Sep 17, 2015 Film & TV
New housekeeper Anita should be a godsend to Joe and Laura Hawkins, struggling to cope with the demands of two full-time jobs and three children. And Anita turns out to be just as advertised. A perfect mix of ruthless efficiency and total docility, she cooks, cleans and organises from morning to night — when she stops, she plugs herself into a wall and powers off. Anita is a synth, part of a vast army of human-like robots designed to do society’s menial work. Whether it’s golf-caddying, in-home nursing or, inevitably, prostitution, synths take care of it flawlessly and without complaint.
The problem is that Anita is a little too perfect. Son Toby and, it’s hinted, dad Joe are immediately bewitched by her immaculate beauty. For brainy, sarcastic teen Mattie, she represents an existential threat: “Why would I have a problem with something that makes my existence pointless?” And harried mum Laura feels usurped from her role as chief caregiver, especially to youngest daughter Sophie, who latches onto the always-available, ever-patient Anita.
Laura knows it’s illogical to feel threatened by the “tin can” of diodes and microchips they live with. But, then again, the way Anita gazes at a sleeping Sophie suggests something almost human behind those glittering green eyes…
There’s creepiness here, in buckets, and Gemma Chan as Anita is utterly brilliant at evoking the “uncanny valley”: the unsettling chasm between what’s human and what’s almost, but not quite. But the key to Humans’ massive UK success — it was Channel 4’s highest-rating original drama since 1992 — is the way it leavens the hard sci-fi with action-adventure, comedy and pathos.
The MVP here is Dr George Millican (William Hurt) and his relationship with a failing first-generation synth, Odi. Only six years old and already desperately out of date — which should give Apple addicts a wry smile — Odi is Millican’s last remaining link to his dead wife and the closest thing he has to a son. Despite direct orders, he can’t bear to consign his beloved but near-useless synth to the scrapheap.
Humans isn’t doing anything revolutionary. It’s possible that those who loved TV anthology Black Mirror (whose clones-with-feelings episode “Be Right Back” covered similar ground) or recent robot thriller Ex Machina will feel it’s sci-fi with the sharp corners sanded down. Their loss. Humans is superb television: gripping, well written and beautifully shot. It deserves to be a hit here, too.
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