When the first episode of Humans was broadcast earlier this year it netted Channel 4 nearly 7 million viewers, one of its largest audiences for some time and overall the series is the highest rated drama ton the channel since 1992. That may be because there is something intangibly fascinating about Humans even though it seems to touch familiar bases. There have been so many science fiction stories in this area that it is difficult to think of a different angle – and even this script namechecks Asimov- but the route taken gives the show the biggest chance of success. The clue’s in the title. There may be robots aplenty but this series is about humans, about being human and what it means and whether robots can become like humans. Humans deals first and foremost with what might be our emotional response to having some sort of robots in our everyday lives.
The pace is slow and cold at times. Sparse incidental music and long scenes create an unsettled vibe that seems appropriate for the way the Hawkins; seemingly carefree middle class idyll is upset by incidents that all seem to stem from their new synth. Each family member has their own response to this new arrival. Those used to a more melodramatic pace may find the first half of the series too sluggish because it hinges on tiny behavioural moments rather than anything grander. The reward is how these build to a faster paced second half. The way the stories dovetail together is also effective though strangely this is an aspect that some critics didn’t care for. Each builds on the idea of a family whether real or created, through memory or because of loneliness. By pulling apart the ties that bind both the Hawkins family and the band of augmented synths it only makes them stronger in the end. Yet this is not a cosy drama by any stretch. When threatened we see a different side to Leo’s group who are capable of unexpected acts of violence.