Humans: A New Series on AMC

Could you use some extra help around the house?

I took the advice of a fellow blogger, and as I begin this post I am now through 7 of the 8 episodes of the AMC series Humans . The Season wraps up on AMC this Sunday night, the 16th of August (and I’ll conclude this post after viewing the Season Finale). Here’s how the series begins: One day a husband, Joe Hawkins, whose wife, Laura Hawkins,  is away on yet another business trip (she’s a lawyer), decides to buy a robot to help with the household chores and improve the quality of life in the Hawkins household.  So they head on down to the synth store (that’s synth as in synthetics). A smooth salesman promises Joe and the kids they’ll love the machine called Anita.

Sign here Joe – there’s a 30 day return window that comes with this synth – no questions asked. Once Joe signs, the un-boxing and set-up of Anita will follow.

A tap under the chin, and the synth awakes. Call it an on-off switch if you prefer....

The un-boxing of Anita. A tap under the chin, and the synth powers on. Call it an on-off switch if you prefer….

So Joe Hawkins brings Anita home. She’s an untiring aid in the house. She cooks, cleans, washes, irons, and it is not made clear if she does windows or not. Days off and holidays are not required.

Anita can read bedtime stories to young Sophie, and then tuck the youngest daughter into bed, plus – she’s drop dead gorgeous.

Youngest daughter Sophie asks – Does Mom know? Dad – No, it’s a surprise. Well, Anita is beyond capable. When Laura comes home, she is upset, and not just a little frightened of Anita. Not too long afterward, Laura begins to feel a bit more frightened. She questions Anita. Laura, a bit unsatisfied with Anita’s answers says – I’m watching you Anita…. as in be careful of what you do or say.

Anita’s reply – I’m watching you Laura, you’re right in front of me…

My first thought was that it was ominous, but actually it was a  straightforward as a synth can get. Still, this particular exchange seemed to dripping with foreboding and dread. Usually, the last thing I want in either movies or TV is to be scared. Yet, I could not deem it unwatchable or too scary at this juncture.

Besides the Hawkins family, let’s have a look at some of the others .For example, there’s William Hurt‘s character, Dr. Millican, who I felt slowed the story down initially. He moved slowly, was a recovered stroke victim, and a widower. But as that part of the story moved along I liked him more and more because he was an anarchist, kind of, and it was easy to identify with him. Plus he, once upon a time, worked for the company that designed the synths. He left because, as he said, the head of the company’s research was going in a direction I wasn’t happy with.

I thought that initially, the teen-age daughter, Mattie, was too narrowly defined – you know, slot her in the angry teen category. But by the end of third episode, you come to realize that Mattie is more than just an angry young woman. Blame it on too many short quick bursts of anger without much in the way of balance early on. As for the rest of the family, I didn’t much like the brother – and the dad,

Sign here Joe, you won't regret it...

Sign here Joe, you won’t regret it…

Joe Hawkins, would have some issues as well. Below is the family followed by an image of Anita, Mattie, and Laura.

As for Anita, she was fascinating, yet scary/creepy. Laura Hawkins said, You brought it into our home, We don’t know anything about it. You’re taking her back, and that wasn’t a question – it was a statement. Joe Hawkins replied – I’m not. I’m not taking her back – it’s just a machine. But I found ‘it’ a bit frightening, like did Mrs Hawkins.

Image then that your toaster, refrigerator, or even your pc looked like Gemma Chan, who portrayed Anita, and could respond to your requests and questions. Then imagine that she would need to be plugged in – as in recharged – in effect, she’d be sitting on one of your kitchen chairs, over-night, plugged in and recharging, much as your toaster sits on your kitchen counter, or your refrigerator stands there nearly silently. That’s what living with an appliance, or in this case, a synth is like.

But there are other characters, both humans and synths that I can introduce.

I was thoroughly put off with the Electronic Devices cop, Joe Drummond,  the one with the anger issues. After Odi (Millican’s synth) has an unexpected violent episode, where he strikes a woman – a clear violation of his code, in a pharmacy store (the police are called in) so Drummond asks Millican for the operating license for Odi.  Millican is distraught. A woman was hurt and he hears this from Drummond:

You’ve had this machine for six years. A record. Time for an upgrade.This machine needs to be re-cycled, mate. Won’t even power up, it’s junk. Drummond is angry all the time, no doubt due to  the fact that his injured in a car accident wife, who is now under the care of a handsome and capable synth as her care giver, and is thriving under that care. Drummond begins to feel like an afterthought in his own marriage. And beyond that – every single time we were at Drummond’s place they showed the train (underground tube trains running above ground where he lived) rolling past. Not a big deal but I couldn’t help but notice it as it was repeated way too often. Then there’s the fact that synths work at his police station, so it is hard for him to get away from them.

Things went along predictably for a while, until Millican, the old codger, had his son substitute/synth Odi, (actually an older synth model that was in the process of wearing or breaking down)  go off the rails so to speak. Social services arrived, and since Milican was under their care, he had no choice but to accept the replacement.

Say hello to the newest and latest model synth Nurse Ratchet aka Vera, as Odi’s replacement. She looked fierce and problematic ( you know – she who must be obeyed) from the first time we saw her. While Vera was undoubtedly better suited to keep track of George Millican’s meds and doctor appointments, Millican loved Odi, well, like… a son. But wait – there’s more.

The things I am most having difficulties with are the horrible humans – Hawkins family aside (excepting Joe Hawkins using the special instructions that arrived in a sealed envelope , as a part of the Users Guide, which gave directions on the setting up of Anita for the adult activity mode – meaning  he could have sex with Anita). But the brothels, where human men or women have sex with synths, the underground garage fight clubs where humans beat up synths with sticks and clubs – for the fun of it – were difficult viewing. Tie that together with the humans thinking of the synths as talking tin cans, slaves, and machines to be used until they break down. as well as other attitudinal maltreatment of the synths, and you’re seeing the worst of us.  Plus at the far end of it all – was our universal subconscious fear of synths.

This leads us to the philosophical issues raised – when the synths become better than the humans, when they become able to recreate themselves without our help – this might immediately make humans feel inferior. A thought always followed by another thought – what will become of the humans? Will we humans become the subject group? This is the stated, and/or unstated fear of all the human characters with regard to living in the machine age. Said another way, will the coming technology render humans eminently replaceable, tossed away just as so many scrapped or junked automobiles – set aside and stacked up in the same way, metaphorically speaking, as wrecked or ruined cars that we see in our auto junkyards.

I’m shocked by the second detective who works with Drummond. Four episodes in, we discover that this female copper is actually some sort of undercover synth posing as a human cop.

Then there’s Niska (above), who when we first meet her, she’s working in a brothel. Yes, she is a synthetic prostitute. She looks beautiful, but she’s more than just sexy, or funny. She really is quite scary. You see, she’s been tinkered with. As in re-coded, or reprogrammed. She has capabilities, and skills, previously unavailable to synths. Which brings us to another part of Humans.

A while back, some scientist tinkered with 5 of these synths. They were reprogrammed or coded, and given many more capabilities than your average synth might have. Some considered them dangerous, but not in the way you might imagine. These are not a new version of the Terminators. What they’ve gained is emotionality. Some saw them as super valuable commodities. They disappeared as if they were a family that needed to be kept out of the public’s collective sight. Actually they escaped and were separately on the run. This plot line falls definitely into the mysterious part of the series.

Leo, who may or may not be a human, who hangs with Max, a synth,  has been trying to find those now missing others, There’s Fred, there’s Niska, there’s Max, and there’s one other a female synth called Mia plus yet one more… a Karen. These synths were what you might call hybrids or prototypes for the future.

Max in blue sweatshirt and Leo

Max in blue sweatshirt and Leo

Also searching for them is the human, a Dr. Hobbs. Between Hobbs and the government, and Leo and his efforts – we have a thriller aspect to this drama. Best line: When Dr Hobbs, who is some sort of scientist, or a doctor, engineer,  or creator of synths, and as yet, he is still undeclared as either a certifiable good guy or bad guy – actually he’s trying to track down the group of modified and upgraded synths. He is able to capture Fred, and has described Fred thusly: He’s the Mona Lisa, he’s penicillin, he’s the Atom Bomb. Which is not all that far from Dr. Victor Frankenstein who said in the 1931 film Frankenstein – He’s alive! I mean you can feel the pride and sense that Hobb is quite proud of the accomplishment of the project.

Let’s have a video look at the characters as well as the synths:

I think the show is far from unique but, so far, has been able to hold my interest despite the fact that I have reached a point, more than once, when I’ve said – I can’t watch any more of this.

You know sci-fi usually has its own iconic machines or tools . But almost always there are flawed human beings. For the record, I’m not counting Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the Alien movies, as one of the flawed. But we, as actual humans , may walk and play with this thought creeping into our heads, now and again. Like Mattie the angry teenager says – Why should I bother to study, when a synth can do anything I can do, and do it better.

Synths at a charging station from Real Humans

Synths at a charging station from Real Humans

I am now waiting to watch the seasonal finale this  Sunday night. So maybe some deeper thoughts should be presented. I’ll keep it short. Since this show has been written by humans, it is not a stretch to understand that there’s always an inclination to attempt to humanize the robots. None of these are like The Terminator, or C3PO from Star Wars, or the robots that Will Smith dealt with in I, Robot. We are not shown any interior hardware on these synths. They are not set up as super-heroes or anything close. They look just like us, and walk and talk just like us.

But when synths began to feel, and emote, and can appreciate a moonlit night sky, the line between the humans and the synths has already blurred. And this is when problems arise. I don’t mean with this show, I mean the merging of the machines and people.   This show has been renewed for a second season, so I thought at this time, following the suggestion from the author of Snakes in The Grass. I might do a write-up of the show. By the way, this is a British production, set in the parallel present and is filmed in London and environs. It is, in fact, a remake of a Swedish series called Real Humans.

The finale of Season One has just concluded. I think the show kind of went off the rails – when the synths changed from robot, or synths, and became more humanized. They changed from appliances to appliances wanting to live and love and think and feel just like humans. While an interesting question from a philosophical  perspective, there wasn’t enough substance to truly engage the viewer. Kind of like attending a lecture, asking questions of the professor, and then leaving the lecture hall and forgetting about it. By this I mean that show, at least for me, did not leave a lasting impact.

We’ll close with a look at a video overview of the show:

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4 thoughts on “Humans: A New Series on AMC

  1. The show looked fairly interesting to me, but I never got around to it. I’ve been watching Mr. Robot instead, which has definitely surprised me with its acting/writing/production quality.

  2. A great post, Mike. Thanks again for all of your thoughts about the show. They pretty much mirror mine, especially as I watched the first three episodes. I kept expecting to bail on it, but somehow I stayed watching. By probably the fourth episode I decided it had sucked me in.

    I was first really surprised that William Hurt decided to take this gig because (a) it’s a supporting role, and (b) it doesn’t seem like anything he’d ever do (i.e. a television series???). But I do think his character is quirky enough that he must have felt he could sink his teeth into the role. Plus, after viewing the most recent episode (number seven), it becomes clearer why he might have chosen to do it.

    Hurt’s character George has an unhealthy attachment to his synth, Odi. It seems that the strong feelings he has for him are wrapped up in the sorrow he continues to have about his late wife’s passing. That we later learn George was “present at the creation” of the synth design brings him much closer to the storyline. I might be the only person who actually likes his new synth, Vera. I told my wife I’d like someone to keep such strict watch over my meds and health! 🙂

    To me, the story mainly centers around the Hawkins family. I like Laura (the wife) quite a bit, at first I couldn’t stand daughter Mattie but now like her. The son (Toby) slowly begins to become more interesting in later episodes. The one I absolutely do not like is the father, Joe. I don’t care for his clueless character, and quite frankly for me he’s also the weakest actor in the ensemble. I’m wondering if he’s an old college drinking buddy of the casting director??? Sorry– a bit catty of me.

    The angry cop’s total hatred for synths has also gotten on my nerves, though I’ve been enjoying the fact that they’ve even got them working alongside his desk at the police headquarters. He cannot get away from them, and now even his partner is one!

    Of the synths themselves, I agree that Anita (later Mia) is a little scary and creepy, though a view soon enough changes his/her opinion of her. Her character is the most interesting to me, even more so than the cop. Niska is a “work in progress” because she is constantly being forced to face a more compassionate side of understand human interactions. My favorite is Max because he only sees the good in everyone, even those who are mean him harm.

    I now like the show because it’s quirky. My wife absolutely abhors violent portrayals on film and has a very low tolerance for it. Usually it’s hard to get her interested in new shows because of this, but she too has become semi-addicted to the series. As long as the violence continues to be minor, I think she’ll enjoy watching it next year.

    Thanks for a great review!

    • I’m kind of wondering how this will play in a second season. Maybe a new family with new synths? Because the more we see of the ones we already know, the less unique they are – almost as if they may have been manufactured instead of born, but the problems are not as dramatically different. I think that’s why they ended the 1st season the wy they did – without much in the way of a cliffhanger – more like – happy trails…

      And the Hawkins family are now old hat. Maybe the Hawkins family comes under some sort of duress, and the synths come in to save them. But, and I can only emphasize that this is simply pure conjecture – we really have no idea. Thanks for the splendid coment.

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