Synth, You Sinners!

It’s become way too commonplace for us Yanks to swipe great British and Australian television and remake it in our own (diluted) image.  Less so for our friends across the Pond to engage in such dubious behavior.  That said, when they do (as in this case with Scandinavian TV’s 2012 show Akta manniskor), it must be special.  HUMANS, a series that began in 2015 (with SEASONS 1 and 2.0 now available on Blu-Ray from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment/…) is VERY special indeed.

HUMANS, one of the best sci-fi movie/TV endeavors since we glided into the Millennium, takes place in the not-so-distant future; in fact, in a world barely unrecognizable from today.  The new computer-generated rage are Synths, expensive life-sized, beautiful androids programmed to do (mostly) jobs that nobody wants.

Synths provide many functions; they tirelessly perform sanitation duties, nannying (is there such a word?), housecleaning, cooking, pet care, home improvement, chauffeuring, pool cleaning, waiter/waitressing…well, you get it.

Channeling the effects of Synths on a select group of genuinely organic people, HUMANS offers engaging, absolutely believable (if one can fathom that unions would stand for it) narratives that are simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

The Synths, you see, were developed by the 2000s equivalent of the classic mad scientist.  Bemoaning the deaths of his wife and child, Dr. David Elster (Stephen Boxer) managed to create and install their DNA digitally into select laboratory-created models.  Thus, when given the proper prompts, these creatures become hybrid humans…with all the positive and disgusting attributes of the Homo sapien species.  High-brow hybrids think they’re human because the encoded information has been masked, middle-of-the-roads know they are not, but “pass,” and the majority are drones (unknowingly) waiting for their robotic Messiahs to click the switch for rebellion.

The prime humans in this series comprise the Hawkins family.  Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is a lawyer, arguing human rights – a job that takes a bizarre turn once the “change” begins.  Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), her husband, now in employment turmoil because of Synth-related downsizing naturally holds a grudge; still they acquire Mia, a super-gorgeous housekeeper (the super-gorgeous Gemma Chan, currently on-view to American audiences in Crazy Rich Asians).  Hormonal coming-of-age son Toby (Theo Stevenson) is intrigued and lovesick while super-geek teen daughter Mattie (Lucy Carless) is interested merely for the information that she can glean from the beauteous robotic being.  Toddler Sophie (Pixie Davies) simply gives the newest member of the Hawkins household unconditional love.

But there’s a greater downside to Synth World.  DS Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell), a detective who is, among other things, investigating a ring of Synth bootleggers, has an unfaithful wife (Jill Halfpenny).  Problem is, she’s unfaithful with their Synth.  Yep, you guessed it, a validated Over 18 chip can be inserted for unlimited carnal fantasies come true (a lustful Joe also takes advantage with/of Mia during a particularly depressing day).  Drummond’s partner, DI Karen Voss (Ruth Bradley) has troubles of her own; she’s head-over-heels about Pete.  But Voss has a bigger secret: she’s a hybrid.

Of course, this coital Pandora’s Box opens up an entire new aspect of the sex worker industry:  female and male prostitute Synths, who can deliver the goods and then some.  Bad news here is that the sadists turn out in droves to beat these artificial men and women into bloody mechanical pulps.  One such encounter releases hybrid information in Niska (Emily Berrington), a stunning submissive who decides to give her John a bit extra, and deservedly bashes him to death.  Now on the run, Niska, “passes,” escaping the country and realizing her true feelings veer toward other women.  Soon she is involved with human lover Astrid (Bella Dayne).  Niska’s also the target of an international manhunt (or womanhunt or Synthhunt).

Trying to keep it all together are Leo Elster (Colin Morgan), a hybrid, more human than Synth (and, as one has presumed from his name, the “son” of the format’s creator) and Max (Ivanno Jerimiah), a passionate Synth determined to help free his brothers and sisters, hoping all can live together in harmony with regular humans (the fool!).

Unfortunately, the androids becoming aware of their human traits unleash psycho-Synths, none more prevalent nor predatory than Hester (Sonya Cassidy), a murderous maniac with bone-crushing strength.

Undamaged Synths finding true love and humans devolving into true hate, sets the stage for a 3-In-One Oil and water mix that explodes with an all-out violent uprising.  Additionally tossed into the fray is American scientist Dr. George Millican (William Hurt), a former associate of Elster’s and Dr. Athena Morrow (Carrie-Ann Moss), a cold-hearted genius hired by a ruthless Martin Shkrelli-type pharma billionaire asshole (Danny Webb); Morrow has ulterior motives a la the robots’ inventor:  to transfer her deceased daughter’s saved laptop DNA into a Synth edition.

As one might surmise, HUMANS is pretty incredible stuff, and this lavishly-produced series doesn’t miss a beat. Action, suspense, dark humor, horror and eroticism; this TV gem has it all.

The acting by all is top-notch, and is accentuated by the superb direction (Sam Donovan, Daniel Nettheim, Lewis Arnold, China Moo-Young, Carl Tibbetts, Francesca Gregorini, Mark Brozel), writing (Jonathan Brackley, Sam Vincent, Joe Barton, Emily Ballou, Charlie Covell, Iain Weatherby) and photography (Simon Archer, Stuart Bentley, Urszula Pontikos, David Rom, Sergio Delgado, Andrew McDonell, Ruairi O’Brien, Stephan Pehrsson).  Kudos, too, to the excellent music score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer.

The two seasons of HUMANS (eight episodes each, two discs per set) have been given a luxurious presentation by Acorn Media.  The 1080p High Def widescreen transfers are immaculate and the 5.1 surround is just terrific.  Extras include background featurettes on each season, one running a half hour, the other nearly a full sixty minutes.

It should be noted that HUMANS had been aired here on AMC (who had a hand in the production and distribution), but reportedly in a censored incarnations.  The Acorn Blu-Rays are the fully UNCUT UK versions.

While anxiously waiting for the third season, we viewers can reflect upon the underlying theme of HUMANS: that A.I.-manufactured beings are frequently way more desirable than the real thing – a life lesson that anyone who’s lived past the age of twelve can emphatically understand.

HUMANS, SEASONS 1 & 2.0.  Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Kudos/Endemol Shine Group/Matador Film.  CAT#s AMP-2466 (Season 1), AMP-2575 (Season 2.0). SRP: $39.99@.


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