“Humans” is certainly timely, and there’s nothing subtle about the show’s central apprehensions regarding what’s being sacrificed by potentially handing over more of our lives to gadgets. Yet that actually works against this British co-production airing on AMC and the U.K.’s Channel 4, which mashes together renegade-robot themes in a manner that feels both derivative and a trifle boring. Sure, there’s something inherently creepy about artificially intelligent beings that look like us, but instead of this take, go see “Ex Machina,” rent “Blade Runner” or wait for HBO’s “Westworld” reboot.
Part of the challenge facing this series, written by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent and adapted from a Swedish drama, is that the first two episodes prove so scattered. The main point of entry for the audience is the Hawkins family, living in the midst of suburban London. The upper-middle-class parents are grappling with marital woes, prompting dad (Tom Goodman-Hill) to buy an android, or synth, to assist in the household chores, ostensibly to help his wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson), who is working long hours that keep her away.
Laura, however, is immediately cool to the idea. Nor does it help that the new gizmo, which they name Anita (Gemma Chan), starts replacing Laura in uncomfortable ways, quickly bonding with their neglected young daughter — “But she doesn’t rush!” the kid notes pointedly, preferring that Anita read her bedtime story — while offering enough eye candy to carbonate the raging hormones of their teenage son. “I don’t trust it,” Laura fumes, only to be treated like she’s crazy by the rest of the family.
Still, “Humans” operates on multiple fronts, including an aging widower (William Hurt, about the only Yankee voice one hears) harboring a defective synth (Will Tudor) that reminds him of his wife; Leo (Colin Morgan), a young man traveling with an unusual synth and looking for someone unknown; and Peter Drummond (Neil Maskell), an agent of the Special Technologies Task Force charged with solving synth-related issues.
Simultaneously juggling a quartet of plots is hardly unusual for the modern major drama, but “Humans” doesn’t wring much life (artificial or otherwise) from any of them. And while there are unexpected twists and mysteries that linger through the second hour, they’re not compelling enough to arouse much curiosity about where they might begin to intersect.
Moreover, the AI elements borrow from such a multitude of sources that watching the show — at least for those who have seen some of the movies or read the books the program evokes — is as much an archaeological experience as a dramatic one. The tinges of familiarity range from “I, Robot” to “Westworld” to even the rebellious primate servants in the original “Planet of the Apes” series.
That’s despite some fine work by the actors playing synths, who have mastered that cool, utterly detached delivery and carriage. (The credits list two people responsible for conceiving and directing “synth movement.”)
As noted, “Humans” taps into understandable concerns about technology — the opening credits feature footage of actual robot breakthroughs — and what might happen if our machines ever decide to rise up against their overseers. It’s just that as constructed, the show plays less like a blaring alarm about that modern revolution than a series of taps on the snooze button.