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Summer 2015 Review: Humans

19 Jun


Humans feels in essence like a series-long extension of an episode Black Mirror (not a particular episode, just a could-be episode). This is certainly largely because it’s broadly both British and science fiction but also on a finer level. Like most episodes of Black Mirror, it’s set in the near-future where the world, sans a couple of technological changes, is largely recognizable and because it clearly wants to wrestle with ideas about traditional big science fiction themes, in this case, what it means to be human, and what it means to have a consciousness.

Humans is, ironically enough, about robots. Synths, as their called in this universe, are humanoid looking robots, designed to be hyper-intelligent helpers to humans, doing the laundry, driving their cars, going out for groceries, and nannying their children, picking their fruit. They do them all without feeling, so they don’t mind doing whatever you tell them to do at all times. That is, except for a rogue strain of synths that somehow, unbeknownst to all but a few, somehow gained consciousness and have feelings and self-awareness.

There are a few primary plot strains in the first episode. There’s a typical suburban nuclear family. The father is exhausted from having to take care of the kids while the mother is constantly traveling for her job, so he purchases a synth, which happens to be one of the few with consciousness. An older man refuses to upgrade his synth; his old model, which he painstakingly tries to fix, has some important memories he is trying to maintain. A man runs with a rogue band of conscious synths who are being chased; they’re caught, and the synths are hauled off and strewn about. The man who chased down those synths wants them examined, and is concerned that consciousness in machines could lead to a singularity – a time when machines have no need for humans.

The acting is fine, and the writing is not particularly noteworthy or deficient. The humans don’t seem particularly compelling right off. The weight of the episode is in the portrayal of the synths and the high concept of the big science fiction ideas generally. If you like Humans, you’re going to like it because you find the premise fascinating, not because of the first episode’s characters or story. Because of this, the pilot really has to sell the premise, and by the end it’s intriguing enough to make a credible case to convince viewers to comeback for another episode, but not so much show to give viewers any confidence they’ll be sticking around all season.

The beauty of Black Mirror is the anthology style which gets in and gets out over the course of an hour, a short enough time to keep high concepts from wearing out. I skeptically wonder how the concept at the center of Humans will play over a longer period of time. There are obviously ample issues to grapple with, but there are also easy ways to drag out the same issues over a far longer number of episodes than is necessary.  Whether Humans can deepen its themes to survive the long haul will likely determine its ultimate success.

Will I watch it again? I think I will, because it’s been a pretty slow summer, and I’m kind of chomping at the bit for a new summer show to really get into, but I might not had this aired in the much busier spring. It was a somewhat entertaining plot, but it wasn’t amazing and I’m definitely concerned where it will go and how long it can last.