While the idea of androids becoming sentient is nothing new in the world of science fiction, Channel 4’s series Humans takes that concept, adds some thematically sound, though provocative questions and a diverse range of characters to produce a surprisingly compelling series. With a continuously rising xenophobic attitude from large swathes of humankind toward synthetics, Humans balances its world building with a diverse range of interesting characters to surprisingly good effect, making this a must watch for any science fiction fans.
The story begins with a simple but life changing decision for the Hawkins family as they decide to buy their first synthetic. With a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, the family try to adjust to life with their new synth, Mia (Gemma Chan), who grapples with unexplainable, sporadic bursts of human behaviour. Alongside this main narrative are several subplots that anchor different thought provocative questions about what a future with synthetics may look like. Malfunctioning, old model Odi (Will Tudor) and his bond with Dr. George (William Hurt) raises interesting questions about friendship between man and machine while Niska’s (Emily Berrington) role as a synthetic prostitute questions the ethics of forcing a synth into sexual acts. Fred’s (Sope Dirisu) role as a poorly treated agricultural worker draws more than one comparison to slavery and late on a supporting character reveals themselves to be a synth too. On their own, these stories do feel a little disjointed but the proverbial glue tying all these plots together are runaways Max (Ivanno Jeremiah) and Leo (Colin Morgan) who are on a mission to track down the various synthetics we meet early on for a special mission, providing valuable answers to why these synths in particular are experiencing erratic, emotional behaviour.
For the most part the story plays out well, with a good balance between each of the stories despite Mia and the Hawkins being the predominantly featured narrative. The 8 episodes in this first season are chock full of action and plot progression too with every character, both artificial and human, given enough time to grow and develop. The acting is genuinely very good all round with each of the synths believably artificial in their mannerisms and persona. The chemistry between each of the characters is well written too and whether it be the rising tensions and ensuing fallout of the Hawkins family or even just disdain from Inspector Drummond (Neil Maskell) toward his wife’s synthetic carer, there’s a wide variety of characters from all walks of life, serving to show various different people and how they’ve been affected by the synth revolution.
The gritty realism of Humans helps to bring the thought provocative themes to centre stage and it’s here that this sci-fi show comes into its own. With enough time to explore each of the narratives, the 8 episodes showcase a range of different ideas and how society would cope with a world inhabited by synthetic androids. At times there’s some frightening parallels with our own culture too; hearing an angry protester blaming synthetics for a lack of jobs is the most obvious example of this. Humans may not have a lavish budget to work with or have the luxury of high CGI and big action set pieces but what it lacks in flashy aesthetics, it more than makes up for with its engaging and well written narrative.
There are inevitably parts of the series that do suffer a little and a few of the storylines aren’t quite as endearing as they perhaps could be but for the most part Humans is an interesting, well written show boasting some truly engaging characters. The link between each of the main synthetics is what keeps this engaging late on and although the series does end on quite the cliffhanger, ready for its second season, there’s enough here to make this a satisfying, compelling watch all the same. If you’re even remotely interested in androids, sci-fi or just generally good storytelling, you owe it to yourself to check this one out which is sure to miss the mainstream radar given its relatively low budget.