‘Humans’ Review: New Sci-Fi Series Deftly Tinkers With Race, Sex and Technology

Oscar-winning actor William Hurt charms as a pro-robot curmudgeon in the eight-part AMC drama

AMC’s bold new robot drama “Humans” is going to push a lot of people’s buttons.

On the surface, the eight-part drama is about sophisticated robotic servants called Synths who are must-have household gadgets in an alternate, present-day world. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that “Humans,” which debuts Sunday June 28, is a fearless allegorical examination of race, sex, gender roles and mankind’s ever growing love-hate relationship with technology.

The story kicks off when a well-meaning but overwhelmed Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill), an English father of three, decides to buy a Synth to help out around the house when his wife Laura (Katherine Parkinson) is away on a business trip for too long. This seems innocent enough until the robot, who the Hawkins family’s youngest child Sophie (Pixie Davies) names Anita (Gemma Chan), opens her eyes and Sophie declares, “That means she’s ours. Yay!”

And just like that, with five simple but evocative words, Anita is no longer just a robot with glowing green synthetic eyes. She’s Solomon Northup in an Asian woman’s body, sized up and sold to the highest bidder.

Of course this is science fiction and Anita is a robot not a person except she looks like a human and is one in real life — a real life where women who look like Anita are sold as sex slaves all over the world.

If there were a button-pushing score card, that would be one check for the peculiar institution and another for sex trafficking. “Humans” even takes the latter issue one step further when another self-aware robot named Niska (Emily Berrington) is kidnapped and reprogrammed as a prostitute.

The provocation doesn’t stop with Anita and Niska. In a scene reminiscent of Walter Scott’s police shooting death in South Carolina two months ago, Fred (Sope Dirisu), a black Synth, is shot in the back while trying to get away from the authorities.

In another scene, where gender roles are challenged, a tone-deaf Joe unwittingly offends his wife when he tells their children Anita’s elaborate meal preparation represents how “breakfast is supposed to be.”

Oscar-winning actor William Hurt (the only American on a series shot in England and inspired by a Swedish show), meanwhile, costars as George an affable grump who refuses to let go of his outdated Synth despite his health provider’s insistence that he must. George loves his Synth and looks at him like a son and doesn’t want the latest model.

In contrast, Detective Sergeant Pete Drummond (Neil Maskell) loathes his ailing wife’s Synth, a strapping specimen who makes him feel inadequate in every way. Pete knows they need the Synth, but hates that they need it and how that need makes him weak.

It’s in these very honest and unflinching moments, no matter how uncomfortable, that “Humans” is a winning concept executed in the best possible way.

While a subplot involving a John Brown-type Synth liberator, Leo (“Merlin’s” Colin Morgan), is a heavy-handed distraction, “Humans” holds up as a slightly humorous, thought-provoking, creepy piece of sci-fi filled with sympathetic performances and solid writing.

All people have to do is power up their TVs, set aside their sensitivities and tune in.

“Humans” premieres Sunday June 28 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.