This week we have one of the best dramas of the year, a couple of mixed offerings from the BBC and an odd mockumentary.
As we approach the halfway point of 2015 it’s fair to say that this year’s TV hasn’t been the greatest. In fact most of the best British TV shows have come from Channel 4 and that trend continues this week in the form of sci-fi drama series Humans. The drama, which is a co-production between Channel 4 and AMC, imagines a world in which the use of robots known as Synths is commonplace. Synths are the newest form of technology and most people use them in the way we would do a dishwasher, tumble dryer or microwave. The only problem is that the Synths are starting to develop an emotional consciousness and are attempting to obtain their freedom from their masters. One of those Synths is Anita (Gemma Chan) who had been captured whilst on the run and then sold on the cheap to likeable dad Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill). Anita’s presence in the Hawkins household has a different effect on every member; the youngest daughter loves having her around to play with, the teenage son is attracted to her and the older daughter is sceptical about the way she reacts. Meanwhile lawyer mother Laura (Katherine Parkinson) has her reservations about Anita’s presence in the house and starts to notice her Synth behaving oddly throughout the course of the show. Elsewhere Anita’s former ally Leo (Colin Morgan) is attempting to track her down but finds out that other people are also on the hunt for the enhanced Synths. The episode also deals with the relationship between recent stroke victim Dr George Millican (William Hurt) and his outdated Synth Odi (Will Tudor). Despite the NHS offering him a new Synth, George is dedicated to Odi primarily as he keeps the memory of the professor’s late wife alive. Unfortunately an incident at a supermarket means that George has to go to great lengths to ensure that Odi doesn’t get despatched at the recycling plant.
There was a lot to like about Humans from the writing, to the casting and the general eeriness that director Sam Donovan creates. Most importantly Humans isn’t a drama that insults its audience’s intelligence and I feel that it works on a number of levels. On one hand I feel that writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley have created a cautionary fable about our over-reliance on technology. With the Synths being able to work at a greater level than us it seems that the human race is gradually becoming obsolete, a point that is perfectly exemplified by the attitude of Joe and Laura’s daughter Mattie. On another level I feel that the writers are making a commentary about slavery with the captured Synths being made to work as a housekeeper, fruit picker and sex worker respectively. It’s not a stretch to say that Humans puts me in mind of one of Channel 4′s best series from the last couple of years, the cancelled-before-its-time Utopia. Particularly striking is the incidental music in Humans which, whilst not as off-putting as Utopia’s central score, still feels a little obtuse. Additionally Utopia’s Neil Maskell also features in Humans as police officer DS Drummond who is seemingly feeling cuckolded by the presence of a Synth in his marital home. Of the cast I felt that Chan and Tudor were the stars of the show as they convincingly portrayed Synths Anita and Odi. I felt that Chan possibly had the hardest job to do as she had to play an emotionally enhanced robot who at the same time was trying to convince a family that she was just like all the other Synths. Katherine Parkinson and Tom Goodman-Hill were also fantastic as the normal suburban couple whose life looks to be changed by the presence of a Synth in their home. However I wasn’t a fan of of the entire cast and if anything I felt the biggest names in the show; Colin Morgan and William Hurt weren’t as strong as their less recognisable cast mates. But those are minor quibbles in a programme that I was enthralled by from beginning to end. With its intelligent writing, fine performances and unique tone, Humans may well be the TV drama of 2015 even though at the moment there’s very little competition for that title.
Meanwhile, over on BBC One, they brought back an old summer favourite in the form of Celebrity Masterchef. I’m a big fan of most of the Masterchef runs and quite enjoyed last year’s celebrity series which saw the charming Sophie Thompson pick up the winner’s trophy. Thompson was one of the highlights of this week’s two episodes in which she returned to the kitchen to test the food of the first batch of contestants. I always feel that any show like Masterchef works as long as you have people that you care about but I was never really invested in this week’s celebrities. The only person I had any passing interest in was Yvette Fielding and she was eliminated after the first show. However, to her credit, Yvette did better herself by finally redeeming that pancake fiasco that she made on Blue Peter about twenty years ago. Chesney Hawkes definitely marked himself out as the front runner after the first two shows however I’m not quite sure why he decided to journey all the way over from his American home just to be barked at by Gregg Wallace. Elsewhere Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding made an absolute mess of every task that she was given and I reckon she was only kept on a little longer than Yvette because she’s one of the most recognisable names in the competition. The major issue I had with this week’s episodes was the scheduling as BBC One decided to deliver two and half hours’ worth of Celebrity Masterchef over just two nights. Friday’s episode was a particular chore as it was comprised of three separate tasks including the rather useless Relay Invention Test. Why this couldn’t have been spread out over at least three nights I’ve got no idea and I would rather see Chesney Hawkes and Sarah Harding cooking at Legoland than anything that happened in this week’s episode of The Interceptor. That being said I’m going to keep watching Celebrity Masterchef just to see if there are any endearing contestants in this year’s line-up that were sorely missing from this week’s opening episodes.
During the summer months most channels don’t seem to care about what they air on Saturday nights and that’s certainly true of BBC One’s new offering Prized Apart. Despite the fact that the show itself was very confused it does seem that the BBC have spent a fair amount of money on flying ten contestants and co-host Reggie Yates to Morocco. Meanwhile Emma Willis, who must have drawn the short straw, is stranded in an aircraft hangar with the contestants’ nearest and dearest. The first half of the show sees the Morocco-based contestants compete in a series of tasks to see who’ll avoid going home. After these challenges are completed the three contestants who have done worse throughout the day are sent back to Emma’s aircraft hangar where their significant other is forced to answer a number of general knowledge questions. The part of the show that baffled me the most was the fact that the two contestants who survive the quiz portion of Prized Apart and then jetted back to Africa. I had plenty of problems with Prized Apart not least the fact that it must have the biggest carbon footprint of any game show in history. The second is that Emma’s group are almost completely redundant during two thirds of the show and are simply shown reacting to their partners’ Moroccan adventures. Prized Apart is also incredibly poorly paced with the exciting moments happening early on in the show and the climax of the programme being a simple question and answer round. Although I like Emma Willis as a host not even she can make questions about Indiana Jones exciting when we’ve already seen people parachute from planes and dangle over canyons. Prized Apart almost feels like one of those shows which have been cobbled together from a number of different ideas and the results are poor to say the least. Unfortunately, despite some interesting sequences, Prized Apart had nothing to offer in terms of entertainment value and it’s not a show I’ll be returning to in the near future.
The same can be said for the final show in this week’s instalment that being Dave’s new mockumentary Hoff the Record. The programme is one of Dave’s new roster of shows that it will help define it as something more than just a place to catch repeats of Mock the Week and Top Gear. Dave has certainly been heavily promoting Hoff the Record even going as far as to rename the channel David for one day in honour of Mr Hasselhoff. The first episode sees Hasselhoff travel to the UK as he’s under the impression that he’s been asked to star in a biopic of his own life. In fact the director (Craig Roberts) wants to audition Hasselhoff to play an older version of himself. Hoff the Record includes the types of characters you would expect to find in a show such as this including David’s incompetent British agent (Fergus Craig) and a well-educated PA (Ella Smith) who has no idea who he is. I do feel that Hasselhoff signed up for the show believing that this could work for him in the same way that Episodes did for Matt Le Blanc. Unfortunately the comedy in Episodes comes from the fact that Matt Le Blanc isn’t like the character he portrays on the show and it’s the same with Warwick Davies in Life’s Too Short. Having seen Hasselhoff as himself, both on chat shows and as a reality TV judge, I don’t think the version he portrays on Hoff the Record is that far from his real personality. Whilst the situations themselves have been crafted for comic purposes I don’t think Hasselhoff tried hard enough to portray a fictionalised version of himself. Meanwhile there isn’t really anybody amongst the supporting cast who really stood out and instead the majority of the characters where quite irritating. This is particularly true of Asim Chaudry’s Terry Patel; Hasselhoff’s driver who tells his new client several inappropriate stories whilst ferrying him about. The only thing I liked about the first episode was the performance given by Craig Roberts as the pretentious film director but unfortunately it looks like he won’t be sticking around. Although I do appreciate that Dave are trying out some original ideas Hoff the Record simply wasn’t nearly as funny as it should’ve been. Most of the blame for this can be laid at the door of Hasselhoff as I don’t believe he fully committed to the idea of playing a truly fictionalised version of himself.