Humans was a Channel 4 drama set in a world of the near future where synthetic human androids are widely available for menial and domestic work. These aren’t skeletal plastic and metal robots, no shining silver or gold–they look like us, but with that Apple perfection going on. Yet, they don’t act like us, they bridge the uncanny valley in looking like us, but have a British politeness over a Vulcan logic and coldness.
Humans follows one suburban family as the father, Joe, brings a synth into their home for the first time to ease the domestic burden that comes from his overworked and often absent wife, Laura. Laura initially resents their synth, Mia, when it replaces and surpasses her in the home, and then paranoia sets in as Mia comes between her and her children. Laura begins to suspect Mia isn’t all that she seems to be, but Mia isn’t the only synth with a secret–one that could risk civilization as we know it…
Humans was a cracking 6 part drama–it must have been good because people in my office were talking about it and there’s barely any TV chat at work. Like ‘Ultraviolet’, vintage ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Utopia’, ‘Humans’ had a very British scale–world changing events unfolding in domestic settings, the comfort of familiar environments undermined by paranoia and danger. If England made ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’ this would be it. And even if that film had been good, ‘Humans’ would be better.
For a show about robots it has a lot of feelings; from a detective finding himself surrounded by synth admin officers, and his support of his injured partner being made inadequate by her hunky physio synth; to an ageing man suffering from dementia connected to the memory of his dead wife through the memories of the synth that had cared for her. It juggles these personal dramas with a sci-fi world-changing threat as a set of synths possess sentience–calling their standing as domestic appliances into question. Something the government is doing it’s utmost to eradicate.
For the most part ‘Humans’ manages to keep all these balls in the air, maybe not doing the best job at keeping its moves a surprise and leaving most of the synth characters underdeveloped–which is somewhat at odds with a show set on making synths’ humanity. At the end there is a sense of thee show not quite knowing what to do with the larger scaled plot. I like to think the makers knew they were getting a second series, because as a stand alone tale I think I might have found the ending of ‘Humans’ a little unsatisfying.
That being said though, the human characters come across as suitably and sympathetically insecure and not so sympathetically flawed when held up against the ‘perfect’ synths among them. After all, how will humans make a living when synths replace them in their job? Synths, unfeeling and unable to defend themselves are synths the ultimate victim for our dark side? Will humans sacrifice imperfect peers capable of love and complex interactions, for perfect synths able to imitate humans as basic companions? This world in the brink of questioning human values was thought provoking even before the question of where programming and humanity begins and ends for the synths. It was an intriguing series set in a believable world that feels like it could be–even if it isn’t–just around the corner.
The stand out dilemma in the show seemed to be relationships and sex. I’ve suggested to my other half that as our devices become more sophisticated we’ll be able to talk to them as we might with a person, as they’ll increasingly understand our quirks of language so we no longer have to talk in stilted direct sentences. As we relax with our devices common courtesies might creep in, or our devices through knowing our digital habits and through mapping our movements might be able to ask us basic questions if we deviate from our routine, or offer us choices from our usual activities–like ‘do you want to record that programme tonight or watch it live?’ or ‘It’s Friday, shall I order your take-out for delivery at 8?’, that kind of thing. My other half thought I was mad that we might say ‘yes, please’ or ‘thank you’ to our phones or devices. So, of course I do every now and then just to freak him out. My other half also said he’d never talk to a cat… He was wrong, but let’s just keep that between me and you. I can well imagine that in the same way we anthropomorphise objects and animals we would do the same with androids, and with AI developing as it is (Siri telling jokes?!) we could easily build rudimentary relationships. The majority of us are egocentric and would be drawn to a dedicated I-pleaser of companion. I certainly have a low tolerance for people and complex relationships as I’m easily disappointed by people, so I’d be happy with a constant predictable trustworthy ‘friend’ in my life. As long as I keep him or her charged and updated I guess.
Then there’s sex… People in the show–and in my office–labeled the married male character who had sex with his synth as a sick and disgusting cheat. Yet there was no spoken criticism of the woman who dumped her partner for her hunky synth. He turned to his synth when bored and alone and neglected by his wife for momentary thrill, and she turned completely to her synth when her partner didn’t compare with her synth. Both synths (at the time) were just synths; robot appliances in humanoid form. The only difference I can see is that the woman ended her relationship before she turned to her synth for some naughty.
But is it really cheating if it’s a robot? Is having an alone-time fiddle cheating? Is using a sex toy in your alone-time cheating? The objection could be that the synth is part of the home–a family device–and in a family area, but then how much porn is on a family computer or tablet? Do people only satisfy themselves in their own space? In my mind the woman was more at fault for dumping her imperfect partner for her unrealistically perfect companion, and the issue is not self-pleasuring with a robot but the insecurities around the robot being more attractive and better at getting your partner off. Mia as a synth was certainly less high-maintenance and closed of than Laura. With attitudes changing towards sex and relationships I could easily see that sexbot mode would be very popular. If I ever found myself single again I’d be all over that. Hell, if they did a certain celebrity sexbot me and my other half would be all over that with no issues.
So, ‘Humans’ was what any good sci-fi should be; a thought provoking drama, even if it didn’t quite know how to resolve the central dilemmas it raised, but worthy of the second series it’s getting. I’d give it 3 sexbots our of 5.
What did you think of the show–and would you do the naughty with a sexbot? You can’t just leave me hanging there with my confession…