TV DVD Review: HUMANS The Complete First Season (UK/USA, 2015)

After a successful run on ABC2, the first season of British sci-fi-drama series Humans is about to release on DVD. Considering that word has dropped that it’s already been renewed for a Season 2, clearly the ratings on its host channel Channel 4 in England did well enough to warrant continuation. So safely knowing that the show will have more to give us after its initial 8 episodes, we take a look at the first season.

The show follows the Hawkins family who buy a synthetic robot called Anita (Gemma Chan) to help them around the house. Dad Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) is run off his feet trying to work and look after the kids. Mum Laura (Katherine Parkinson) works long hours and is rarely at home. Eldest daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) is a genius but feels redundant now that the synths have arrived leaving her future work prospects bleak. Middle son Toby (Theo Stevenson) and youngest daughter Sophie (Pixie Davies) are enamoured by their new live-in help.

At first, Anita seems normal for a robot but things start to go a bit strange when her behaviour doesn’t quite match up with other synths. We then meet Leo (Colin Morgan), son of David Elster the man who created the synths, mysteriously on the run with a few synths that are seemingly different. We soon discover that these other synths are special because they have been given consciousness and free will by their maker. This changes everything, and suddenly Leo, Anita and the other synths are now at risk of being destroyed because of what they are – a new and unpredictable future.

Humans is not a new concept nor is it a completely original idea, with the British writing team of Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley basing it on the award-winning Swedish series titled Real Humans (Akta manniskor). The show examines the very real ethical and moral dilemmas we face once we begin integrating artificial life and intelligence into our world. The show raises a number of these issues all within the first episode, which is a bold approach but at the same time also successfully fleshes these ideas and attitudes out as the series progresses.
Laura is extremely skeptical of the place of the synths in not only her own family but in the world. Her eldest child Mattie is borderline hostile towards the synths convinced that they will relegate her out of her own future. Their son Toby has a sexual attraction to Anita and their youngest Sophie grows overly attached to her and it almost seems like Anita’s becoming a substitute mother. We also meet Dr Geroge Millican (William Hurt) who after suffering a stroke relies heavily upon his old outdated synth Odi (Will Tudor) to keep him company and reminisce about his forgotten past and refuses to “upgrade” to a new synth.

The relationships and the tensions between humans and synths is real and relatable. A “We Are People” movement features in the series and is a believable depiction of a group forming out of fear and wanting to go against the progression. Our connection and addiction to technology may well be our own downfall should the machines supersede our own abilities and capabilities. Only recently Professor Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have all been cited as warning against the progression and increasing use of artificial intelligence and that it could lead to potentially dangerous outcomes. The consequences of technology and the industrial age are already evident even in today’s world, the fact that machines are replacing the human workforce, and something like sentient robots will ultimately render us unemployable and redundant – something which the “We Are People” group use as a protest point. Many more examples of which we’ve seen depicted in popular culture from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to The Terminator franchise, to more recently Chappie and Ex-Machina have dire consequences. Thankfully we have not ended up in a dystopian future where sentient robots are out to kill us though.

We have some stellar performances in this show, particularly by Katherine Parkinson, Colin Morgan, Gemma Chan and William Hurt. Parkinson embodies the fear and paranoia, while Hurt is the opposite, full of love and warmth for his synth, an almost makeshift son, whilst Colin’s Leo is equally paranoid but of the humans and real people rather than all the synths. Gemma Chan leads the way as our most prominent synth character, with her restrained and subtle movement and muted expressions she really brings Anita to life and allows us to be both unsettled and feel empathy towards her situation. Once you reach that critical point of feeling empathetic towards the plight of a robot, you know you’ve started delving into those ethical grey areas of rights and how they should be treated, another issue that’s raised in the series.

For those who are fans of the Artifical Intelligence realm and it’s debate, there’s also plenty of little easter eggs for you to pick up on. You’ll see references to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, Arthur Koestler’s novel “The Ghost In The Machine”, and homages to Spielberg’s film A.I. All of these help to make this parallel present depicted in this show seem disturbingly real and close to home.

Even though the first season does feel like it wraps most things up fairly neatly, it’s nice to know that there’s potential for the story to expand at the conclusion and this will hopefully be delivered to us in Season 2. Humans manages to successfully combine the sci-fi elements of robotics and artificial intelligence by placing it into the very real and relatable realm of the family home. This thriller also manages to pull at your heartstrings a little and also make you question the pros and cons of sentient robotic technology.

Series Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The DVD special features included a whole stack of extras to watch. There’s some basic ones like cast interviews and character profiles. But the really interesting ones are ‘The Making of Humans’ ‘Series Overview’ and the ‘Being A Synth’. Our series writers give us an insight into the show synopsis and how they came up with the concept. The ‘Being A Synth’ feature is a behind the scenes look with Gemma and her fellow synth actors at how they attended “synth school” with choreographer Dan O’Neill to learn to walk and move and behave like how a robot would. It’s really great to see a DVD for a TV show packed with interesting interviews and commentaries on how the show was created.

Special Features Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Humans Season One is available from 30 September 2015 through Roadshow Entertainment.