Humans series 1 DVD review: AI gets intelligent

Is Humans the latest top-quality British sci-fi drama?

In a big year for AI drama, it’s to Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley’s great credit that, in adapting Lars Lundström’s Swedish drama Real Humans, they’ve given us something fresh, clever and arresting. The brilliantly acted and sharply written Humans is one of the best dramas you’ll see this year.

In the near future, android ‘synths’ are omnipresent and obedient. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a rising tide of robophobia. So how will the world react when they hear that someone has cracked the problem of artificial intelligence? Leo (Colin Morgan) leads a group of conscious synths on the hunt to find their missing companion, but can they survive the search?

Despite the sci-fi elements, it’s the recognisable reality of everyday life that gives Humans its power. The world of the show is essentially our own, with one major advance, giving the issues an added weight. The mistrust, resentment and bigotry displayed towards the synths are frequently framed in the same language we see directed at migrant workers, and Vincent and Brackley find ways to adapt that issue and others to their sci-fi topic.

Harried working mum Laura (Katherine Parkinson) resents the pristine Anita (Gemma Chan), who’s a big hit with the whole family. Jealous DS Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell) leaves his wife in the hands of her handsome synth carer every day. Ailing Dr George Millican (William Hurt), instrumental in the synths’ creation, is forced to get rid of his beloved, obsolete Odi (Will Tudor) for a cold nursing model (Rebecca Front).

It’s smart enough to play with expectations, nodding towards horror and conspiracy thrillers as the characters’ attitudes evolve. Fear and distrust overcomes the knowledge that it is impossible for these machines to harm, while it’s all too easy for people to abuse them in a variety of ways, some of which are surprising, and others are definitely not.

The plot at the series’ centre sometimes feels a little routine and the dialogue very occasionally clunks, but Humans succeeds in creating an engrossing world with a question about our own behaviour that feels decidedly relevant. This first series’ outlook is ultimately optimistic, but there’s plenty that will leave you with a cold feeling in the pit of your stomach.