June 29, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Humans”


HUMANS:  Sunday 9PM on AMC – If Nothing Else Is On…

The sentient robot story gets another workout in HUMANS, AMC’s first import series.  It’s set in a barely futuristic England where “synths” have taken over an increasing number of menial and routine jobs.  They’re housekeepers, nannies, companions to the elderly–and prostitutes–and they’ve been programmed to perform their duties with courtesy and unquestioning zeal, never to deliberately harm a flesh and blood person.  As ever in these tales, though, some of them are showing signs of free–and thus potentially dangerous–will.

Blade Runner is 33 years old this year, and 2001: A Space Odyssey is celebrating its 47th birthday, and of course the genre goes back much farther than that, at least to Metropolis.  That’s not to say it’s impossible to make new tunes out of these notes–very recently, the British TV series Black Mirror and the film Ex Machina have brilliantly found original takes on the premise.  But the opening episode of Humans, based by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent on a Swedish format, suggests that this will be no more than a workmanlike reprise of a familiar song.

The protagonist, more or less, is Anita (Gemma Chan), an errant synth who was apparently captured and reprogrammed a few weeks before the story begins.  She’s been repurchased in her newy booted form by Joe (Tim Goodman-Hall), whose lawyer wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is often away from home, and whose home and 3 children could use some order in their lives.  Anita is smoothly operational, but there are moments when her concentration skips a beat, and she regards youngest daughter Sophie (Pixie Davis) or the moon with too much intensity, worrying Laura.  Meanwhile, Leo (Colin Morgan) is trying to keep together his small band of super-synths, and the synth factory is trying to track down them.

Humans is well put together, with a first episode directed by Sam Donovan that tells its story efficiently and with clarity.  Chan has the glint of emotion behind a bland surface thing down pat, and we’re not sure at this point whether we should be cheered or terrified by her signs of humanity.  What the series lacks, ironically enough, is personality.  Aside from a so-far subsidiary storyline in which aging George Millican (William Hurt) can’t bear to give up his synth, now outdated and running down after 6 years of service, because it’s become his surrogate son and memory, the human characters aren’t much more interesting than synths themselves.  They have pedestrian character traits (the teen daughter of Joe and Laura is bratty, Joe slips the “Adult” options for Anita oh-so-casually into his pocket) that don’t succeed in making them distinctive.  Of course, there’s a history for populating this form of sci-fi with humans who are no more textured–and sometimes less–than their electronic counterparts, making the audience question the very definition of “humanity” itself, but Humans doesn’t seem to be deliberately invoking Blade Runner or 2001‘s kind of stylization.  The writing doesn’t have much wit, and the cleverest thing about the series is the fact that AMC has scheduled it back-to-back with Halt and Catch Fire, as a sort of unofficial nightmare sequel to the 1980s struggles of the Catch Fire heroines’ efforts to bring their websites to life.

Perhaps Humans will deliver more depth, or at least some surprises, as it continues through the rest of its 8-episode run.  At the start, though, it’s following its programming all too closely.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."