(Ep.1) I loved the first episode of Humans. I was almost certain to, given the subject matter – I’m a geek at heart and I’ve always been fascinated by the debate about at what point artificial intelligence has to be recognised as a life form and given “human” rights. Maybe that’s why I’ve seen Blade Runner over 30 times.
The shadow of Blade Runner looms large over Humans, but that’s never a bad thing as long as it’s done well, and it is here (even the trailers for this were genius). The basic idea of Humans – as soon as artificial intelligence acquires/is given feelings and memories it’s no longer a machine but a life form – is very much Blade Runner, but the setting is here-ish and now-ish.
An average sort of family (mum, dad, three kids) acquire a robot servant – it’s implied that this is quite the done thing and this family have been a bit slow to get in on the trend. Dad Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) thinks it will be a great help to his harassed wife Laura (played by the brilliant Katherine Parkinson). She’s a lot less convinced, mainly because the robot, Anita (Gemma Chan) is an attractive female who is the perfect housewife and spends a great deal of her time apparently bonding with the cute youngest child Sophie (Pixie Davies) – who typically of kids is the most comfortable with this new technology.
What we know, and the family don’t (though Laura is beginning to suspect, spotting clues like finding Anita staring in wonderment at the moon) is that Anita is the equivalent of Blade Runner‘s Nexus 6 model – she has emotions and memories. She also has a human friend (Colin Morgan) who is the leader of a gang of runaway rogue robots.
As well as these two strands there’s also William Hurt playing George, an old man with a failing memory who relies on his beautiful male robot Odi (Will Tudor) to remember things for him. His robot is an older model due for recycling, but there’s a bond between them, and the old man doesn’t want to let him go. The memories he holds are too precious and Odi is much more to him than an artificial care assistant who must be upgraded on the whim of the care services (including an artificial and very scary Vera, played by the endlessly versatile Rebecca Front). The scenes between George and his malfunctioning, artificial “son” were poignant and sad.
The way the robots are integrated into everyday life is a striking aspect of Humans. We see them doing all sorts of everyday jobs (including prostitution, which like Blade Runner‘s “basic pleasure model” Priss and A.I.’s Gigolo Joe seems to be one of the first things humans think of when they manage to make a lifelike robot). In that sense they’re nothing more than slaves and our sympathies are with them as much as with the spooked Hawkins family – even though when we last saw Anita she’d taken little Sophie from her bed and was walking off into the night with her.
The actors who play the robots are excellent. We can only tell them apart from the blood and guts humans by their artificially green eyes and a certain stillness about them. They manage to capture that ‘uncanny valley’ sense of something that is almost, but not quite, like us. The family try to treat Anita like the machine she is (Laura’s attempts to assert her authority are usually followed by an “Is that clear?” that sounds like she isn’t even fooling herself that she’s in control), but Sophie’s relationship with her is more loving and simple. Similarly the bond between George and Odi – at least from George’s side – has transcended the division of human and machine.
It’s all beautifully done and absolutely fascinating. Episode 2 airs on Sunday on Channel 4, and episode 1 is available on catch-up.