed with tremendous talent, but cursed by an extremely patchy big-screen career, this singularly gifted performer has locked onto the role of a lifetime here, and he knows it. As the cast’s lone state-sider, you might wonder if Hurt seems like a fish out of water here. Ha! He’s more like Apricot jam spread over toast.
Acorn Media brings Humans, Season 1 (billed as the “Complete UK broadcast edition”) to DVD in fine fettle, with spot-on muted colors set against the enduring gray of the story’s geographic setting. A flawless Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track announces every suspicious twig snap, and English SDH subtitles are on hand to help us colonists cope with the various regional dialects.
Bonus features include several EPK pieces, a lengthy and revealing compilation of behind-the-scenes footage, and a collection of production stills. But where’s the original trailer, you ask? Don’t be a troublemaker, will you?
I don’t normally consider myself to be a sci-fi buff, but I was nevertheless enthralled by Humans: Season 1 from start to finish, and now I’m eagerly awaiting the second season, due to start later this year. If you’re not a sci-fi buff, do yourself a favor and set your genre bias aside. This one’s well worth your time.