AMC is hoping its new sci-fi show “Humans,” premiering Sunday, will be as big of a hit in the States as it is in the U.K.
Written by the British writing duo Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, the eight-part science fiction series explores a world where artificially intelligent android servants that can perform just about any human task — from making dinner reservations to getting the kids ready for school or caring for an ailing adult.
The series debuted two weeks ago on the U.K.’s Channel 4 to a staggering 4 million viewers, making it the network’s biggest original drama series launch in over two decades.
In an interview with TheWrap, Vincent and Brackley discussed the appeal of their series, whether or not they think the show will be as big of a hit in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. and the place for science fiction on television.
TheWrap: What made you want to do this series?
Vincent: A company we worked with a lot won the rights to remake [the Swedish TV series] “Real Humans” … They phoned us up and sent us the DVDs. We watched it and thought it was a brilliant new way in to the A.I. story. It was a way in that triggered so many other possibilities, so many brilliant storylines within the original itself and so much potential for other ones. We said yes the next day.
Brackley: It approached this material in such a grounded, domestic way … This isn’t a world set in the future, this is what we’ve always called a “parallel present.” It’s as if these machines were invented ten years ago, which really allowed us to focus more on the ideas of the show. Because had we set it in the future, there would be a lot more technology around to be fascinated with. If a flying car drifts past the window, you’re going to be just as interested in that as the robot.
What is it about artificial intelligence that makes it such an interesting topic for science fiction?
Vincent: In the last ten years our technology has progressed incredibly fast. We conduct our personal and emotional lives more and more with the help of technology … And all of this is done through the same gadgets that never leave our hands or our pockets. Now we have the Apple Watch, so we have the technology on our wrists. Google Glass puts it on our face. Really, the next logical stop is that it goes inside us … Something maybe happens in our collective unconscious that leads to a worry that makes us want to think about where this is going. These A.I. stories seem to be a fairly logical extrapolation of where this might lead us.
“Humans” was a massive hit when it premiered on Channel 4. What has the response been like?
Brackley: It’s Channel 4’s biggest original drama launch in 22 years. We’re very proud of the show and we had an inkling that it might connect with an audience, but we had no idea that would respond to it in such great numbers.
Has there been a renewed interested in science fiction lately?
Brackley: Certainly on TV there’s been a resurgence in smart science fiction shows. I think that science fiction has always had a place in cinema over the years; it’s been fairly unwavering … But I think people are more prepared to watch smarter science fiction shows on TV nowadays.
Vincent: In a way the future goes in and out of fashion, and right now we seem to be in a place where people are ready for the science fiction of ideas. This is the kind of science fiction that takes a big concept and puts it right down in your living room, and I think people feel there’s something recognizable and relatable about that.
Do you feel there’s a difference between science fiction audiences in the U.S. vs. in the U.K.?
Brackley: I think a U.S. audience is probably more prepared to accept sci-fi than in the U.K., in a broad sense. Sci-fi has been more prominent and ubiquitous on American television. In the U.K., original sci-fi drama is limited to things like “Doctor Who.” Historically, sci-fi dramas haven’t really worked. There’s always been cult hits, but for a mainstream primetime audience, it hasn’t really worked. So the U.S. audience is probably more prepared to watch that kind of show than the U.K.
Why do you think that is?
Vincent: It’s very hard to say because we have a wonderful tradition of science fiction in the UK. Going back to writers like John Wyndham, H.G. Wells, Douglas Adams, Iain M. Banks. And wonderful science fiction films and TV shows. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if it’s the last couple of attempts to do for a wide, mainstream audience just haven’t been quite the right thing. We seem to have struck a chord at the moment, but it’s really hard to say.
How does your show fitting in to that tradition? Did you look to any of those works for inspiration?
Vincent: We very much wanted to draw on the very best science fiction that we know, and not specifically UK either. But the best from the whole world. From the Golden Age of Science Fiction … They really mastered this kind of speculative storytelling, where you take this idea and use it to explore very human implications in a very real setting, to a spooky and thought-provoking effect. And certainly we are trying to capture some of that.
How do you see the series progressing going forward? Do you have idea for a second season?
Vincent: We certainly have ideas and we hope very much we get the opportunity to continue telling this story. I will say that even though we have a lot of mystery and secrets in the first season, we wanted to make sure they were all unspooled to satisfactory effect. We don’t leave anybody on a cliffhanger, which gives us the opportunity to move on. We have an idea about how to change the landscape of the world with hundreds of millions of these machines in operation, and then come back with our characters and explore that new landscape.
“Humans” premieres on AMC June 28 at 9 p.m. ET.