TV review: Humans, Channel 4
A drama about semi-human robots malfunctions on its first test run
You may have seen the new advert for a company called Persona Synthetics in which a Stepford Wives-like home-help is seen attending to the needs of a family. Except we aren’t quite at that evolutionary stage yet (ten years tops?) and this is simply a cunning media campaign for Channel 4’s latest dystopian drama (their last effort in that field, Utopia, was chopped down after two series).
Such a concept could only work if it taps into a real state of modern domestic affairs, and well, who wouldn’t want a little bit of a hand around the place when we’re all too busy to tidy our own shoe racks and have less than helpful teenagers around the place? The fact that this kind of service already exists in human form is neither here nor there when there are aesthetically pleasing androids (Fresh Meat’s Gemma Chan for one) willing to ease the burden.
When they’re not filling the dishwasher or pulling out weeds, the bots in Humans can also be seen handing out free newspapers at the train station or carrying the clubs of amateur golfers, but there are nasty people out there who want to hijack those helpful synths, wiping their hard drives and forcing them into performing corrupt activities. Among these villains is a post-Game of Thrones Paul Kaye, who is a very, very long way from Dennis Pennis now.
Amid all the moral issues surrounding having a synthetic person in your house, there’s a subtle hint of misogyny here. The key household has an absent mother (Katherine Parkinson) away on extended work business (though perhaps she’s either having an affair or just finding an excuse to escape for a while?) and in the Persona Synthetics advert, an anxious child is taken back to bed by the robot, while mum is too busy fiddling with her phone.
Yet, the men are seen as vaguely heroic: Tom Goodman Hill courageously holds the fort with three difficult / lazy / demanding kids to manage and his own job to uphold while Colin Morgan is valiantly trying to rescue his beloved synth from a horrible fate and admirably not giving in to the offer of sex with a robot-prostitute.
Then there’s widower William Hurt (an original architect of the synth design) who has a dignified loyalty towards his own wired-up sidekick that goes against the societal grain of constant ‘upgrading’. In the opening episode, Humans has an instant malfunction, but come the second hour, some script tweaks here and a recalibration there seems to have got it back on track.
Humans starts on Channel 4, Sun 14 Jun, 9pm