Thursday, September 24, 2015

'Humans' Is Intelligent and Gripping; Tackles A.I. Themes in an Asimovian Manner

Despite being a dumb show, I immediately grew to love Almost Human when it started its ran last 2013, primarily because the dynamic of the lead characters – a mystery-solving duo made up of a human and an android – reminded me of the main characters of Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels (I’m a big fan of the characters, the books, and the author).  Thus, I grieved when it was cancelled last year after only getting a mere 13-episode season.

Thank God for this year’s Humans.  It’s an ample replacement for Almost Human as my favorite ongoing AI-centric science fiction show.  It isn’t as fun and futuristic as Almost Human, but it’s certainly several times more thought-provoking and riveting.  Not only did this remind me of Isaac Asimov’s Robot stories, but the plot of Humans is like something Asimov himself would write if he’s alive now.  Humans has tackled Asimovian themes on artificial intelligence more intelligently and deeply than Almost Humans ever did – or any other on screen stories focusing on artificial intelligence for that matter.

Humans (or HUM∀NS, as it’s stylized in its opening sequence) is based on the acclaimed Swedish sci-fi drama Real Humans.  It is set in a world that technologically mirrors the present real-world we’re in, but life-like androids called Synths are as predominant as cars and appliances.  Though these Synths show advanced cognitive processes, they aren’t actually self-aware or conscious, but are merely functioning in a nigh-flawless manner within the parameters of their programmed roles.  However, because of their uncannily human appearance and perfectness in performing human tasks and imitating human reactions, Synths aren’t only beginning to replace human labor, but human relationships as well.

The focal point of the story is on a suburban family named the Hawkins.  Laura, the mother, is introduced as a workaholic lawyer who is constantly away from her family.  Struggling in keeping the house and the kids in order, the husband, Joe, buys a Synth to help in the house chores.  The Synth, who is christened “Anita”, is an immediate success in bringing domestic stability to the Hawkins household.

However, different reactions arise from Anita’s arrival.  The youngest daughter, Sophie, immediately grows deeply fond of her, even preferring her to do the routines that are originally reserved for her mother.  The son, Toby, develops a crush on her.  The eldest child, Matilda, is cynical of Synths and shifts between apathy and suspicion in her attitude to Anita.  And Laura, seeing how Anita has effortlessly installed herself in the family and gaining the affection of Sophie, is distrustful and bitter.

The narrative promptly reveals that Anita isn’t an ordinary Synth.  Her real name is Mia, and she’s one of four special Synths that have consciousness – meaning they can independently think, feel, and learn like human beings!  Mia, along with others of her kind, was stolen while inactive, and was reprogrammed and fenced.  And while Mia is serving the Hawkins as “Anita”, her “owner”, Leo (whose own humanity is also implied to be in doubt) is tirelessly looking for her, driven by the desire to bring his family – these special, conscious Synths – back together.

The plot brilliantly tackles the emotional and ethical issues arising from various scenarios of human-Synth interaction.  To bring these about, aside from what has been mentioned in the synopsis above, there are various other characters and plotlines involved.  And all of these eventually converge in the last third of episodes.  It’s a complex, fascinating series.

The editing and directing seem to be untidy sometimes, but the terrific writing didn’t suffer an iota.  Character arcs are beautiful; the drama engages with ease; heavy expositions are done through powerful dialogues that come out naturally from the flow of the story; and the sequences are suspenseful and purposeful, successfully avoiding being pretentious, predictable, and gratuitous.

The acting is commendable all-around, particularly those that played the Synths.  But the most enthralling of all is easily Gemma Chan as Anita/Mia.  She’s just perfect.

Humans is a must-watch for every professing science fiction fan.  It has everything that a first-rate science fiction tale should have – smart thrills, stimulating themes, and a consistently gripping narrative.  Humans is so good that I feel that it is resonating with the same kind of appeal that made me fall in love with Orphan Black last year (Orphan Black is still the Queen, though).

Humans is surely going to end up on my year-end top 10.

No comments: