A look at the new series ‘Humans’ on AMC, which gives a new perspective on science and fiction without any big explosions or robots ruling the Earth….
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer In the 80’s, horror films got to be rather predictable when the ‘slasher’ variety became so commonplace that the only thing that differentiated one movie from the next was the killer’s origin story and how the writers would find ways to bring him or her back to life for the sequel. When it comes to technological or what I would call mechanical science fiction, the same could be said — machines become self-aware, man realizes how huge a mistake it was to put all our faith in them, and the war begins. Maybe it started with ‘The Terminator’, which was a highly original film, but the hundreds of facsimiles that followed all carried through with an almost cookie cutter pattern to that same story. Man builds machine. Machine revolts against man. Man fights back. The new series ‘Humans’ that premiered on AMC on Sunday night gives a different look at a future where technology is already ingrained in our everyday habits but on this show it’s just bigger and better than ever before. The concept follows life-like robots called ‘synths’ that people can purchase to do any number of jobs like picking fruit in the field or just cleaning up a house. They can be sexual companions or just something to keep an aging scientist company after his wife dies. These ‘synths’ are made to serve and why not? After all they are just man made robots. The series picks up with a guy named Joe, who has two daughters and a son living somewhere in England with no definitive date or time stamped on the opening episode. Joe is at his wit’s end because his wife Laura is a successful and busy attorney, who disappears for weeks at a time working on cases and he’s left to take care of the children while trying to maintain a career of his own. Joe finally gets fed up after Laura’s latest trip extended from two days to five and so he decides to invest in a ‘synth’ named Anita to help him around the house. The synth he purchases will be used to cook, clean, help maintain the house and even perform adult functions for Joe if he chooses to operate the over 18 instructions he was given when he made the purchase. Joe’s youngest daughter Sophie is immediately drawn to Anita like she’s the imaginary friend come to life. His son Toby is shy and clumsy around Anita like a teenage boy with a crush while his oldest daughter Mattie is just rebellious against anyone and anything right now and that includes her mother and a new synth currently living in their house. The only person dead set against the idea is Laura, who discovers Anita doing her job when she returns home from work. Laura feels marginalized as Anita does all the house work, cooking and even tucks Sophie into bed. Laura quickly sees just how much she’s ignored her own family when little Sophie asks for Anita to tell her a goodnight story because unlike her mother, the synth doesn’t try to rush through the pages just so she can get back to work. Maybe Laura is just realizing how much she’s been missing while advancing her legal career, but there’s also no denying something is off about Anita. Laura finds her outside looking up the moon and remarking how beautiful it is. She also accidentally burns Laura with a hot pan when Sophie comes rushing into the room and gets too close to the hot stove. Laura was never going to be on board with Anita, but while her husband and at least two thirds of her kids are gushing over the artificial person, she’s wary to trust what this machine can do no matter how harmless it seems.Meanwhile, in another part of down we meet Dr. George Milliken (played by William Hurt). He’s one of the original engineers on the synth design, but now he’s just a lonely old man who lives in a house all by himself, surrounded by fading memories of a wife who passed away several years ago. George’s only company is a synth named Odi, who is child like in demeanor and more like a son to the old inventor than a pet. It seems the company responsible for making the synths insists on upgrading them every few years to ensure the owner has the newest model with the latest technology, but George can’t let Odi go. See, Odi has all the memories tucked away from the times George and the robot spent with his now dead wife. Despite Odi’s glitches and failing internal systems, George is clinging onto his wife by way of Odi and he’s doing to do anything and everything in his power to never let go. There’s also a detective named Pete Drummond, who specializes in technological crimes like those involving synths. By day he investigates techno-crimes, but at night he returns home to find his wife receiving physical therapy from their live-in doll named Simon. While the synth massages and picks up his wife to take her to a bath, Pete just has to stand there and watch it all with a glassy-eyed look usually reserved for the robots. The real twist in ‘Humans’ comes after we meet Leo — a mysterious kid who is on the run with a few synth dolls that aren’t like the others. These synths are self-aware — they feel, they react, they know the difference between right and wrong — and one of them we discover is the robot now known as Anita. It seems Leo was on the run from somebody hunting him and his ‘friends’ and poachers eventually tracked him down and put the synths back on the open market with the exception of one friend named Fred, who he keeps with him as they begin to track down the other robots they lost. One is currently working for a food farmer before a scientist named Hobbs discovers that this synth isn’t like all the others when he discovers that it hid a phone to use. Why would a robot with no actual emotion or consciousness need to make a call? So Hobbs begins dissecting the synth to find out what exactly makes it tick and why this one is different from the millions operating across the world without so much as a blink of emotion. Leo tracks down another of his synth friends named Niska, who was sold off to a brothel where she now has to perform any manner of sex acts on customers while pretending to not feel anything. It’s this scene in particular where ‘Humans’ begins to cross the boundary between man and machine and the two worlds meld together in a strikingly sad and powerful image as this robot does her job, but it’s impossible to miss the real hurt streaming across her face. The final robot friend that’s still missing in action is Anita, who was the love of Leo’s life and now she’s been reprogrammed and is currently waiting on a family’s every need while living somewhere in suburbia. The set up to this first episode of ‘Humans’ accomplishes a number of things, but most importantly it’s guaranteed to draw you in to want to see more. One of the biggest issues with pilots these days is series are made to play out over the course of five or six seasons, but rarely do they put enough into that first episode to bring back viewers for weeks two, three and beyond. It’s a common symptom at pilot season every, single year, but it’s a sickness that ‘Humans’ doesn’t share at all. One episode in and I’m hooked and definitely coming back for more. ‘Humans’ is much more ‘Her’ than ‘Terminator’ but the prospects for what’s coming next is as much exciting as it could be frightening. What scares us most in this series, thus far anyways, are the humans stalking the machines and not the other way around. Instead of rooting for human victory, you sympathize with robotic pain. It’s an amazing juxtaposition from typical science fiction and a fierce choice that will likely make ‘Humans’ the can’t-miss series for the summer of 2015.