Humans vs Real Humans: A Comparison and Reflection

It’s been at least a year since I heard the Swedish TV show Äkta människor (Real Humans) was going to be adapted for a British audience. I was excited by the prospect – British broadcasters have great success with dramas and with a distinctly English feel that is undoubtedly unique. Black Mirror is the staple of Channel 4’s drama programming, being praised for it’s extraordinary sc-fi dystopian storylines laden with clear themes opposing the robotic hegemony. And with the success it’s had, their dramas are becoming increasingly reliant on those darker aspects of human nature and mental illness. For example, Southcliffe about an army veteran dealing with mental illness; and This is England set in the 1980’s at the height of the ‘skin head’ movement and the start of the racist political group ‘National Front’. But with those series comes a hefty amount of British talent including Director Shane Meadows (Dead man’s shoes) and writer Charlie Brooker (Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe). So can Humans live up to the reputation that Real Humans has built? And what changes do we see compared to the Swedish version?

Firstly the plot of Humans is pretty much identical. As a summary, ‘synths’ are robots that were created to help humans with various mind-numbing tasks so we can spend our time doing something else (like reading, working, or generally sitting around and doing nothing). The main plot focuses around the Hawkins family who have just purchased a Synth (naming her Anita) to help around the house. On the return of Laura, the Woman of the household, she is not best pleased with her perceived ‘replacement’. A few strange occurrences later and Laura is concerned about Anita not being a tin-can robot that obeys her every whim. We also delve into the story of George and Odi, an old man and is Synth who had been together for 6 years – which is much longer than recommended. A malfunctioning Odi attacks an employee at a supermarket and is declared broken. Taking him home, George then tries to fix his best friend hoping he is not beyond repair. The changes that we see are that the character Roger has been dissolved in Humans and included in the detective character to quicken the pace of the show. not necessarily a negative change as long as the storyline of the political fight against Synths is included. Leo and his band of ‘Sentient’ Synths have been introduced however from episode 1 it’s unclear to us how their plot will develop.

Aesthetically, there are some changes in the British version. ‘Synths’ (or HuBots in the Swedish version) don’t have the smooth complexion synonymous with Äkta människor which is disappointing. As well as this, having only a few models of HuBots gives us the perception that these are built in bulk and not actually Human at all. In Humans they are all built so they look different for each customer which for me is missing the point of the Synth. When you buy a manufactured item you know that the other million of that product are exactly the same. There might be some slight change in colour or model but in essence they are selling the same function. Regardless, It’s reassuring to see Gemma Chan (who plays Anita) play a Synth perfectly and keeping a faultlessly still face during all of her closeups. Will Tudor (Odi) – who looks identical to his Swedish counterpart – also plays a Synth brilliantly and keeps the smilling, joyous (and somewhat confused) character true to its roots. Simon (Rick in Swedish) who is the Synth physiotherapist to Jill has rather big boots to fill. In Real Humans he has a big role to play in the story and to be able to ‘out-act’ Johannes Kuhnke might well be an impossible task.

Thematically it’s much the same – technology is at the cusp of making humans redundant just like in some aspects of our own lives. We haven’t got into that enough in Humans however I hope it plays a large role in defining why Synths are such a risk to the population. Although the threat of them remains in Humans, Anita seems to infer that she is evil and all Synths will turn out evil. But that is simply not true. Anita was part of a rebel group but she is not evil nor would she purposely hurt any human. This isn’t conveyed clearly enough and the idea of a ‘sentient’ Synth is not dealt with as well as the Swedish version. They should have a range of different personalities, characteristics, mannerisms and emotions just as we have, however the main idea presented is that they would all rise up and overthrow us if they became sentient. Leo’s HuBot group are well defined in that regard, unlike in the British version.

What Humans has done to great effect is introducing a multi-platform advertising campaign. Over the past few weeks, channel 4 has been advertising Synths during commercial breaks in order to create hype around the series. It’s trying to integrate the storyline into your own life in hopes that you will invest more in the story – which I think works fantastically. It would also be interesting to know how many people took no notice of the advert and – more importantly – who immediately Googled ‘where to buy a Synth’. The show even went as far as renting a store on Regents Street and decorating the outside with posters advertising the new opening of ‘Persona Synthetics’. The effort to blur the lines between TV and reality is commendable, and with 4.3 million views for it’s first episode It would appear the campaign succeeded.

One of the scenes I’m glad Humans kept was the supermarket scene with George and Odi. The shot of Odi lying down in apricot jam is supposed to symbolise blood – which in Georges mind is exactly what it is. He knows Odi’s just a Synth, but the personal relationship is much greater than that of other consumers – even to the extent were he calls Odi ‘son’. I think it’s an important scene in order to represent a wide variety of people and their opinions on Synths and whether they are inane robots or friendly companions.

To a lesser extent, Humans falls a little short of the mark. A few poor casting choices and scraping of scenes leaves it less in-depth than Real Humans. I also find the choice of ‘rebel’ Synths poor. None of the characters have been developed in the first episode which leaves me wondering why I care that they’re kidnapped at all. Channel 4 have just as much time (if not more) than the Swedish version yet insist on turning two characters into one and replacing important scenes with less dialogue and exposition. Yet, with all of this negative I still find it an entertaining watch. A British version is culturally relevant to us and adds to the realism the program is trying to convey. But if you don’t mind subtitles then watch Äkta människor. I believe it is much better and without the foreboding apocalypse that Humans is trying to pedal with every long 1,000 yard stare and mysterious non-diegetic sound effect.

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5 thoughts on “Humans vs Real Humans: A Comparison and Reflection

  1. Was looking for someone else to discuss the differences with, I do not think they have made Anita evil, it’s just going through the first part of the drama where the housewife doesn’t like the robot, I assume like the original she will come round and eventually be friends with her (the fact she is still a lawyer points that way to me).

    Was wondering where Roger was and if they are going to introduce him later. Did not like the introduction of the female cop in episode 2 (her first scene hinted at something which was a massive twist in the original). Didn’t think/realise that her partner has Roger’s story, time will tell if you are right, the big difference there would be Rogers choice of lover…

    No the big difference I am not keen on at the mo is Lennart not being the father but having his synth forced on him by the NHS as opposed to his daughter doing it. That has removed some of the drama I think, but time will tell again if the writers have an interesting place to take it ( the big obvious problem would be how they would deal with his death).

    Also I believe Channel 4 have less time to play with instead your suggestion of more. Original 10 episode seasons, 60 mins episodes. Remake 8 episodes of 45 mins (according to IMDB), was hoping they would take their time and just tell half of season 1 as they have lost 4 hours, but no they seem to be cutting away from a story that didn’t need cutting. And I personally felt season 2 wasn’t as good as 1 so don’t like that approach.

    • In regards to Lennart (George in Humans), not being the Dad is a little strange. Although I don’t mind them changing him into this hermit type character. And the NHS Synth storyline – in my opinion – adds to this entire social realism side to the story which is so important. And crucially, if this did happen then it is believable that they would have a scheme to give Synths to the elderly.

      I also don’t think they are making Anita evil they are just infuring it very strongly. With Real Humans we never get that and never see Anita as a threat or as a dangerous hubot. Instead she is very passive. And this is the way I liked her.

      Thanks for the comment, give my blog a follow if you want to hear some more reviews like this in the future 🙂

      • We do see Anita as potentially dangerous late in Real Humans. She warned the teenage boy, Tobias, to get away from her. (She was not functioning properly.)

        One interesting difference in the two shows is in the treatment of Anita’s two personalities. In Real Humans, the humans could hack Anita to switch her back and forth between her two personalities, like a PC set up to boot into either Windows or Linux. I found it disturbing and a bit awkward that the family seemed to love Anita, but were only too happy to permanently replace her with her alternate personality, Mimi. They still acted as if they loved her, though she was suddenly like a stranger. In Humans, the two personalities are both active, and there is an internal fight for dominance, so Anita/Mimi has a split personality disorder. It makes for a better story.

        Still, I rate Real Humans as slightly better than Humans. A lot of it is simply due to the changes made to make the show acceptable to a conservative British audience, probably with an eye on the even more conservative American audience. Brits are sensitive about sex, so Hubot Heaven is glorious in Real Humans, but tiny in Humans. Brits are even more sensitive about teen sex, so the teenage boy only gets to drool in Humans, whereas he had more luck in Real Humans. Brits are sensitive about bombs, so the bomb in Real Humans becomes a sword in Humans.

        The other point in favor of Real Humans is its exploration of the social and philosophical issues. In Real Humans, some real humans identify as hubots(!) And some real humans are sexually attracted only to hubots. And they have terms for these things. What a wonderful social commentary! And then there is the question of whether a human’s consciousness can be transferred into a robot. If it can, would it be a true transfer or just a copy? Real Humans gives a firm answer to this.

        Of course, a lot of that occurred in season 2 of Real Humans, so maybe Humans will grow to fill the shoes of its predecessor.

      • Great comment, lots of points here I agree with. Real Humans does feel a little less censored when it comes to sex and violence, but we Brits don’t have censorship that shuns away from sex or nudity. The real reason for not including this is to have a wider demographic and larger amount of viewers. This means that more teenagers and children will be able to watch this show without parents telling them they can’t because of nudity or violence. However, in Scandinavia sex is taught at an early age and shown more on TV and printed extensively in teen books. There is a brilliant article online about the use of sex and taboo in Scandinavian literature here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/aug/25/scandinavian-childrens-books-norway-ingelin-rossland-sex-swearing

  2. Neither series was very original in sci fi terms, but I found Real Humans rather the more cliched, crudely made and soap opera-ish, though my expections where that I would prefer a Scandinavian original. Can’t help feeling that Real Humans is overhyped in the English speaking world purely because Scandinavian TV is considered cool. It did not garner as much praise in Sweden when it was released as it does in this overly generous review.

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