Humans is a British remake of a Swedish TV show, Real Humans, about a world like our own, except that human-looking “synths” work for us, drive us around, babysit and occasionally have sex with us. But in this world—here’s the inevitable hook—someone has secretly created synths with consciousness, and while authorities search for them, fearful of what they might do, they hide among us, fearful of what we might do.
At this time of year, Humans is the only point of light in an otherwise dim TV season (and I say that, knowing fully about Syfy’s present TV lineup… le yawn. Le sigh.). One thing I generally say about British television in general, and most of their science fiction in particular, is that they have a more polished production and actors than almost all American TV and SF. Humans‘ cast is great to watch, strong and believable, and nothing feels staged, manufactured or concocted out of a special effects department.
I have to admit that the initial premise is staid, even painfully predictable: Robots are slaves, conscious robots are fugitives, authorities are after them… the robots are afraid of being destroyed, the possible results of their being free scare the humans… yadda yadda. But then it (thankfully) gets interesting: Two of the conscious synths were separated from the group; one was recaptured by the authorities; and the other—Anita—has apparently lost its consciousness, and is installed as a servant in a typically-mildly-dysfunctional household. But the family has noticed Anita doesn’t act… exactly… like other synths. The family’s daughter secretly hacks into Anita, and suddenly Anita makes a frightened plea for help… before reverting back into her un-conscious self. Someone’s trapped in that subservient body… someone who is in love with David, another of the synths, who wants her back desperately… will she get out? Will she and David (and the other conscious synths) be reunited? And what then?
So, they’ve found some interesting directions to go into, without so far revealing the end game (exactly what happens if the synths reunite?). And they’ve thrown us a few curves, such as the synth hidden in the police force… the scientist who wants to keep his aging synth around to preserve its memories of his late wife… and Niska, the conscious synth female who seems to be building a distinct hatred for humans and a talent for violence. But the big mystery, and the reason to watch, is undoubtedly Anita. Not only did they find a beautiful and talented actress in Gemma Chan, capable of pulling off the stiff and slightly creepy Anita in the midst of this problem household; but the tantalizing hints to her buried consciousness (known as Mia) make the audience even more aware that there’s a person locked in there, just behind those green eyes, desperate to get out. I, for one, focus with laser-precision at every moment that seems to be a potential moment of liberation, or at least a measure of self-recognition, for her. And if/when Mia finally makes it to the surface and stays there, I fully expect to cheer and toast her.
There aren’t many SF shows that I consider must-watch TV. They tend to be predictable, plodding experiments into how many sci-fi tropes and clichés you can stuff into a show and not freak out the TV execs too much. Most shows with human-looking robots tend to be far too predictable and pedantic to hold my interest… Almost Human being the most recent example of such a show, and one that lost me partway through the second episode. But I’m holding out hope that Humans continues to break the boundaries of the typical “dawning of robot consciousness” and “free the slaves” tropes, and takes us into some interesting directions.
For a look at how I approached the idea of robots with dawning consciousness, check out Sarcology.