Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Humans, All Too Humans

Humans (AMC)
Sundays at 9 p.m. EST

OK, I'm all in. Finally watched the first episode (on demand) of AMC's new sci-fi series Humans last night and I'm hooked.

I say new, but this Anglo-American co-production (that's AMC-Channel 4) is actually an English-language adaptation of yet another groundbreaking Nordic TV series, Sweden's Real Humans (Akta Manniskor, 2012-2014), which is as yet unavailable to see unless you have an all-region DVD player.

So why am I in? Well, first off it's a British production filled with a mostly Brit cast (save for William Hurt). Then it's got two Doc Martin alumni in Katherine Parkinson (receptionist "Pauline Lamb," 2005-2009) and Tom Goodman-Hall (Portwenn bartender "Mark Ridge," 2011; Goodman-Hall also had a prominent role in last year's Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game), who play a middle-class professional couple, Joe and  Laura Hawkins, with three kids and a need for some help around the house - though Parkinson would prefer a less attractive housekeeper than "Anita." Anita, you see, is a "Synth," a flesh-and-bolts all-too-human-on-the-surface A.I. machine played by the sexy Gemma Chan (who I last saw as a touchy-feely archeology student in Shetland). As you can see in the pics below, she's quite an upgrade from the space-age Rosie the Robot model I grew up watching on The Jetsons.

Rosie the Robot from "The Jetsons"
Gemma Chan cleaning up as "Anita"

Gemma Chan is green with humanoid envy as "Anita"

Her counterpart in Real Humans, Lisette Pagler, is perhaps even sexier, albeit with brown eyes:

Real Humans' "Anita," Lisette Pagler

Synths can be distinguished from humans by their sparkling blueish-green eyes (whoever is providing the colored contact lenses for this series must be making a mint!) and, well, by their politeness (Abe Sherman and Donald Trump would not pass as Synths). But certain Synths are more similar to humans than meets their blue-green eyes; some can actually feel and dream. They are self-aware and start to think of themselves existentially (Cogita ergo sum, anyone?) - but as limited-time-only mortal coils. Yes, they are emo bots.

Seeing as Blade Runner is my all-time favorite movie, you can see where I'm going with this. Yes, these Synths are basically updates on Philip K. Dick's Androids-dreaming-of-electric-sheep, of Ridley Scott's memory-longing "Replicants" who want freedom from their artificial enslavement. They want "more life, fucker." You can make the argument that these robotic wage slaves are metaphors for today's exploited immigrant labor force that toils in sweatshops and farm fields. These are servants that get recharged instead of fed and paid.

In place of Harrison Ford's "Blade Runner" Rick Dekard, we have Hobb (played by Danny Webb, who you might remember as prisoner colony leader Morse in Aliens 3) out to involuntarily "retire" the renegade robots.

Naturally, men being men, when Daddy brings home a sexy skin-job (to use a Bladerunner vulgarism), it's just a matter of time before temptation rears its ugly head. I love the scene where Goodman-Hall looks over his operator's manual and spies an "Adult Options 18+," which he quickly and furtively slips into his back pocket so the family won't see it. Everything in this Brave New World is apparently On Demand. There's already a emo Synth, Niska, who is hiding out in a brothel and looks to be an update on Blade Runner's ass-kicking "pleasure unit" Pris (as portaryed by the athletic Darry Hannah).

William Hurt's character is an aging engineer who may at one time have worked on the technology that led to creating these Synths. He has become paternally-attached to a similarly aging, outmoded Synth, one who retains many of the memories Hurt's character, Dr. George Millican, is slowly starting to lose to dementia. He kind of reminds me of Blade Runner's Tyrell, the father figure inventor whose creations have run wild and out of control.

The show makes a statement about a future that's not all that far away. Don't we already have GPS, computers, and smart phones that talk to us? Robotic voice mail messengers? (You've come a long way, Speak and Spell!). Recent movies like Ex Machina and Her also have trod this familiar ground.

Maybe the novelty will pass. But so far, I am intrigued by the issues and the characters in Humans.