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This Should Really be Available on DVD: Real Humans season 1

October 27, 2014
Odi at one of his better moments.

Odi at one of his better moments.

It all started with this awesome IO9 article on the top ten shows that had us in the first five minutes. As I was going through the article, I had most of the shows covered.  Two of the missing pieces were things already on my “to do” list like Batman Beyond which is a train I fell off of far earlier than I wanted.  Fortunately, my nephew Zack will be lending me his copy of the complete series.  The other was The Middleman which I learned about awhile back from Tuning into SciFi TV.  Then there was this show called Real Humans, from Sweden of all places, that I had never heard of.  With the help of my son Harry I was quickly able to check the series out thanks to a nice set of home made English subtitles that someone generously created.

Real Humans takes place in Sweden in a not too distant future/alternate reality. The show doesn’t really specify which.  I can see what Charlie was talking about in the IO9 article as the series wastes no time in throwing you into the story.  We open with a man driving home and hitting someone with his car.  As he gets out to investigate, he finds he has hit someone who clearly isn’t human.  He doesn’t stay long to investigate as a mob of similar people begins approaching through the woods.  We come to learn that these “people” are actually robots called Hubots as they are built to look mostly human.  The man races home and attempts to seal up his home telling his wife he expected something like this to happen when the Hubots attack.  During this process we learn that one of the group is a human and see one of the Hubots get captured by a couple of people who appear to be Hubot scavengers.

After this opening the story focuses on this band and four other groups. The principle group is the Engman family.  We first encounter them through the mother’s father Lennart who lives alone in his own house with a Hubot companion named Odi.  It becomes apparent fairly quickly that Lennart is heavily dependent upon Odi but, unfortunately, Odi is an extremely old model of Hubot who is beginning to malfunction, dangerously so, at times.   This prompts the Engman’s to purchase a new Hubot caretaker for Lennart.  When the salesman at the Hubot store learns that the Engman’s have never owned a Hubot themselves he successfully sweetens the deal on a more expensive caretaker model by throwing in another Hubot for free for the family.  The free Hubot, of course, turns out to be the one we saw abducted from the earlier group.   The Engman’s neighbors are Roger and Therese and her son Kevin from a previous marriage.  Therese has a Hubot named Rick with whom she is quite intimate.  Roger works at a distribution warehouse of some ilk where he, a peer, and their supervisor are the only humans left in a sea of Hubots.  Almost immediately we see Therese leave Roger with Rick and her son after yet another in what has probably been a long string of domestic fights due to Roger’s less than sparkling personality which is no doubt fueled by his innate distrust of Hubots.  This is likely enflamed by his work situation.  Finally, two police detectives, Bea and Ove, have taken up the investigation of the actions of the rogue group of Hubots and are hot on their trail.

I’m not going to go much further into any details of the story itself as a number of the characters turn out to be not who they seem to be at first and a few go through some major life altering circumstances. Overall, the story is a classic SF one in that it goes into a quite thorough examination of the impact of the new technology, in the form of the Hubots, on our society.  As a result, the story is largely carried by the characters themselves and the actors all do an outstanding job with their roles.  Odi’s failing state is a mirror for Lennart to examine his own advancing years.  Roger starts as the classic trope of the man whose job is being displaced by the new technology but, I’m glad to say he evolves beyond that throughout the season.  However, the human cast is only half the story here.  The actors who play the Hubots completely sold the world to me.  A series like this is obviously going to be quite light on the visual effects but, Real Humans makes exceptional use of that small amount.  The Hubot make-up is quite unsettling and it wouldn’t surprise me if a choreographer was used to coach the actors in their Hubot roles.  They also have this “going wild” sequence as their programing starts getting challenged.  It is a series of alternating eye blinks combined with a subtle little audio effect that is quite impressive. This effect is also minimally used which further enhances its impact.   All of this combined to make me completely buy into the Hubots as artificial people.  There is also a back story, told in flashback, that provides us with an explanation of how things got to the point that we have watched from the beginning of the series.  One other minor detail that I found kind of interesting is that, being a non-American production, guns are never presented in a positive light throughout the series.

Real Humans is a very character driven program. At first I wasn’t really sure about my opinion on it until I got to the fifth episode which locked me into the rest of the run, and provided me with yet another example for my rule of always giving a new series five episodes before abandoning it.  Each episode ends on a cliffhanger but, it was the fifth episode’s one that made me almost want to break my rule of one episode per day.  There are a number of twists and turns as we learn not only what the renegade Hubot’s goals are but, also how the various government enforcement agencies intend to deal with the situation.  The one thing that kept jumping into my mind over the course of my viewing was the thought that this might have been what the Battlestar Galactica fans wanted to see in the series Caprica.  While the series is most likely inspired by the Karel Capek classic R.U.R. with a little bit of Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus thrown in for good measure, I was left wondering if the Battlestar Galactica SyFy series might have been an inspiration as well.

For those who aren’t able to access the version of the season that Harry found for me, the Canadian Space channel will be coming to your rescue by presenting a subtitled version of the series starting on November 12th with the first two episodes shown together. Actually, the first episode itself will be shown as a special premier on the 8th with the 12th starting the series regular full run.  So, with this broadcast we will hopefully see an official region one DVD release with English subtitles which means I’ll have to change the title of this review.  On top of this there is also supposed to be an English language version of the series titled, simply enough, Humans starting in 2015 which is a coproduction of AMC in the US and Channel 4 in the UK but, is only going to run for eight instead of ten episodes.

I wanted to address one side note outside of the review itself. Out of all of the ideas thrown at the audience there was one, that got maybe five to ten minutes of screen time tops, and that really hammered my “bad idea” button a number of times to stick with me as I thought back over the first season.  It’s not much of a spoiler but apparently Lennart’s wife must have worked for a fancy firm as one of the death benefits they had was this thing called a Hubot clone.  This is a two part process, the first of which is an extensive interview before death followed, posthumously, by your personality from the interview being converted into software and loaded into a Hubot copy of you.  The idea here being to help ease your loved ones through the trauma of your passing.  There are so many things wrong with this concept that I could write a whole other blog entry on this topic alone.  However, even as horrible as this idea is I have to admit that there is no doubt in my mind that, given the technology presented, it would certainly be one of its uses as there would be someone who would be certain that they could make money off it.


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