This week we’ve got a real mixed bag of TV on a week which had its ups and downs…
When Channel 4 first aired Humans last summer Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brakley’s technological drama felt like a breath of fresh air. Asking the question what would happen if we had access to computerised lifelike companions, the series saw an ordinary suburban family, The Hawkins, buy a synth to help them around the house. But unbeknownst to them their synth had been given consciousness meaning that she was one of the rare members of her breed who were able to feel emotion and weren’t just programmed to act a certain way.The synth in question was Mia who was part of a small group of led by Leo the son of the original synth creator Dr. David Elster. The series ended with the conscious synths given access to the programme that allowed them to have consciousness which they supposedly entrusted to Hawkins matriarch Laura. But in actuality the programme was taken by another group of the conscious synths, the devious Niska who was last seen on a train leaving her family members behind.The second series picks up with Niska as we find her in Berlin as we start to see her putting her guard down as she enters into a romance with waitress Astrid. However her feelings about the programme that she holds in her possession are never far from her mind and she makes the ultimate conclusion to share it with the rest of the synths. This sets off a chain of events that sees synths all over the planet start to gain feelings and emotions that are completely alien to them. These synths include a Bolivian miner and a Nottingham chemical plant employee Hester both of whom are contacted by Leo who promises to help them. However this group are under attack by the companies who employed them in the first place and soon enough one of their number has been wiped out.We also catch up with the Hawkins family just as they’ve moved house so that elder daughter Mattie can attend university nearby. Laura and husband Joe are attending marriage counselling in an attempt to move on from the latter’s indiscretion with Mia during the last series. However there’s more problems for the Hawkins when Joe loses his job to a synth who his company believe can be more productive than their human counterparts. As Humans is a co-production with AMC, the series seemingly has to have a big American star to attract viewers across the pond and this time we welcome Carrie-Ann Moss as scientist Dr. Athena Morrow. Athena is visited by Milo Khoury a young technology entrepreneur who believes he has the key to creating conscious synths. Initially rejecting his idea she’s initially intrigued enough to visit his offices where he introduces her to the conscious synth that has come into his possession. The fact that Athena now wants to take Milo’s discovery apart means that conscious synths may well be available to the general public before the series has finished.
As with any start to a second series the writers always have a tough job in both catching up with familiar faces and introducing us to new ones. To their credit Brackley and Vincent don’t rush these introductions and I liked the fact that the first five minutes or so was dedicated solely to Niska and her decision whether or not to release the programme. The only issue with the slow establishment of where the characters are meant that some of the new characters were ill-served. One element of the show I always enjoyed was how the use of synths affects the human world and vice versa. This was seen throughout the episode as the theme here was very much on how the synths cost less to maintain and therefore were increasingly being employed throughout the world as a way of saving money. I enjoyed how the writers had this directly impact one of the characters with Joe losing his job to a synth and quickly realising that soon the entire company would be populated by robots. Although there is always the suggestion that the synths are being used as surrogate slaves at the same time they are being portrayed as a superior alternative to humans. Humans other selling point are the stellar performances given by the cast especially those playing synths. Emily Berrington continues to excel here as she deftly handled the task of opening the series. Niska is certainly one of the more interesting characters in the series and Berrington makes sure she doesn’t simply become the one-dimensional villain of the show. Similarly, Gemma Chan does a good job of portraying a synth who also has to hide her consciousness when she’s around the humans she’s working for. Chan definitely provides the emotional core of the series and this was seen through her turn here especially in the scenes in which Mia bonds with cafe owner Ed. Of the new cast members, I was personally impressed by how well Carrie-Ann Moss slotted into the series as she presented us with all we needed to know about Athena almost straight away. Moss portrayed the character as a brilliant woman albeit one who lacked emotion and whose initial reaction to being presented with a conscious synth was to take it apart. Although this opener was far from perfect it certainly displayed exactly what we could expect from this series. Brackley and Vincent have continued some of the themes from the first series whilst at the same time expanding the story about the conscious synths. The direction and performances are as great as they were last year and I’m excited about where the series is going to take us next. Ultimately if this opener is anything to go by then this series of Humans will be as great as its predecessor and may even surpass it in some ways.
The only major drama series debut of note this week takes us over to ITV with the start of a two-parter which has basically been created to fill the void between the end of Cold Feet and the start of I’m a Celeb. Sadly Dark Angel isn’t a British remake of the Jessica Alba cult classic but instead is about British serial killer Mary Ann Cotton who poisoned all those around her in the mid-19th century. The beginning of the first instalment sees Mary Ann returning to her mother and stepfather after eloping several years previous to marry a bit of a buffoon. Mary Ann’s return though is mired in grief as it transpires that she’s lost several young children and this is a trend that continues in the first third of the programme. As writer Gwyneth Hughes has been given very little time to tell Mary Ann’s complex story, she has to present the potted higlights of the anti-heroine’s life which means quite a lot of children’s deaths quite quickly. This then leads to Mary Ann bumping off her first husband Billy after he loses another job and is unable to support her and their remaining children. As Billy has taken out life insurance on himself, Mary Ann soon finishes him off with tea laced with arsenic something she later uses to finish off her own mother. I did feel sorry for Mary Ann’s second husband who barely figured into the plot at all before she got him to take out life insurance and then polished him off. The final third of the instalment saw Mary Ann try to weasel her way into the life of a wealthy widower as she became nursemaid to his children. However his sister almost seemed wise to her game and was quick to wave her off when Mary Ann’s mother grew sick unfortunately an arsenic-laden tea later and our dark angel was back on her latest victim’s doorstep. I do feel sorry for everyone involved in Dark Angel as, instead of the macabre drama it wanted to be it almost became unintentionally hilarious due to the vast pace at which Mary Ann’s tragedies occurred. You couldn’t go five minutes without someone dying whether it be a sad infant death or one of Mary Ann’s tea-related murders. As Mary Ann, I found Joanne Froggatt was ill-served by a script that had her transform from victim to killer without any sort of transition. In fact of the cast I found that Alun Armstrong gave the most compelling performance as Mary Ann’s God-fearing stepfather. I think Mary Ann Cotton’s story could make a decent drama however this poorly paced, farce of a miniseries is not it.
Although their drama output may leave a lot to be desired at the moment, ITV proved they are still the masters in providing light entertainment programmes with a human edge. Following the massive success of Long Lost Family, Davina McCall has been asked to tug on the heartstrings of the nation once again with This Time Next Year. The show’s concept is incredibly simplistic as Davina interviews a member of the public who has a specific goal that they wish to achieve by the next year. All of these meetings are taped in advance meaning that Davina airs them before meeting up with her guest once again as they walk through her door of dreams to show the audience whether they have done what they set out to do. A lot of the transformations are physical such as Sarah-Jayne who wanted to lose ten stone or Jody who wanted to live her dream of becoming a competitive bodybuilder. Some of the participants also have emotional backstories such as James who wanted to conquer his stammer and give a speech at his old school. The fact that James was the subject chosen to close the show suggested to me that he’d achieved his ambition and indeed we got to see his emotional speech in all its glory. In fact, of the five stories told on the first show, only seventy-six year old widower Malcolm didn’t live his dream of finding love again which is something I suppose he can’t control on his own. The cynic in me believes that there are probably a lot more stories like Malcolm’s and if say married couple Kim and Mick Dooley hadn’t achieved their goal of having a baby in a year their story probably wouldn’t have aired. That being said as a whole This Time Next Year was a solid hour of emotional blackmail that worked thanks to the likeability of McCall and the backstories of the participants. I feel McCall did well in getting the audience at home invested in the stories and I felt the show was incredibly well-paced with every subject get equal time on the show. My one issue is that this feels like a show that belongs on an early weekend slot rather than on a Wednesday as it feels like the perfect lead in for a glossy talent show. As it is I think not as many people will get to see This Time Next Year which is a show I think had good intentions at heart and one that was well-produced and well-anchored by McCall.
Finally we end with a bit of humour as we look at the curio that was BBC Two’s Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back. This mockumentary, written by Shaun Pye and Alan Connor, starred Kevin Bishop and documented the time period after Farage resigned as leader of UKip so he could get his life back. Unfortunately that life isn’t that exciting for the most part and sees Farage fielding calls from Strictly and I’m a Celeb with him constantly asking the producers to add another zero to their fee offers. Most of the time though Farage is seen drinking at his local pub or shouting at the TV the latter of which led to one of the show’s biggest laughs involving an episode of Pointless. Although Farage getting his life back does involve a fair bit of political in-fighting with the local pub cricket team it seems that he’s equally keen to be in the public eye. Pye and Connor cover Farage’s meetings in the US with Donald Trump as well as his much-publicised moustache which appeared and disappeared very quickly. Unfortunately for the writers, they couldn’t foresee that Farage would’ve been pack in charge of UKip so very soon but with the resignation of Diane James, Nige has done taking his life back. Although Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back was an entertaining thirty-five minutes I’m not quite sure who it was for and at times it to be quite long-winded. Whilst the scenes of Farage sitting around doing jigsaw puzzles or watching old sitcoms were well-observed, a lot of the material was quite obvious. At the same time I didn’t find the satirical elements of the piece to be biting enough which made all the racism allegations and his dealings with Trump to feel quite limp. The one bright spot of the comedy was Kevin Bishop who I felt captured Farage brilliantly and I thought his impression was almost perfect. It’s clear that Bishop has researched the role for some time as he was utterly believable as Farage however I don’t think he was particularly well-served by the material. Ultimately, whilst clever in small patches, Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back was really a rather underwhelming affair that was neither biting enough to be a true satire or funny enough to be a laugh-out-loud mockumentary.
Next Time: Damilola: Our Loved Boy, Close to the Enemy and Dark Heart.