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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Being HUMANS

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Humans' on Blogcritics.

Just released on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media is Humans (Uncut UK Edition). A British show that ran on AMC in the U.S. last year, the show plays with themes of sentience and robotics, telling the story of several individuals in a near-future world where humans co-exist with androids. The series also plays out larger arcs exploring this society as it changes and adapts. It’s a fascinating show, well made and well acted; it is definitely worth checking out.

At the heart of Humans is the Hawkins family. Father Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill, Mr. Selfridge) is feeling overworked and neglected at home, so he buys a “synth” (as the artificial beings are called) whom his family names Anita (Gemma Chan, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) to help out. His wife, Laura (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd), is perturbed, but overruled by their three children, who quickly form bonds with Anita.

What they don’t realize is that Anita is actually a self-aware synth named Mia who was captured and re-purposed. A man named Leo (Colin Morgan, Merlin) is looking for her, along with a few other self-awares. As the eight-episode season unfolds, we learn quite a bit about Leo, Mia, and their family, as they go back quite a few years together, and their history matters very much to the world at large.

Some of the supporting characters also have interesting story arcs, most prominently a retired programmer named George (William Hurt, Damages), who has formed an emotional bond to his synth, Odi (Will Tudor, Game of Thrones), a mysterious man named Hobb (Danny Webb, Valkyrie) who is hunting Leo’s group, and DS Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell, Utopia), who resents the synth taking care of his disabled wife.

There are some early connections between various players, but as the season goes on, their paths become more and more intertwined. The story becomes a complex, sweeping narrative while remaining a small-scale character story: a hard feat to accomplish.

Humans raises some important and highly relevant questions about own contemporary society, which stands at the cusp of the artificial intelligence era. These are things we’ll soon be debating among ourselves. Just as there is an anti-robot movement on Humans, I expect that in our own future, small-minded people now losing the battles over race and sexual orientation, will take up that cause.

Will we reach The Singularity? Will our machines soon be able to reproduce themselves and not need us any longer? Those are things this series touches briefly on, and will surely be tackled further when Humans returns for a second season later this year. Given the quality with which this batch was tackled, I look to the show to do it properly and am eager to see their take, so I’d recommend checking this release out before the next one airs.

I wouldn’t think there’s too much different between HD and SD in terms of audio and visual quality. Despite portraying advanced technology, there is little CGI in Humans, with the synths looking just like us and relying on their human performers to (perfectly) set them apart as different. There are some action sequences and deep blacks that’ll look better on Blu-ray, but it’s not the type of show that a huge difference will be visible. Still, I’d go Blu-ray if I were you, especially since Amazon’s price is the same for both editions.

There are just a handful of special features. A featured 30-minute batch of shooting footage isn’t all that interesting, given it’s just mainly people standing around, not talking to the camera or anything. The are interviews with the cast are a little more worth watching, but still don’t really tell us a lot about the show. The release also contains a photo gallery, a puzzling addition very common on UK releases, but not seeming all that valuable to us in the U.S.

What I did find fascinating is that the same extras appeared on both blu-ray discs I received, which was kind of cool, able to access them no matter which I had in. But despite the novelty, I’d rather have more varied and deeper features than to see them repeated.

As such, I wouldn’t recommend Humans for the extras, but it is an excellent show that I enjoyed very much, and that makes you think, in a good way. Check out Humans, available now.

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