AMC is on its way back. In their prime, the network was doling out episodes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead – they were unstoppable. But the oil slowly stopped seeping through the ground once Breaking Bad said farewell and Mad Men inched toward its conclusion. The network had Hell on Wheels, but Westerns… well Westerns tend to be a pretty hard sell for mainstream audiences. And Halt and Catch Fire, despite rebounding nicely in its second season, might have lost some viewers for good with its subpar first. (Um, remember when Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis electrocuted themselves during sexy time? Yeah.)
Bottom line: AMC needed some new gigs to keep the momentum churning. The good news is that The Walking Dead is returning soon and sticking around for a while, and its new companion series, Fear The Walking Dead, is launching at the end of August. But it still feels like AMC is missing… something. In this awkward limbo, its new sci-fi drama Humans could possibly be the show to give the network what it needs: another genre, another dimension.
Minor Spoilers Ahead…
So what’s the show about?
Humans is a multi-webbed storyline that will eventually turn out to be one coherent circle (that’s as True Detective as I’ll get for today, thanks). In the near future, “Synths” are a functioning part of society and made to be used as servants around the house. Can you guess where this is going? Good, it’s not that hard. Robots will rise. “Humans” will fall. The storylines include a rebellious doctor (sci-fi lover William Hurt), Synth-threatened mother Laura (Katherine Parkinson), our main robot Anita (Gemma Chan), and our robots on the run Leo and Niska (Colin Morgan and Emily Berrington). There are a couple side stories developing, but we’ll get to those later since there’s a lot going on in these first three episodes.
The show’s backbone…
Constantly presents situations of entrapment – either humans trying to escape or Synths trying to escape the confines of what makes them robotic. We are countered with opposing humans or Synths poking until they all but drive themselves crazy. Laura ritually abuses Anita as she tries to find out why Anita functions the way she does, but Anita keeps a constant, stoic still that embodies the creepiness all good sci-fi needs during its transitions. Seeing this squirminess on-screen is gold. It reminds me of moments from Blade Runner (eg: Deckard in the seedy bar with, ironically for Indy himself, snakes). We consistently feel pin pricks with each scene.
But that feeling of entrapment and squirminess is a revolving door. Just as Laura pokes at Anita more and more, Anita begins to diverge and act out of line, specifically with developing motherly “feelings” for Laura’s daughter. This relationship will be the core of the show and interesting to watch — a jousting match between bot and b*tch.
But here’s what the show (and genre) must be careful about…
Sci-fi can have a trap door of boredom tied to it. Sometimes dialogue can run on while exposition dribbles from the characters’ mouths (I’m looking at you Interstellar and Inception) and it. gets. really. really. boring. So far, Humans has not fallen into this trap door since it’s keeping a brisk pace not only with an “on the run” storyline, but the right amount of storylines mixed with timely editing.
To give the show that brisk pace, we are given Leo and Niska, our fugitive Synths who forge ahead for their freedom by foot. Honestly, there’s not much going on with this storyline…yet. But it has been teed up nicely due to the fact that Leo and Anita are connected via a car wreck. Niska works as a prostitute and has laid low waiting for her moment to spring into action, as she’s a part of Leo’s nebulous master plan to find his way (I think) back to Anita. This plot line is the meth injection for the audience – so get some, because Breaking Bad ain’t coming back.
But there’s an essential piece to sci-fi that must come into play…
Seeing the line between human and cyborg drawn in the sand and then destroyed by a third party is crucial. With George Millican (William Hurt), we are given a human who simply wants to be. Nothing more. Oh and be with his creepy as hell, but friendly, Synth Odi at all times. As Millican gets further into old age and Odi more and more dysfunctional, he’s forced to re-up and get something newer. Cue Vera, a cruel, creepy bot who probably stands over your bed Karl Childers style with a hammer. And just as an FYI, Hurt is also the Synth creator and pretty much plays the exact same character in Humans as he does in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. I’m not complaining, but be prepped for an identical character who might even have the exact same line “I created you.” But the world can never have enough Hurt, so bring it on, doctor.
But again we are given a mini-story that will thread into the larger picture. As an audience, what we want here is simple: Millican to escape, and Vera to be destroyed. Millican and Odi were fine, but Vera had to go and mess things up. The official hashtag for this show should honestly just be #DammitVera.
Can They Do It?
AMC is making its first genuine effort into sci-fi with this adaptation (based on Swedish version Real Humans) and it will be a good move on a whole. The network needs a new portal for an audience that’s ready for it. And what’s not to like about a show that’s beyond creepy (like Halloween III creepy) in nearly every scene? My only worry is that this show could fall into a side spot blackhole like Hell on Wheels. As long as it continues the mantra of “this is what it means to be human,” we should be in for a fun future of sci-fi.
Do you think ‘Humans’ has what it takes to stay afloat? So far, what’s your favorite storyline/character?