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in England and inspired by a Swedish show), meanwhile, costars as George an affable grump who refuses to let go of his outdated Synth despite his health provider’s insistence that he must.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.
94 Summer TV Shows: TheWrap's Ultimate Viewing Guide (Photos)
Wednesday, May 27 "The Briefcase" (CBS) at 8/7c American families experiencing financial setbacks are presented with a briefcase containing a large sum of money and a potentially life-altering decision: they can keep all of the money for themselves, or give all or part of it to another family in need.
Wednesday, May 27 "Bullseye" (Fox) at 9/8c Kellan Lutz and Godfrey host this new game show. The goal is to hit the titular bullseye on land, over the sea and up in the air, with the competitors using their bodies as human darts. The winner leaves with $50,000.
Thursday, May 28 "Aquarius" (NBC) at 9/8c David Duchovny stars as 1960's Det. Sam Hodiak, who goes undercover to investigate the Manson family before their infamous murder spree
Friday, May 29 "Marriage Bootcamp Reality Stars" (WE TV) at 9/8c Famous reality TV couples try to salvage their relationships. This season will feature Kendra Wilkinson and Hank Baskett, Aubrey O'Day and Travis Garland, and Jeff Schroeder and Jordan Lloyd among others
Friday, May 29 "Nightingale" (HBO) at 9/8c "Selma" star David Oyelowo plays a lonely war veteran psychologically unravels ahead of an old friend's impending visit in this HBO original film
Saturday May 30 "The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe" (Lifetime) at 8/7c Kelli Garner stars as the iconic film star in this mini-series chronicle of Monroe's family life and how she succeeded in hiding her most intimate secrets from the press and an invasive world.
Sunday, May 31 "Halt and Catch Fire" (AMC) at 10/9c The Lee Pace-led drama returns for season 2 and continues to explore the personal computing boom of the 1980s
Monday, June 1 "Devious Maids" (Lifetime) at 9/8c The maids are back for more mayhem and drama as the third season of Lifetime's hit series returns.
Monday, June 1 "UnREAL" (Lifetime) at 10/9c The drama behind the scenes at a reality dating show is chronicled in Lifetime's newest series. Shiri Appleby stars.
Monday, June 1 "The Whispers" (ABC) at 10/9c An unseen force is manipulating society's most innocent -- children -- to act in service of its mysterious cause.
Monday, June 1 "So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox) The 12th season of this reality competition follows dancers competing to be named "America's Favorite Dancer," along with a cash prize.
Tuesday, June 2 "Chrisley Knows Best" (USA) at 9/8c Season 3 of the reality show follows the continuing adventures of millionaire Todd Chrisley and his family.
Tuesday, June 2 "Pretty Little Liars" (ABC Family) at 8/7c Season 6 of the popular teen drama will answer burning questions about A and all the PLL's.
Tuesday, June 2 "Royal Pains" (USA) at 10/9c The seventh season of this medical dramedy follows the employees of concierge medical service HankMed struggling to keep their lives in order.
Tuesday, June 2 "Stitchers" (ABC Family) at 9/8c A young woman is recruited into a secret government agency to be "stitched" into the minds of the recently deceased, using their memories to investigate murders.
Wednesday, June 3 "Baby Daddy" (ABC Family) at 8:30/7:30c The fifth season of this comedy series sees Ben still grappling with fatherhood in hilarious fashion.
Wednesday, June 3 "Melissa & Joey" (ABC Family) at 8/7c Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence return for the fourth and final season of this comedy about a woman who hire a "manny" to look after her niece and nephew.
Thursday, June 4 "Hannibal" (NBC) at 10/9c Hannibal has fled to Europe as the fate of the victims he left behind hangs in the balance in Season 3 of the cult favorite series.
Tuesday, June 23 "Another Period" (Comedy Central) at 10:30/9:30c A turn of the century reality series about the Newports, America's "original ballers."
Wednesday, June 24 "Big Brother" (CBS) at 9/8c Another group of housemates will be thrown together for more drama, competition and, if recent seasons are any indication, scandal in the 17th season of the popular reality show.
Wednesday, June 24 "Suits" (USA) at 9/8c Season 5 of this legal drama will continue the story of a brilliant lawyer -- who never attended law school -- closing cases for a major Manhattan firm.
Wednesday, June 24 "Mr. Robot" (USA) at 10/9c A hacker working as a cyber-security engineer is recruited by an underground organization to destroy his own firm.
Thursday, June 25 "BOOM!" (Fox) at 8/7c Contestants compete to diffuse slime-bombs and win cash by correctly answering trivia questions.
Thursday, June 25 "Graceland" (USA) at 10/9c Season 3 of the drama surrounding the intersecting lives of several undercover narcotics officers.
Thursday, June 25 "Rookie Blue" (ABC) at 10/9c Season 5 of this police procedural about a group of rookie officers trying to make it in the toughest squad in the department.
Thursday, June 25 "Under the Dome" (CBS) at 9/8c Season 3 of the Stephen King adaptation about a town trapped under a mysterious force field.
Tuesday, June 30 "Zoo" (CBS) at 9/8c A young scientist searches to find out what's causing a rash of violent animal attacks.
Tuesday, June 30 “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail” (Comedy Central) at 12:30am/11:30c The second season of this series which sees famous comedians trying out new bits in the back of a comic book store
Wednesday, July 1 "Extant" (CBS) at 10/9c Halle Berry returns for season 2 of this sci-fi series about an astronaut who becomes mysteriously pregnant during a 13-month solo space mission.
Thursday, July 2 "Food Fighters" (NBC) at 8/7c A cooking game show in which amateurs square off against pro chefs for the chance to win $100,000.
Monday, July 6 "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" (CW) at 9/8c Aspiring magicians try to pull off magic tricks on masters Penn & Teller. Those who succeed earn a chance to perform in Las Vegas in the second season of this reality series.
Monday, July 6 "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (CW) at 9/8c More hilarious improv returns in the 11th season of this long-running comedy show.
Tuesday, July 7 "Hollywood Game Night" (NBC) at 10/9c Jane Lynch hosts the show in which various celebrities compete in competitions to win money for their select charities.
Wednesday, July 8 "Key and Peele" (Comedy Central) at 10pm/9c
Wednesday, July 8 "The Spoils Before Dying" (IFC) at 9pm/8c A comedy miniseries about a 1950's jazz pianist turned private eye
Wednesday, July 8 "Why with Hannibal Buress" (Comedy Central) at 10:30/9:30c
Thursday, July 9 "Rectify" (SundanceTV) at 10/9c Season 3 of this drama about a man attempts to adjust to normal life after spending 19 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.
Friday, July 10 "Masters of Illusion" (CW) A literal magic show where some of the best illusionists baffle viewers.
Friday, July 10 "Sex With Brody" (E!) at 10:30/9:30c Brody Jenner gives advice on sex, dating, and relationships with celebrity guests.
Sunday, July 12 "Masters of Sex" (Showtime) at 10/9c Season 3 of this biographical series about pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
Monday, July 13 "Running Wild With Bear Grylls" (NBC) at 10/9c The famous survivalist leads celebrities on 48-hour journeys into remote and dangerous locations
Wednesday, July 15 "The Jim Gaffigan Show" (TV Land) at 10/9c Based on the actor's real life, Gaffigan's newest sitcom follows him as he balances life between fatherhood, stand-up comedy and an insatiable appetite
Wednesday, July 15 "Impastor" (TV Land) at 10:30/9:30c "Smallville's" Michael Rosenbaum plays a slacker and druggie who assumes the identity of a priest after his death.
Thursday, July 16 "Impractical Jokers" (TruTV) at 10/9c Season four of this series about four lifelong friends who dare each other to do outrageous stunts
Thursday, July 16 "Friends of the People" (TruTV) at 10:30/9:30c The midseason premier of this sketch comedy series that skewers pop culture and features parodies of your favorite 90's moments
Thursday, July 16 "Married" (FX) at 10:30/9:30c A comedy about a couple of not-so-newlyweds struggling to live adult lives
Thursday, July 16 "Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll" (FX) A beind-the-scenes comedy about a rock band forced to collaborate again after splitting up 20 years earlier
Saturday, July 18 "Hell on Wheels" (AMC) at 9/8c The fifth season of this period drama about a former Confederate soldier tracking the men who killed his wife
Sunday, July 19 "Welcome to Sweden" (NBC) at 8/7c Season 2 of the comedy that sees a powerful money manager move to Sweden to live with his beautiful Swedish girlfriend
Wednesday, July 22 "Last Comic Standing" (NBC) at 9/8c Season 9 of the standup competition finds comedians honing their jokes with the help of mentors for a prize worth $250,000 -- which includes a TV show development deal.
Wednesday, July 29 "The Carbonaro Effect" (TruTV) at 10/9c The second season of this reality series about a comic magician who astounds and amuses audiences at the same time
Thursday, July 30 "Review" (Comedy Central) at 10/9c Season 2 of this series about life reviewer Forrest MacNeil
Friday, July 31 "Cold Justice" (TNT) at 10:30/9:30c Season 3 of this unscripted series in which former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary crack cold cases.
Friday, July 31 "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp" (Netflix) Streaming A series based on the 2001 film that explores the first days of summer at Camp Firewood
Sunday, August 2 "Bachelor in Paradise" (ABC) at 8/7c In the tradition of "Bachelor Pad," ABC finds a new way to round up former "Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" competitors, get them in their swimsuits, and get them feuding. (Oh, and maybe fall in love. Sure.)
Tuesday, August 4 "Playing House" (USA) at 10/9c Season two of this comedy about a woman who decides to help her best friend raise a baby after the friend's husband is caught cheating
Wenesday, August 5 "The Carmichael Show" (NBC) at 9:30/8:30c A half hour comedy loosely based on the life of comedian Jerrod Carmichael
Wednesday, August 5 "Mr. Robinson" (NBC) at 9/8c Craig Robinson stars in this half hour comedy about a middle school music teacher.
Monday, August 17 "Public Morals" (TNT) at 10/9c Eddie Burns leads the cast of this drama set in the world of the 1960s NYPD Public Morals division.
Tuesday, August 18 "Hack My Life" (TruTV) Second season of this series in which the hosts offer time-saving tips for your everyday life
Thursday, August 20 "Documentary Now!" (IFC) at 10/9c A mocumentary series about a different, made-up topic each week
Saturday, August 22 "Blunt Talk" (Starz) at 9/8c Patrick Stewart stars in this comedy about an unhinged British journalist who gets his own cable news show in the U.S.