“Humans”–“Dark Mirror” Meets “Ex Machina”

The Amazon Prime sci-fi series, Humans (three seasons), takes place in the not- too-distant future where the affluent purchase “synths”, artificially intelligent human-looking robots that can perform a multitude of tasks from housecleaning, surveillance, and sex-toy services.  A suburban  family buys Anita (the exquisitely beautiful Gemma Chan of “Crazy Rich Asians”) to help with the burdens of a professional couple. The father, Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), is a manager in a factory  who is replaced by synths.   His wife, Laura (Katherine Parkinson of Pirate Radio and Doc Martin), a human rights attorney and activist, responds viscerally  to living with Anita.  The three children become very attached, as Anita learns to know them better than their parents.

A computer scientist, Dr. George Millican (William Hurt), helped develop the earlier synth models and has become emotionally attached to an obsolete prototype named Odi. As George’s memory fails, Odi has become the archive of the younger George’s past, especially regarding his beloved, now deceased wife. George finds his humanity and his dignity in the circuitry of Odi.

Reference is made to “Asimov blocks”, the Isaac Asimov first law of robotics: do no harm to humans.  But Humans is, first and foremost, dystopian.   Dark and brooding, Humans raises more questions than it answers about the interaction between humans and the computerized world of artificial intelligence.  A subtext exists also.  How do humans react to what or who is different?  Is discrimination based on appearance inevitable?  Are they empathetic?  Merely suspicious?  Violent? A range of  responses are given.  And, how does the employer treat those who serve?  Does the employer lack empathy for  employees as if they are  less human?  How do employees feel about their treatment by the boss?  And most importantly, what does “human” even mean? 

Season 3 mines deeper into the sociopolitical dimensions of technology without diluting the potency of well-drawn characters.  Great writing and acting avoid preaching on human morality. Instead, Humans  is at times warm and funny, frightening and disturbing, in developing  a powerful set of  characters who ask the viewer what it means to claim you are human.

Needless to say, this series is binge-worthy even for those who are not sci-fi fans.

Availability:  Amazon Prime (UK Version)

“Goliath” — A New Amazon Prime Winner

 

goliath

This is a bingeworthy new eight-episode series from Amazon. “Goliath” characters are deeply flawed and yet vividly human and at least, to some extent, understandable. “Goliath” is extraordinary television.

Part film noir, part legal drama similar to “Good Wife” or “Law and Order”, with a bit of “Damages” and “House of Cards” thrown in, “Goliath” tells the story of a derelict, drunken grizzled lawyer, Billy McBride (played by Billy Bob Thornton in a star turn).   McBride was once a leading legal mind who, with Donald Cooperman (the haunting William Hurt in one of the best roles of his career) had started one of the most powerful law firms in Los Angeles. Now Billy McBride is a bottom-feeder taking on a case which turns out to be against Cooperman. Think of the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” (see my April 5, 2011 review).

Billy McBride’s former law firm still bears his name and the opposing counsel at Cooperman-McBride are simply over-the-top in their ferocity and callous pursuit of victory. Donald Cooperman is a nightmare of Shakespearean proportions who monitors all legal proceedings like a voyeur through his complex closed circuit surveillance system. His legal staff pursue the case while he watches as if it were a gladiator fight.

Hurt’s Cooperman is unforgettable, cunning and unforgivable. Thornton’s grizzled McBride is evenly matched to battle Cooperman in court. [A bit more backstory on some of the key players would have been welcomed.]

In addition to the startling cast (which includes supporting roles by the superb Maria Bello and Molly Parker)  the script for “Goliath” is masterfully written by David E. Kelley (of “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal” fame).   The cinematography lends a a very strong visual identity to downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Venice, particularly with the driving scenes and time- lapse shots

But perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the episodes in the “Goliath” series is the last minute of the last episode. It is one of the most ambiguous I have ever seen in a movie or have read in a novel. “Goliath” left me wondering and wanting more. There are too many unanswered questions and too many characters with unresolved futures. I must see a second season of “Goliath”. Amazon is currently in negotiations for giving us more!