Humans has already premiered in the UK, but American viewers will finally get to see this android show on June 28 on AMC. We talked to writer-producers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley and with stars Katherine Parkinson and Tom Goodman-Hill, and they told us human beings are this show’s real monsters.
AMC’s Humans takes place in an alternate present, where “synths”—robots who look very much like humans—are becoming ubiquitous workers in the private and public sector. The show follows a bunch of characters:
- There’s the Hawkins family—mother Laura (Parkinson), father Joe (Goodman-Hill), 17-year-old Mattie (Lucy Carless), teenager Toby (Theo Stevenson), and eight-year-old Sophie (Pixie Davis)—who have just added a synth called Anita (Gemma Chan) into their house.
- There are synths who appear to have achieved full A.I., who are on the run from the mysterious Hobb (Danny Webb).
- And there is Dr. George Millican (William Hurt), who was once an engineer on the synth project, who now needs one in his home to take care of him. His outdated model, whom he has a powerful attachment to, is replaced by the personality-less—but domineering—Vera (Rebecca Front).
When we talked to the stars, Goodman-Hill and Parkinson, they explained the robots in the show were really just a way to show how badly humans can really behave: “Because the question is not [just whether] the synths [are] sentient and what sort of people might they become, it’s more about the humans not realizing how inhuman they can be. And how unlikable they can be without even trying.” said Goodman-Hill. “And I think when you’ve got such an even tone with the synths, when they’re so placid and naïve, they appear to be beautiful creatures.”
Added Parkinson, this show is all about “how inhumane humans can be. And how [the synths] are a purer form of humanity in a funny way. “
“Because that’s what we like to think we would create,” said Goodman-Hill.
And the real fear at the heart of the show isn’t robots, but rather how humans react to technology. People think the danger of a technological Singularity is “a future where we have robot overlords,” said Goodman-Hill. “But that’s not really what the danger of the singularity is. It’s about the breakdown of society. That’s more scary. That we just cease to become a human society because A.I. is all-pervasive, rather than all-powerful. I think that’s a scarier idea.”
In Parkinson’s mind, the show’s conceit—that there are synths everywhere and society is only just now figuring out that this could be an issue—is a dead-on read of human society. “We know that the ethics are going to be ignored because we have the science where the overriding ethic is that humanity has to pursue its discoveries,” she said. “Any kind of hypothetical about the detrimental effects are sort of meaningless. Who’s going to make a law saying that we’ve made a massive discovery but we’ve decided not to go there?”
“That’s sort of the human condition full stop. We cause the damage and then worry about it afterwards,” she said later.
However, producers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley are both adamant that everyone’s point of view in the show—either pro- or anti-synth—is presented neutrally.
“We’ve tried very hard to be authorially neutral in terms of where we want your sympathies to lie. We’re trying to be subtler. Naturally, with some of the stories like Niksa [a synth in a brothel], you’re going to be sympathetic with because she’s in such an awful situation, and you’re rooting for her to get out of there,” said Vincent.
“But within the whole of things, we want to play to hopefully leave space for the audience to say ‘I’m with Anita’ and other to say ‘I’m with Laura, I wouldn’t want that thing in my house. With my family.’ We wanted to sort of give arguments and not be sort of didactic about who you were supposed to be rooting for,” he continued.
“They all go on quite different journeys. One of the synths does quite awful things, and others don’t. So it’s kind of varied. We tried to give them a variety of experience which was quite human. They have big disagreements. They grow more fractured.”
If the writers tried to be so neutral, why do they think the first few episodes feel so sympathetic to to synths over the humans?
“I think it’s part of the nature of the fact that in ours we frontload it with mystery a lot more,” said Brackley. “There’s a lot more questions in our first episode, that will be teased out over the rest of it, rather than in the original. You certainly knew a lot more in the original about the hubots and where they were and where they came from.”
“That said, there are some great reveals in the original which we took hook, line, and sinker,” added Vincent.
“Oh yes, we stole all the good bits,” agreed Blackley.
In Humans, the five members of the Hawkins family each have very different opinions on having a synth in the home—all of which reveal something unpleasant about the human characters. Except for Sophie, of course. The eight-year-old is the only one to instantly bond with the new synth, pairing the robot with the small child for maximum sympathy.
For Joe, his almost unthinking acquisition of what looks like another human being doesn’t reflect too well on him. “He doesn’t actively think about it, he just has a sort of knee-jerk response to feeling harried and stressed—‘I’ll go get a robot to do it for me.’ It’s a very ‘boys and toys’ attitude that he has to it,” said Goodman-Hill.
Meanwhile, Joe’s wife, who has been away a lot recently, projects a lot of her uncertainty about parenthood onto Anita. She may have started off with good reasons, but she becomes more irrational and emotional about having a robot in the house.
“Laura is probably maybe the most skeptical, and wary, and wants to resist having a synthetic in the family home, having seen them populate the world at large. And she’s like, ‘No, but it’s our home, that’s a sacred thing.’” said Parkinson. “And she doesn’t want to change the family dynamics by essentially having a different creature live with you. That’s a massive thing, and she’s quite private and she’s worried about how it’s going to affect her children, whether they get too used to bossing someone around or something. And also, the fact that the synthetic is reading books to her youngest and I don’t think she anticipated how it made her feel.”
Mattie is very negative about the synths, thinking that there’ll be no future for her when synths will take all the jobs. “The eldest daughter Mattie, she’s seventeen and she’s about to venture on into further education and decide what she’s going to do with her life. But she’s at that stage where she thinks that these things are making her future career redundant,” said Brackley.
So Mattie goes after the synths in any way she can, rejecting this new technology in a way that may seem counterintuitive for a young person. “She’s nihilistic. She’s kind of punk, she’s no future. ‘What bloody future?’That’s her attitude,” said Vincent. “For her there’s a kind of tragedy because she’s a really smart girl. and yet her abilities and potential is sort of ebbing away. She just can’t see what she’s going to do with her smarts. Which is sad. Which is something we might be facing.”
Meanwhile, Mattie’s brother Toby is “a typical teenage boy, lusting after the synth, and Sophie [the youngest] has always had these things around. She grew up with them, like my daughter will grow up with iPads,” explained Brackley.
Vincent did say that there is some hope for these people: “Their viewpoints will change and their attitudes will adjust. For example, Toby’s teenage hormonal lusting deepens into something more touching. Everyone’s viewpoints shifts and changes as they actually learn.” Only after watching the whole show can you actually decide whether you stay essentially sympathetic to the enslaved synths—or if you come to agree with the humans who fight against this scary new technology. Or a little of both.
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