Images are courtesy of RLJ Entertainment.
A co-production by AMC and the UK station Channel 4, Humans is set in a near future Britain where robots that are indistinguishable from humans are manufactured to do menial and unpopular jobs. To ensure that they are versatile but subservient, these so-called synths are highly adaptable automatons without free will or feeling.
What the inventor of these synths failed to tell the world is that his experiments with AI resulted in the creation of a small group of advanced synths that can think for themselves and experience emotions. These synths are concerned that they will be terminated by a human society fearful of being superseded by machines. Hence, they are on the run aided by the original inventor's son (played by Merlin's Colin Morgan), who harbors his own shocking secret.
Weaved into this premise are a couple of subplots involving a police officer (Neil Maskell), who begins to resent his wife's attraction to a hunky synth hired as her in-home care, and the touching relationship between an infirm scientist (William Hurt) and his outdated synth, Odi (Will Tudor), that he relies on to retain the memories he lost after a stroke.
From these elements Humans develops an eight-episode story that is a combination of family drama and sci-fi thriller. At the center of the former is an average British family that buys a synth they name Anita. Anita is programmed to do the housework and thereby relieve pressure on the mom, Laura (played by The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson), and the dad, Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), who seems to spend most of his time drinking coffee and watching soccer.
Not keen on synths to start with, Laura has more reason to be concerned when Anita starts showing flashes of personality. It's no great spoiler to say that Anita is one of the advanced synths whose original identity was overwritten after she was captured, reprogrammed and put on the regular synth market.
As Anita's special nature becomes increasingly apparent to her owners, the other advanced synths try to track her down. They, in turn, are being pursued by the authorities, led by a mysterious character played by Danny Webb. Understandably, the government doesn't want the existence of the sentient synths to become public knowledge, especially after one murders a human.
Where Humans deserves credit is for attempting to approach the societal implications of artificial intelligence on a down-to-earth level. There is little in the way of technobabble and the focus on how AIs could impact our daily lives keeps the story grounded.
Unfortunately, that approach is somewhat undermined by clichéd elements, such as Webb's stereotypical official and the overarching story's failure to add anything new to the discussion about the risks of technological progress.
Moreover, aside from the scenes between Hurt and Tudor, Humans is largely emotionally flat and it's hard to really care much about anyone. Almost all of the human characters seem to be miserable and the intelligent synths don't help their cause because several appear to just as selfish as the humans they are rebelling against. Only Max, delightfully played by Ivanno Jeremiah, stands out as deserving of sympathy.
Despite these issues, Humans is a worthy attempt to bring issues associated with AI to a mass audience. The actors are convincing and the ideas are intelligent without being particularly challenging. To the writers' credit, it also doesn't attempt to provide answers to the tricky ethical questions it draws from. What's more, with a second season already confirmed, there's plenty of potential for the series to expand its horizons.
Acorn's North American Blu-ray release of Humans is the uncut UK version of the show. According to the press release, this includes over 20 minutes of footage not broadcast by AMC. The two-disc set also has a 'making of' feature, several featurettes and a photo gallery.