Three Thumbs Up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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SPOILER ALERT!

Nearly four decades ago, in this very galaxy, I saw a movie called Star Wars.

I was awestruck. I became an instant devotee, an evangelist. Others might have less kindly described me as obsessed.

“Have you seen Star Wars?”

Friends and relatives started to avoid me because they knew I was going to ask that question. If they answered “yes,” a lengthy, often one-sided conversation about the film would be impossible to duck. If they answered “no,” they found themselves being hustled to the nearest theater still showing the movie. If necessary, I would even pay for their tickets.

By the time Star Wars had left the theaters, I had probably seen it a dozen or more times. Certain that I would never be able to own a print of the movie, I had gone so far as to sneak a tape recorder into the theater to capture the soundtrack.

I memorized virtually the entire dialog. I bought the musical soundtrack on LP. I bought a “black market” copy of the original theater poster.

I authored a 100-question Star Wars trivia quiz. I harassed other fans into taking the quiz, grading them and giving them the results. Most were not pleased. I did have an advantage with my bootlegged audio copy.

Relatives stopped alerting me about scheduled family gatherings. Friends made full use of advancing telephone technology to avoid my calls.

As the years passed, I was a release date regular at all of the sequels and prequels. The sequels were good; the prequels, not so much. None of them lived up to the original.

Thus, it was with tremendous anticipation that I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on Dec. 24. I was nearly a week tardy, but people willing to see a Star Wars movie with me have become sparse. My 7-year-old grandson, Matthew, agreed to become my less than enthusiastic companion after I dangled the 3-D option.

We were not disappointed. I loved it. A tougher critic, he liked it. So, we collectively give it three thumbs up.

My only reservation about the J.J. Abrams offering is how much it shared with the movie that started it all. It’s one thing to be true to an original, but it’s another to be so true that you start to wonder if you’re watching something truly new or a thinly disguised remake. While I reveled immersion in a warm, soothing, 1977 bath of nostalgia, I couldn’t escape the nagging sense of deja vu.

The central character, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is somehow able to harness the Force. She’s living on a desert planet when when she acquires an adorable droid, BB-8. The droid is carrying critical information being sought by both the First Order (bad guy successors to the Empire) and the Resistance (good-guy successors to the Rebel Alliance). So far, Rey seems to be following the Luke Skywalker path.

The chief antagonist is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s grandson. Kylo wears a voice-altering masked helmet which apparently does not perform the life-support functions of his grandfather’s equipment. He keeps grandpa’s battered helmet on a table and talks to it. He has issues.

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The new film features another Death Star (quickly shown to be much, much bigger than its predecessors), which may be why the First Order decided to go down that unpromising path yet again. Squadrons of X-wing fighters fend off TIE fighters as the Resistance focuses on the Death Star’s weak spot – once the protective force field has been disabled. As the attack continues, the Death Star is recharging and counting down for another round of planet blasting. The Resistance is only seconds away from destruction.

Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, includes the unexpected death of a beloved character. In the original, Obi-Wan Kenobi was cut down by Vader; this time, the victim is Han Solo. Harrison Ford apparently really, really did not want to be included in the next sequel. It was a shocking and emotional scene, as Han appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough with Kylo, who is Han’s and Leia’s wayward, Dark Side-seduced son.

The inclusion of all the original main characters enhanced the connection with the original Star Wars, getting an audience response with each initial star’s appearance. The whole gang was there, at least briefly, including Han, Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and the Millennium Falcon (as itself). It was interesting to see how the actors had weathered the decades, but I was happy to see that minimal effort had been made to make them appear as their 1977 selves.

Abrams has, of course, presented new story lines to extend in coming sequels. Fans, myself included, want to get Rey’s backstory. The leading theory is that she is Luke’s daughter, which would explain her ability to use the Force. Also, does any hope of redemption still exist for Kylo?

The new movie’s close kinship to the original is probably best seen as Abrams’ masterful job of making a successful transition for the franchise. After all, he did have the daunting task of overcoming those three lackluster prequels.

I’ll be happily be standing in line when the next sequel is released.

A Measure of Limitless

SPOILER ALERT!

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Jennifer Carpenter and Jake Dorman


The appeal of Limitless just might be boundless.

The new CBS fall show presented a nicely balanced mix of character development and action, with a tasty twist of technology, when it debuted Sept. 22. The network could finally have a recipe for science fiction success on its hands.

As much as the trailers might have led you to believe that Bradley Cooper heads the cast, that honor goes to Jake McDorman. McDorman stars as Brian Finch, the hapless 28-year-old would-be musician who stumbles into the world of brain-boosting pills.

Academy Award winning Cooper, much not to my surprise, only makes a limited “special appearance” as his film character, Eddie Morra, in the TV premiere. He is also among a half-dozen executive producers listed for the series.

Cooper stars in the coming film, Burnt, for which a commercial just happens to be sandwiched between Limitless segments. Funny how Hollywood so skillfully knits these things together.

Anyway, Brian lands a position as a temp with a major Wall Street banking corporation. His job is to get some 2,000 employee training forms into their respective file folders. This task is expected to take 2 weeks.

Brian reunites with his drop-out band member, Eli, who was led to his file room location by reports of snores (such a small world, New York City). A successful and sympathetic Eli provides Brian with his first mind-enhancing hit of NZT-48.

Drug-empowered Brian completes his filing job in two hours. He also organizes and color-codes, by order of employment desirability, the contents of all employee files. His supervisor is impressed, especially when he tells her that she has the smarts to take command of the corporation.

On his way home, Brian borrows a street musician’s guitar and executes a virtuoso acoustic performance of Rimsky-Korsokov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” which earns a jumping ovation (they were already standing) from an enormous street crowd. That was just for starters. Powerful stuff, that NZT-48.

I’ve got to try some of that. Wow! No need to hit the streets in search of a pusher. Here it is, on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Limitless-NZT-48-Doses-Nootropic-Brain-Boosting/dp/B00AS662GC). In a couple of weeks (I refuse to fall for Amazon Prime), these reviews are going to be a lot smarter!

Anyway, I’ve no doubt already given away too much, hence the warning at the top of this blog. Long story short: Brian connects with an FBI agent, Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter), who convinces her boss, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, that Brian is just what the bureau needs in the way of extraordinary abilities (shades of Chuck!). The stage is set for the coming episodes.

OK, Limitless is limited by the same myth as the film Lucy, that the full potential of the human brain can be unleashed by a wonder drug. Scientists say not; but, hey, that’s entertainment!

Limitless promises a lot of that commodity.

Minority Report Report

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Meagan Good and Stark Sands

The Sept. 21 premiere of Minority Report on Fox proves, once again, that putting the Steven Spielberg label on a product is no guarantee of top quality contents.

Joining such lackluster Spielberg small screen science fiction offerings as Under the Dome, Extant and Falling Skies, this series focuses on the lives of three precognitive siblings a decade after the controversial Precrime Program featured in the 2002 film of the same name has ended.

The 2065 society depicted in the television series has decided that arresting people for crimes they were only contemplating might somehow be a violation of their rights. This realization did not free those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, which one might guess should be the next logical legal step. That decision works from a plot standpoint for the opener, giving the writers a seething pool of injustice from which to draw villains.

One of the precogs, Dash (Stark Sands) has left the remote island home the government had provided to insulate the siblings from society and has come to Washington, D.C. Back among murderous humankind, he is again getting visions of future killings. Given only a few minutes to act, he is not getting enough information to get to the scene in time to prevent the crime.

Details of the murders reside in the mind of his twin brother, Arthur (Nick Zano). The missing piece of Dash’s mind, Arthur had left the island refuge years earlier, but the pair are not currently on speaking terms over what appears to be lifestyle issues.

Dash’s visions are apparently painful, as Sands convincingly conveys. His impression of a man having a seizure beats even that of the late, great John Belushi.

Enter homicide detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good). As she investigates the murder of a nurse thrown from an apartment window, Vega quickly marks Dash as a person of interest. Once she realizes that he is one of the never publicly identified precogs, she just as quickly — perhaps too quickly — accepts him as a partner.

Good’s lines come across as a bit wooden. Maybe she’s just watched a few too many episodes of Law and Order. Her character does seem to soften a little toward the end of the premiere.

The saving grace of this show may be the setting. Fox did not skimp on the special effects eye candy.

Unlike so many science fiction television offerings, including 12 Monkeys and The 100, the world depicted here is not dystopian. Much of what is seen only extrapolates from what we’re seeing today.

We see an aerial view of maglev trains speeding down tracks, making precision track changes, detaching and reattaching cars on the fly, missing collisions by millimeters and microseconds. I don’t see Amtrak evolving into anything that in my lifetime.

A wristband camera transforms into a quadcopter for taking selfies. No cell phone on a stick for these kids.

The unpolitically correct Washington Reskins have become the Washington Redclouds. The new name undoubtedly still strikes fear into the hearts of the opponents they meet in the gridiron field of battle. Certainly beats the Washington Milktoasts.

A fast food robocook, complete with a hat, looks like the love child of Will Robinson’s best friend and a runaway jukebox. No need to cry “danger,” however, because, as Lara observes, french fries are no longer unhealthy, thanks to the “genetic revolution.”

In Lara’s apartment, a video screen advertises “The Simpsons Season 75 Spectacular.” It’s good to know that Fox has made a 50-year commitment to keep airing its greatest achievement.

Lara totes what seems to be a gun that substitutes sonic waves for bullets. This shootin’ iron can knock a suspect clear across a room and, in one case, render one quite deceased. Did she forgot to set the gun on “stun?”

Advertising is all-invasive. Dash looks out a maglev window and is assailed by a video telling him he looks stressed and should try some baked goods. A booze bottle features an animated video label. OK, maybe this aspect of 2065 qualifies as dystopian.

Minority Report falls somewhere between Battle Star Galactica (the remake) great and last season of Falling Skies terrible. It’s exact location within that quality spectrum remains to be seen. I am willing to devote at least another 40 minutes and a bag of Cheetos to finding out.

A Walk in the Woods Baby Boomers Delight

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Redford and Nolte, Baby Boomers in the woods


A Walk in the Woods
doesn’t sound like a promising title for a movie, at least for those unfamiliar with the Bill Bryson book on which the flick is based. Once you know that you’ll be watching a couple of senior citizens attempting to conquer the more than 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail, you might expect that you’re in for some laughs. You are.

Robert Redford, still vestigially handsome at 79, stars as Bryson, who seems to be having something of a mid-life crisis, assuming he will live to be a ripe, old 158 before he expires. A barely recognizable Nick Nolte, 74, plays Stephen Katz, the long-lost travel buddy Bryson had hoped to never see again.

Struggling with the growing perception that he is reaching the endgame of his life, Bryson decides that he is going to hike the trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, a daunting endeavor for a physically fit 20-something. That detail is immediately noted by his wife, Cathy (Emma Thompson), who is vehemently not OK with the plan.

Cathy attempts to dissuade her husband. As part of her campaign of discouragement, she provides a collection of newspaper stories describing the gruesome fates that other Appalachian Trail hikers have suffered. Being killed and eaten by bears is among them.

Bryson remains resolute. Cathy eventually relents, on the condition that her husband, whose life she still values, cannot undertake the journey alone. She is fairly certain that Bryson will not find any takers for his insane proposition among his more rational friends and acquaintances.

She is right — until Katz, who was not even on Bryson’s long list of candidates, learns of the plan and volunteers his companionship. With no other options available, Bryson reluctantly accepts.

After the first quarter-mile, both men are huffing and puffing, possibly even seeing their lives flashing before them. Their fortunes quickly go downhill, and uphill, and downhill from there. The Appalachians are not quite the Rockies, but they do qualify as mountains, especially to pedestrians.

Anyone who goes to see this film expecting a deep look at the meaning of life or an inspiring tale of victory in the face of overwhelming odds may be disappointed. It’s a comedy. However, the humor found in it is highly age-dependent.

For those of the Baby Boomer generation, which includes my wife, Mary, myself and just about everyone else in the theater who saw the film with us, the antics of Bryson and Katz are hilarious. We laughed frequently — at times until we were out of breath. We saw ourselves in the characters and in the give-and-take between the Brysons.

Younger filmgoers will not be able to make this connection, and some of the humor may fall flat. Still, if you happen to find the trials and tribulations of your elders funny, you may like the movie.

Shame on you. You should be out there hiking the Appalachian Trail — while you’re still able.

Killjoys Overjoys

Syfy’s Killjoys started strong and got stronger with every episode.

The show is a masterful blend of character development, action and world-building. The three musketeers who form the main team, Dutch, John and D’Avin, were easy to like from the beginning.

Dutch checked in as your standard, drop-dead gorgeous, kick-ass, La Femme Nikita-style assassin. That image immediately began to soften as we got glimpses of her mysterious background, vulnerability and heart of gold.

John is the glue of the trio. He is what you might call a stealth geek, a guy who has all the technological smarts but is unmarked by taped glasses, pocket protector and any of the other outward signs that might signal his abilities. Lucy, the AI in charge of their ship, is clearly in love with him. John has an endearing brotherly affection for Dutch that is as heartwarming as it is unbelievable. I did note that Dutch is drop-dead gorgeous, did I not?

D’Avin, John’s estranged brother, is the latecomer to the team, and by that I mean he did not show up until partway into the first episode. Brotherly affection is a strained commodity in his case, but we eventually learned that his actions are not entirely under his control. Although a heroic figure, D’Avin, despite being warned by John, does not share John’s brotherly attitude toward Dutch.

As duly sworn agents of the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition (RAC), better known as “The Rack,” the threesome get into plenty of tense situations in the course of executing their bounty hunting warrants. Firefights and more advanced methods of dealing out death abound, but the show avoids becoming mired in gore. A rich mixture of plot elements includes social injustice, economics, politics, rebellion, drug addiction, mind control and genocide. Throughout the episodes, we saw Dutch’s past chasing her. The series has presented few, if any, dull moments.

The setting for the series, “The Quad,” consisting of a home planet and three moons, is so complex that Syfy has generously included a web page guide to the world of Killjoys. Homeworld Qresh is at the top of the social structure, which is ruled by the Nine Families. The families created the Company to keep their world in order, and the Company uses the RAC to do its dirty work.

In descending order of status come the moons Leith, home to unlanded members of the Nine Families; Westerley, the Quad’s version of the American Wild West and base of operations for Dutch, John and D’Avin; and Arkyn, a colonial failure now being used for mysterious and sinister purposes.

Nobody is overly happy with their status, other than the inhabitants of Qresh, particularly the Nine Families. The Syfy page summarized the differences among the planetary residents with “If those on Westerley dream of life on Leith, those on Leith dream of life on Qresh.” The potential for conflict is infinite.

The first season of this superlative series barely scratched the surface of the possibilities created by its incredibly imaginative and talented writers. If ever a new series deserved another dozen seasons, it’s Killjoys.

Dark Matter Fizzles

I can’t remember a new science fiction series that showed a longer downhill slide from first to last episodes than Syfy’s Dark Matter.

It was love at first view for me when the series premiered. It had a number (literally) of interesting characters, snappy, often humorous dialog, and a mystery to solve. At last, I thought, a series that combines some of the things that made Firefly, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis so watchable.

I was doomed to be disappointed.

Six people brought out of stasis in a spaceship with no knowledge of themselves or each other seemed like a great plot gimmick. It was, but the bits and pieces of the characters’ backgrounds were doled out so miserly in the ensuing dozen episodes that it was hard to care by the time anything significant was revealed. The group never really came together as a team, remaining highly suspicious of each other throughout the season.

Even so, this group of hardcore mercenaries rarely went anywhere. So much of the “action” took place inside the ship, it reminded me of the first two Deep Space Nine seasons before the station acquired the Defiant, and the station crew went out looking for trouble instead of passively waiting for trouble to come to the station.

The final two episodes of the season further degenerated into an extended “whodunit” with an unsatisfying conclusion. If Dark Matter is renewed by Syfy for a second season, that will just be another mystery to solve.

Walking Dead Spin-Off Makes Shambling Start


A good zombie is a slow zombie. I don’t think the traditional zombie’s inability to break into a gallop should be mirrored in a zombie show, but that seemed to be the case when Fear the Walking Dead premiered Aug. 23 on AMC.

ftwdfamilyThe plodding focus for most of the pilot is a badly blending family with all of the accompanying issues, including the additional complication of drug addiction. I understand the need for fleshing out the main characters, but I think a little too much time was spent here on that process. More family background details could have been distributed in the next few episodes to move the plot along a little more quickly in the pilot.

Zombies get very little screen time. The Zombie Screen Actors Union should be filing a grievance.

I knew the plot was going back to the beginning of the apocalypse in Los Angeles, and I expected a slow build. Instantly caring about new characters has never happened for me, although this bunch might pose a long-term challenge.

To illustrate how normal society gradually comes to realize what’s happening and begin to cope with it, they might have chosen a better focus than a family with all sorts of extraneous built-in drama. I wasn’t expecting Ward, June, Wally and the Beaver. Neither was I expecting the Osbournes.

As  the premiere is scripted, the LA residents know something is going on; but they don’t know what. The authorities are keeping a lid on the situation – mostly because they are pretty clueless themselves.

Police officers are emptying their sidearms into the bodies of these no-goodniks, but the cops are totally at a loss as to why the perps don’t stay down until they’re shot in the head. Must be drugs, they conclude.

Therein lies my primary complaint about Fear the Walking Dead, a complaint that also applies to the show’s parent series, The Walking Dead. People never recognize a zombie when they see one.

Here’s how I think a first police encounter with a zombie should go. The cop shoots the advancing zombie. This is justified because the zombie’s face is decorated by the blood of its last snack, plus the moans and snapping jaws indicate something might not be quite right with this guy. The zombie ignores the additional ventilation to his body and continues heading toward the officer.

The officer thinks “what the hell?” pauses for a split-second, then has an instant epiphany. “Holy shit! Zombie!” He then shoots the zombie in the head. Immediate problem resolved.

In a city like LA, where life imitates art daily, how can anyone possibly not recognize a zombie the instant it stumbles into view? Has nobody seen George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or any of the subsequent zombie flicks that hit the screens prior to the premier of The Walking Dead on Halloween only 5 years ago? The people of both series should not be facing a steep zombie learning curve.

The culprit here is the “alternate reality,” an oxymoron for “anything goes,” created by Robert Kirkman, the comic book guy behind both shows. The sum and substance of The Walking Dead is the gritty reality in which the characters adapt to and survive in a deadly environment (no pun intended). By choosing a world in which no previous references to zombies exist, Kirkman does a disservice to Romero and all the others upon whose shoulders he has built his stories.

Zombies are arguably among the most nonsensical monsters ever conceived, but I find them immeasurably more entertaining than romanticized vampires and werewolves. Kirkman should have allowed prior knowledge of zombies into his worlds. Even as one who has enjoyed living dead hi-jinks for decades, I would have a hard time overcoming my disbelief should I see one approaching me in real life. Gradual acceptance could have worked for Kirkman’s characters.

The characters’ lack of zombie education in both The Walking Dead and the spin-off is just a pet peeve of mine. Despite this glaring omission, I would never miss an episode of the original series, and I will quite probably love its offspring — eventually.

HelI, I expect I’ll even love the next Kirkman spin-off, Beware of the Invisible Flying Dead.

Like I said. Anything goes.

The New Zoo Re-Review

It was a very slim possibility, but the CBS version of James Patterson’s Zoo has not managed to make a silly premise watchable.

A global, organized animal movement to eradicate the pesky humans who seem bent on destroying the earth is an idea more worthy of a Syfy Channel movie than a CBS series, but I had hoped that a well-crafted presentation would enable me to willingly suspend my disbelief and enjoy the show. That has not happened.

Bats bring down a private jet at high altitude, and a pack of wolves take a prison? Really? Bats repeatedly cover solar panels to cut a research facility’s power? Really? Oh, did I mention that these bats show up in Antarctica? Also, one of the bats manages to ride into the facility on a scientist’s back and short out the backup power supply? Really?

I think CBS owes Syfy royalties. All CBS has done is substitute normal (well, except for that “defiant pupil” inter-animal telepathic communication thing) animals for the standard giant dinocrocodilepythonsharktopusspiranhasaurus featured on Syfy every Saturday. Now, if CBS had thought to have the animals delivered by tornado, the network might have created a smash hit.

I’m out! I think I heard my DVR breathe a sigh of relief and murmur “thank-you.”

I have a suggestion for CBS executive decision-makers. (I’m certain they have been closely monitoring this blog.) Why try something like James Patterson’s Zoo, when you obviously prefer the more economic alternative of reality shows and endlessly recycling participants among them?

The new Zoo I propose, minus the book author’s name, I imagine, would feature 16 of the nastiest, most despicable contestants who ever graced the likes of Big Brother, Survivor and The Amazing Race. It’s a gigantic pool for selection.

The show would be set in (you guessed it) a zoo. Each week, contestants would face some sort of task involving an animal — riding a tiger, dancing with a bear, walking an angry pit bull. The biggest loser would be put in cage with a hungry, extremely pissed off big cat, given a chair and a whip, and challenged to survive for 5 minutes.

Those who did would be given another shot the following week. Those who did not, well, that would just be “good television.”

The New Zoo Review

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Can a silly idea be artfully rendered into something interesting, even thrilling?

This is the question posed by the new CBS adaptation of James Patterson’s Zoo, which aired its first episode June 30.

The definitive answer? Maybe.

Watching this series demands certain things from you. First and foremost, you must disable your bullshit filter.

Done? Now, you must accept the following premise.

The animals of the earth are universally pissed. They have established a global telepathic communication network, considered all the options and unanimously decided that the best course of action is to exterminate the species destroying the earth. That would be us.

Leading the charge, on at least two fronts. are the lions.

In Los Angeles, a pair of male lions kill their trainer, escape from the zoo and go on a deadly rampage. Local reporter Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) is convinced that a switch to cheaper, evil corporation food is to blame. Hoo-boy, is her face ever going to be red.

In Botswana, a squad of five male lions clear and quite possibly wipe out a safari camp. Zoologist turned tour guide Jackson Oz (James Wolk) attempts to determine how a single lion, as tracks indicate, could be so terrifyingly efficient. He’s about to find out.

Now, here are a few things that you may not have known about lions. They will walk in single-file to hide their numbers (and foil any zoologist who might come sniffing down their trail). They will wound, but not kill, a victim and leave him in a vehicle to lure others, such as an investigating zoologist’s best friend, into their kill zone. They will damage a radiator, knowing that this will eventually bring a fleeing Range Rover to a halt and enable them to catch up with their prey.

OK. I can accept (bullshit filter disabled, remember?) animals being in telepathic touch to get the job done. I can’t help but think that something or someone (perhaps a misanthropic human?) is calling the shots. Without a leader, most groups, whether human or other, are generally just a collection of directionless opinions. Who’s pulling the strings of these animal vigilantes?

Back in LA, there’s the matter of the mini-lions. Ordinary household tabbies have been mysteriously disappearing by the gazillions, much to the despair of their little girl owners. Everyone’s first thought? Something bigger and toothier is eating them.

No, wait! The target here does not walk on four legs, and I’m not talking chickens. The reporter’s new-found friend, Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke), the zoo’s veterinary pathologist, has followed one of the errant cats to its destination, the trees outside an elementary school playground. A summer day camp is scheduled to start the next day. What’s on the minds of these fiendish felines? Kitty kiddy lunch?

Return to Botswana. Jackson, just before he is forced to tumble down a steep slope by one of the renegade lions, notices an abnormality in the beast’s left eye. Could this be the “defiant pupil” described by his previously believed insane late father as the animals’ comlink?

My bet, based on what I gleaned from the preview at the end of the premiere? Yes. Yes it is.

AMC’s Humans: New Take on Old Topic


Warning: Contains Spoilers

Humans will take you down a heavily traveled science fiction trail, but this may be one of those times you should take the hike.

The new AMC Sunday night series, which premiered June 28, takes a high-quality look at the troubled relationship between Humankind and its mechanical offspring. Are our creations destined to become our overlords?

The creations in question here are Synthetics, abbreviated as Synths by the humans who use them. Their appearance comes very close to real human beings. Synths are just close enough to qualify for the Uncanny Valley, a social scientific construct which holds that imitations looking almost but not quite human tend to creep real humans out.

The Synths are more than a little creepy. Their eyes are unnaturally bright, almost as if they are lit from within, as one might expect with a robot. Their facial expressions are limited. Think post-plastic surgery Kenny Rogers. The Synths can smile, but even that’s a little on the creepy side.

The Synths in this near-future society are programmed to do menial jobs — agricultural, sanitary, home care-giving. They are ready to perform repetitious, degrading, even dangerous tasks without supervision, breaks or benefits. All they really need is nightly recharging and maybe a little maintenance. In short, they are every employer’s dream employee.

The series focuses on a different kind of Synth — one who has become conscious, self-aware. These Synths are perceived as a threatening step up from Humanity. They have no need for human guidance. They are capable of replication and self-improvement. They represent the dark side of the Singularity, the merger of human and machine — the side that leads to a Skynet-type domination of machines over humans.

The main storyline of the premiere is the Hawkins family, who purchase one of these threatening Synths (Gemma Chan) as a housekeeper. Named Anita by her new family, she seems to be working out nicely, restoring order to a household headed by exasperated dad, Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill). Joe is trying to cope with three children in the absence of a working wife, Laura (Katherine Parkinson), who is away from home for extended stretches.

Anita hides her true nature well, following instructions, literally laughing uncontrollably at one of Joe’s jokes, but only after it had been identified as a joke. Laura senses that Anita is not quite the stupid machine she pretends to be, as she seems to have an unsynthlike fascination with the moon and strong maternal instincts toward the youngest Hawkins child, Sophie (Pixie Davies).

The family is sharply divided on the issue of Anita. Joe has given several indications that he sees Anita as having considerably more sex appeal than a new vacuum cleaner. Laura, who had previously gone on record as being against having a Synth in the home, feels she has been replaced as a wife.

Their son, Toby (Theo Stevenson), is as pro-Anita as any pubescent boy who suddenly finds himself himself sharing a home with a Playboy centerfold can be. High school aged daughter, Matilda (Lucy Carless), who sees a future in which a Synth can programmed in seconds to do what she would need years to learn, sees Anita as a slave and treats her accordingly. Anita is Sophie’s new best friend.

Anita’s backstory provides the main secondary narrative of the series opener. Five weeks before being acquired by the Hawkins family, Anita was known as Mia. She and three other self-aware Synths were being led through a forest by Leo (Colin Morgan), who appears to be human and also Mia’s boyfriend.

They are escaping from their owners, destination unknown. In pursuit is a man later identified as Hobb (Danny Webb). Hobb is dedicated to finding and, I’m guessing, eliminating the conscious Synths.

Three of the fleeing Synths, including Mia, are captured and hauled away by Junkers, who specialize in stealing, reprogramming and selling Synths on the black market. Leo has spent the weeks since attempting to find his missing companions. The Synth store that sold Anita to the Hawkins family as a new model has all the scruples of today’s car dealerships.

The third storyline introduced in the premiere is that of Dr. George Millican (William Hurt) and his caregiving Synth, Odi. Millican has memory issues, presumably an early Alzheimer’s symptom. Social services placed Odi, an “original Series D” model, in his home to assist him. During the six years that have since passed, their roles have reversed, with the failing Synth being assisted by Millican. He sees him as a son and tends to his needs, including frequently wiping the blue fluid (CPU coolant?) leaking from his nose.

Millican’s caseworker wants to replace Odi with an advanced “Nurse Ratchet” model (who bears a scary resemblance to the imposing dungeon matron on Game of Thrones). She wants to evaluate Odi to get him out of the home. Millican has taken to hiding Odi when the caseworker comes to his door.

The series premiere covers a lot of ground in a short time. It establishes the complexity of the world presented and weaves multiple storylines into an inviting plot. Who would not want to see where it leads?

On top of all that — humanoid robots! Yeah!