From Karel Capek’s 1920 play “Rossum’s Universal Robots” and on up through a gallery that includes “Metropolis,” the work of Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, C-3PO and the shared interest of Spielberg/Kubrick in making the 2001 movie “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” there’s very little left to be said about robots– even as Google’s engineers come closer and closer to taking the steering wheel away from human drivers.
AMC’s “Humans,” a co-production with British television’s Channel 4, is quite possibly the least original drama on TV this summer (it’s even based on an earlier Swedish version of the same show), but it is handsomely realized from a production standpoint. William Hurt also has a part in it, as an ailing robot inventor who finds himself trapped by the utopian ideal of his creation; it’s somewhat amazing that Hurt so often manages to rise above the material given to him.
“Humans,” set in a parallel present where robots are cooler than Apple Watches, is about a family that acquires a “synth,” which the husband (Tom Goodman-Hill) purchases as the obvious (and most sexist) answer to his attorney wife’s long work hours and the fact that he can’t keep up with the raising of their three kids. When the wife (Katherine Parkinson) expresses her unhappiness at this purchase, the husband barks: “You don’t get to waltz back in the door and tell me what this family needs.”
So the attractive, ice-cool robot named Anita (Gemma Chan) gets to stay – but it turns out she’s a retread, who was captured and rewired and put back into service after she and several other free-thinking synths tried to rebel.
The first two episodes are appallingly derivative of other robot-on-the-run stories(especially “A.I.”), with no clear indication that a surprise twist awaits down the road in the other six episodes. “Humans” does have that pleasingly antiseptic feeling of euro-cool about it (think of how the Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” series looks, or BBC America’s “Orphan Black”), which can sometimes lure viewers into the belief that they’re watching something classy and sophisticated, when really they’re just snacking on the TV equivalent of rice cakes.