Humans Series 1 – Review


Wires Crossed

Channel 4’s atmospheric series about the increasing presence of robots in our lives was well done and fleetingly brilliant, though sometimes burned too slowly for its own good.




Imagine a present-day world where highly intelligent, humanoid robots help you around the house. Imagine how ticked-off some people would probably feel about being almost superseded by the aforementioned walking, talking bundles of wires and electricity. Imagine all of that and you have the premise of Humans, the glacially-paced sci-fi drama from Channel 4. These robots, or ‘Synths’, created by the reclusive Dr David Elster (Stephen Boxer) before the events of the story in order to improve people’s daily lives, instead bring chaos, turmoil and uncertainty. Easy Sunday night viewing, then.

—And what a cast of characters it boasted, first and foremost the dysfunctional-as-anything Hawkins family: there was the anxious Laura (Katherine Parkinson, now carving out a nice niche as a dramatic actress) and her dimwit husband Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), and their three children who each fulfil a stereotype. Toby was the hormonal lad, Mattie was the rebellious teenage girl who could hack computers, and Sophie was the cute young’un. Then there was the most recent addition to the household, Anita (Gemma Chan), the black-haired Synth with the clipped English accent who Joe had bought as a helper. Her arrival was duly followed by much mistrust and resentment, which built to boiling point as the series progressed.

There were also a number of other threads to follow. There was Pete (Neil Maskell) and Karen (Ruth Bradley), the police officer duo who got entangled deep within the mess of human-Synth relations. Leo (Colin Morgan) and Max (Ivanno Jeremiah), one of them a Synth, the other not quite, were on the run from the law and searching for ‘the others’. Another Synth, Niska (Emily Berrington), was a sex-worker but then also had to go on the run after, shall we say, a misdemeanour. ]]

Meanwhile, retired Dr George Millican (William Hurt) was trying to covertly look after his old, broken Synth whilst another helper (Rebecca Front) moved in and did nothing but dispense blindingly obvious advice. Needless to say, more tension. At the same time, Professor Edwin Hobb (Danny Webb) had captured a rogue Synth, Fred (Sope Dirisu), and was running tests on him. Oh, and occasionally one of the many Synths would cry out ‘Why don’t you share?’ or acquire a haunted look and start twitching. All this was rather mysterious and fed the fires of plot.

That would be all very well if Humans had acted on its evident potential to be thrilling and interesting earlier on, as it was adept at planting all the seeds. However, after the clues, the show then chose to have as little as possible happening per week so as to drag everything out. This diffused most of the tension of this eight part series from episode 3 up until the comparatively explosive episode 6, where everything built to a head and the acting quality went up a few notches.

It found its impetus from then onwards, and in the end almost justified the speed of events up until that point. There were even a couple of twists, and given how long we were made to wait for them, they were all the more surprising. Throw into the bargain plenty of ruminations on mortality and humanity and what makes us who we are, and a little bit of bringing a family together, and the whole shindig ended up being quite moving. \\

Of course the main idea of the series isn’t exactly original, but then again true originality seems increasingly hard to find these days. What Humans did was find yet another angle to probe what’s already been probed. —-All its enquiring about the limits of technology and what really makes us tick are not new, but with the ever-advancing gizmos of today, and the inherent distrust and fear that one man appears to bear towards anything unknown, these concerns may be more relevant today than ever. So Humans, all in all, justified its existence on the box.

But the show left a number of questions intriguingly (irritatingly/deliberately) unanswered for its second series, which has already been announced. So we’ll just have to tune in again next year to find out the answers, something which us inquisitive humans will usually do anything for. It’s a good thing that Humans – just – made us care enough about its characters that we might feel compelled to.

It’s an irksome niggle, though, that the thing with technology (and with television) – is that it’s always advancing and will never be content to just stop. The storylines could have all easily been tied up in the final episode, but resolving things neatly the first time round just isn’t in the root code – and that’s a shame. <<


Alex Nicholson

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