Saturday, August 29, 2015

PBS on Paternity Leave - The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements

Who doesn't love talking-head PBS documentaries about chemistry with lovingly recreated if not Oscar-worthy historical reenactments?

If you say "me, because I'm not a nerd enough to enjoy that sober," you're either A) lying, or B) shilling for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
Probable motto: "stop pretending that you like the bitterness of beer or the sour acidity of wine and pour yourself another Cosmo or apple martini or black Russian."
As I've mentioned before, I've been watching TV while bouncing a small person on a pilates ball, as y-axis movement is the only thing that will soothe her. She doesn't care what I watch, which has enabled me to watch Get the Gringo, the November Man, Expendables 3, and the 2013 Russian Three Musketeers.
It's really weird to hear people who are supposedly French speaking fluent Russian. This must be what foreigners think about our versions of the Three Musketeers.
...and now The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements, a gem of educational television I want to recommend to all of you.
The show is a talky piece of infotainment of a form you may remember from high school anytime after 1970; scientists narrating the history of science intercut with actors in period costume.

Honestly, I forgot how much fun it is to follow along with the chemistry discoveries of 1700s-1900s, especially with reenactors and speaking lines only from the letters and books their historical personages wrote.
Priestley and Lavoisier (in reenactment) discussing the properties of then-unnamed oxygen gas. Madam Lavoisier, like Danaerys in Game of Thrones up-aged from her jailbaity actual age, is in the middle.
Back in the 18th Century, all you needed was some lab equipment and something of a disregard for personal safety and you could discover new elements. This is how Joseph (not Jason, as I kept mis-remembering) Priestley got oxygen from mercury calx. 
Joseph and Jason Priestley are easy to confuse, especially after that "discovering how to carbonate water" episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

Watching scientists do old-timey science (or, by the third episode, 20th century atomic science) is just plain fun, and it was really interesting for me to rediscover how the elements came to be identified, combined with reenactments of Dmitri Mendeleev's amazing Siberian beard. 

I expect this show to remain on PBS's website a little longer than Vicious as far fewer people are likely to want to spend their own money (as opposed to their school board's money) on it and Oregon Public Television is less interested in recouping their investment than ITV is with theirs. But it's on now, and worth a watch if you love science (which you do, because science is amazing). 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Vicious is Back! Watch it right now!

So, remember when I told you to find and watch Vicious' Season 1 at all costs (well, don't download it illegally; showrunners et al. need to be rewarded for their good work)? Did you?

Great, because Season 2 is here and you can watch it online right now. Given past PBS practices, you have at most three weeks per episode before they disappear, and Episode 1 was on Monday (August 24, 2015), so get cracking!

"How was episode one," you ask? "Was it still full of the amazing goodness of Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacobi being catty with each other?"

Yes. The whole gang of bitter septuagenarians is back, the mantel of urns of dog ashes is back, Iwan Rheon is still being sexually harassed, Ian McKellan's character is still excessively proud of being an extra on Downton Abbey, etc.

Also, in Episode 1, Derek Jacobi's character Stuart attempts to pretend to be straight; it's part of a complicated ruse that Iwan Rheon's Ash walks into right after declaring to his girlfriend that Freddie (McKellan) and Stuart are "the most authentic people I know." The "masculine" walk Stuart adopts, a gait worthy of Monty Python, is alone worth watching the whole episode for.

So, what are you waiting for! Watch it now! Be entertained!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Netflix I Watched on Paternity Leave: The Transporter, The Series (designed and written for teenage boys, apparently)

Another thing that I've been spending my time on as a small person is being fed from a bottle or being held while I bounce on a pilates ball making soothing noises is Transporter: the Series.

Did you see the Luc Besson action film The Transporter with Jason Statham? (Note that I am not asking if you saw the two sequels; they were pretty crap.) It was an insubstantial but well-constructed action film where Jason Statham is a getaway driver par excellence in a tricked-out BMW doing jobs for criminals in the south of France, but he gets tasked with delivering a package that turns out to be an attractive Chinese woman in a duffel bag, and he ends up breaking his traditional non-intervention code of conduct and instead just beats on a bunch of people who really deserve it (also two cops who then get blown up by a car bomb, but Statham totally didn't know his car was going to get blown up when he stuffed the knocked-out cops in his trunk, so let's give him a pass on that).
One of the best scenes in the film Transporter is this balletically choreographed fight where Jason Statham stands on bicycle pedals in the middle of a giant oil slick and everyone else is playing slip-n-slide on the floor.
The movie had two great attributes: amazing driving sequences and some of Luc Besson's best fight sequences.

The TV show is capitalizing on the popularity of the movies, but also needs to make its money from somewhere (Canadian, French, and German TV subsidies only go so far), so it uses the Audi sports cars from the later movies as promotional consideration, as well as Fords whenever the show is shot in Canada (more on Canada later). Also for TV, intensely bald and working class-looking Jason Statham is swapped for Chris Vance, who looks like how teenage Sherlock slash-fic writers probably imagine Martin Freeman in sex scenes.
No, ladies, he is not shirtless enough. You get to see some fat, hairy British dude's not-as-tan-as-the-rest-of-him butt for like two straight minutes in one episode, but Chris Vance is rarely shirtless.
Chris Vance is good at following creative fight choreography, and he has appropriate looks of grim determination while pretending to upshift, which is really all you can ask for in a show like this.

This show was shot with a ton of Toronto film subsidy money, so if you know how to spot Canadian soundstages portraying everywhere else in the world, you will see them here. However, there are legitimately scenes shot in France and Berlin, possibly to get local content requirements high enough to be considered "local shows" in some European markets and avoid foreign (read: American) TV rebroadcasting limits, so unlike some "pretends to be NYC but shot in Vancouver" shows, there are some real locations.

So, what's the show, well, about? Basically, imagine watching someone remake the first movie in a 45 minute version. Over and over and over again. I liked this, you may not.

Frank Martin, "the Transporter," has a secret package he has to deliver. There is a problem with delivering the package. Car chases and fistfights and maybe some gunplay ensue. The package is either delivered to the good guys or not delivered to the bad guys, or maybe the package is delivered to the bad guys and Frank Martin then comes back to beat the everloving tar out of them. One of those three.

Also, there's usually a woman involved. Either she is immediately enraptured by Frank Martin's animal magnetism (he's got the Irish mythological figure Diarmuid's love spot or something, seriously) and will have sex with him on or off camera if she doesn't die during the episode, or she is someone else's girlfriend/wife who will have sex with that character on or off camera. Odds are 50/50 you will see her topless, except for Vikings' Katheryn Winnick, who managed to keep all of her clothes on and wear normal clothes (as opposed to the usual form-fitting slinky clothes) for her guest starring episode, and even managed to fight a bit. Lost Girl's Rachel Skarsten apparently did not have as good an agent, and is for her episode both gratuitously naked a bunch and basically a useless Macguffin object of a character.
This is Frank Martin's fixer/computer hacker partner. This particular bikini scene is less gratuitous than the scene where she spills red wine on her blouse and you watch her take the blouse off along with her bra to immediately spot-clean as she talks to Frank on the phone, or the episode where she's naked for a couple scenes because the guy she's having sex with turns out to be tangential to the plot of the episode; the latter being an episode which is otherwise entirely about people with their clothes on driving from Paris to Marseilles.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that this show does not feature women as actual human beings, but as occasionally topless plot points and eye candy. If this is a deal-breaker for you, then you have been forewarned.

"So what," you say, "what about the driving and the fighting, which is what The Transporter is about?"

Let's start with the driving, which is weaker. The driving is awesome on closed courses, such as off-road and in parking garages; the stunt drivers do some pretty amazing things. The show is also willing to crash some real cars in some impressive ways.

However, the show can't afford to shut down the streets of any of the cities (Nice, Marseilles, Berlin, and Toronto) it's set in, so the on-street driving scenes are mostly scenes of cars weaving back and forth jump-cut to stock footage of clutch pedals being depressed and sticks being shifted. It is lame.
Just look at this, then look at a picture of a road, then look back at this, and you'll get the idea of what the city street driving sequences are like.
On the plus side, Chris Vance's Frank Martin doesn't always drive an Audi, but will drive other cars (including a Smart car and an ATV) when necessary.

The fighting? It's pretty great. Lots of clever work with improvised items; for example there's a great fight in a lingerie store where mannequins, clothing racks, and some fabric items are put to great use. Any fight in a kitchen is going to be amazing; my favorite ended with a knockout via cutting board.

To recap what the show is about, Transporter: The Series has Chris Vance in a suit and tie either delivering or not delivering a package via an Audi. Car chase and fisticuff complications ensue, as well as occasional female nudity. If you were ever a 13-year-old boy, this will hit a little fun zone in your brain even if you find it problematic from an "is this good for culture" standpoint. That's why I keep watching.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Netflix I Watched On Paternity Leave: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Season 2

I know, I know, I really did a hatchet job on Attack on Titan [sic], even though I tolerated it for about 13-14 episodes more than I did Vexed or Red Data Girl. 

You know what I also watched a lot of while holding a six-pound child? Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, season 2.
To recap for those of you who just picked up this blog today and don't watch any comic book related TV, Marvel's Agents of SHIELD follows the efforts of SHIELD, a sort-of-spy agency tasked with being regular folks who fight supervillans and whatnot. They have invisible planes and spy gadgets.

I watched this show all the way through Season 2 for the following reasons:

1. Clark Gregg.
If you do a Google Image Search for images of Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, you will get something like 200 pictures basically identical to this one. 
Clark Gregg is just a lot of fun as "responsible dad figure of SHIELD." It's basically the role he was born to play.

2. Patton Oswalt sightings.
Patton Oswalt shows up in Agents of SHIELD about as much, proportionally, as he showed up in the Diablo Cody dark comedy Young Adult. Only in the latter, however, does he have a deeply awkward sex scene with Charlize Theron.
I was really, really hoping that, from the end of Season 1, Patton Oswalt would be a regular on the Agents of SHIELD cast. But he's not. Apparently the Whedons who executive-produce the show don't want to pay him for regular appearances. Which is sad, because he is amazing.

3. Kyle Maclachlan.

Paul Atreides from Dune and Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks is in this season, letting his inner Bruce Campbell free. His plot line is deeply, deeply stupid, but he is so gleefully over-the-top you don't care.
There are no good production stills of Kyle Maclachlan looking as unhinged as he usually does on Agents of SHIELD, so I'll go with this one where he's his usual scruffy. 
To explain what the heck is going on with Kyle Maclachlan's character would basically require a step-by-step spoiling of the whole season, because his character is (sometimes inexplicably) written into every part of it, from the Hydra plotline to the Kree plotline to the Inhumans plotline.

...and here's a bulleted, nitpicky list of what I didn't like about Season 2.

  • Skye. Weakest link of Season 1, now critical to the plot but even less compelling in Season 2. 
  • Not enough Lucy Lawless.
  • Not enough Edward James Olmos.
  • Not enough of that guy who plays the FBI agent on White Collar
  • Stop trying to make Fitz and Simmons kiss, writers. She can just be not that into him.
  • Not very good Avengers 2 tie-in.
  • I was really hoping we were done with Deathlok. 
MOST IMPORTANT: Editors and fight choreographers of Agents of SHIELD -- I can tell when you cut from the actual actor to a body double from behind to do a fight scene, and it is really, really cheap and distracting, since you do it nearly every fight. If your actors suck at fighting, train them better. 

"I Killed Them All"

If you’re like me and 60 million other people, you spent most of last fall listening and re-listing to Serial, the podcast from This American Life that examined the 1999 murder of high schooler Hae Min Lee and the subsequent trial and conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. The story was riveting, despite being unabashedly reflective of real life police work (an entire episode was devoted to cell phone towers and how they work), eschewing the fancy Hollywood noir for journalistic investigation. And while we’re still waiting for Serial’s second season to come out, apparently sometime this fall, HBO has created a miniseries that may fill the Sarah Koenig-sized hole in your heart while waiting for the next installment. The miniseries, The Jinx, was released this spring and, much in the same vein as Serial, re-examined a long cold murder case with a fresh eye to the potential killer.

Just a guy sitting in a dark movie theatre alone. Nope, nothing creepy here.

The Jinx focuses on Robert Durst, the son of an extremely successful and powerful Manhattan real estate developer, Durst was in line to inherit the empire his family built, but the head position ultimately went to his brother instead.  In 1982, Durst’s wife Kathie vanished after a weekend at the couple’s home in Connecticut. She has not been seen or heard from since and is still missing to this day. Durst was a suspect in her murder and The Jinx follows Durst through the investigation into her death. But just when you assume this is a simple cut-and-dried case of spousal murder, that’s when the other bodies start to appear.

The Jinx benefits from the cooperation of Durst himself. He speaks freely about his past, the investigations he’s been at the core of, his thoughts and opinions of his family and Kathie’s friends. Durst became interested in the project after seeing the 2010 movie All Good Things, a fictitious account of Kathie’s murder starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Impressed by the lack of sensationalism in the movie, Durst approached that film’s director to see if he was interested in “finding the real story.” The result is the six episode miniseries you see here.

Hollywood turned its unflinching eye on reality and bravely cast this Robert Durst lookalike as the lead. 

So what is “the real story”? The facts, as they say, are these: Sometime over the weekend of January 31, 1982, Kathie Durst went missing around Newtown, Connecticut.  Robert Durst told police that they were in Connecticut at their weekend home and that he had put Kathie on a train back to New York City the night of the 31st because she had to be back to attend classes she was taking the next day.  Robert said he called their Manhattan apartment and talked to her that evening to verify she made it home before returning to the city himself a few days later.

Kathie never showed up for her classes the next morning, however staff at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she was a student told police that she called them that morning to say that she was ill and wouldn’t be in class today.  And that’s when Kathie disappears off the face of the earth. Robert reports her missing on February 6, almost a full week after he says he saw her the last time. He claims the delay is due to her busy schedule as a final year medical student, saying that he would often go several days without seeing her.

I'd say there's some eerie foreshadowing in their wedding picture, but to be honest that's pretty much how all the early 80s looked.

Worth noting that is that in the weeks prior to her disappearance, Kathie told friends that Robert beat her and even sought medical attention for wounds. She claims that he forced her to have an abortion and that she considered divorce but felt hamstrung by a prenuptial agreement. The night of January 31st, Kathie had been a friend’s party when she left suddenly after receiving an angry phone call from Robert. Kathie reportedly told her friend, “If something happens to me, check it out. I’m afraid of what Bobby will do.”

Kathie’s case grows cold for lack of evidence. Robert’s claims are dubious; he says he called Kathie from a payphone, but no payphone was close to their home; A doorman at their Manhattan apartment recalled seeing Kathie arrive home but admits that he only saw her from the back and it could have been someone else. In the end, there is no body so Kathie is officially a missing person. Durst recedes from attention, selling his home (and many of Kathie’s possessions) and fading from view.

It’s not until a seemingly unrelated murder in Los Angeles happens on Christmas Eve, 2000, a full 18 years later, that the case begins to find life again. Susan Berman, daughter of a mobster and longtime friend of none other than Robert Durst, is found murdered execution-style in her apartment.  And it doesn’t end there. In September of 2001, a family fishing in Galveston, Texas, finds a grotesquely dismembered torso floating off the beach surrounded by the severed body parts. Police are able to identify the body as that of an elderly man named Morris Black. Take one guess as to who happens to be living in the apartment above him. Robert Durst? Actually, a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, someone Robert went to high school with. Confused? It only gets crazier.

The Jinx dives deeply into this story, one that spans multiple decades and the length of the United States. Durst himself comes off as unsettling at best. His voice is odd, his facial tics like something that an actor would create in order to appear mentally unbalanced. Durst has a way with words that  is unpolished and strangely refreshing, particularly for someone who has been through so much media and legal questioning. When asked, for example, why he told police that he had talked to Kathie when she arrived back in New York the night she was last seen given that there was no other evidence of her ever even making it on the train back to the city, he says, “I was hoping that would just make everything go away.” An odd sentiment for a man whose wife has just gone missing.

Definitely not a murderer. Can't even see how you could go there.

For all it traffics in the hugeness of the story, The Jinx strives to approach Durst with objectivity as well. It explores his childhood, humanizing him without apologizing for him. Durst tells a story about being woken in the middle of the night when he was seven years old by his father and brought to a window in their mansion. Durst's father told him to look to the roof where he saw his mother in her nightgown standing by herself. Durst says his father made him watch as his mother fell or was pushed to her death. The series establishes the myriad ways in which Robert was made to understand himself as not like his other brothers, the ones who had earned their father’s favor. To say that the Durst family dynamics were complicated is, obviously, an understatement.

In the end, The Jinx makes its biggest splash when it uncovers evidence not previously found in the original police investigations. The day before the final episode aired in March on HBO, police made a high-profile arrest based largely on evidence that the filmmakers uncovered. The filmmakers made clear after the fact that they turned over all evidence to the police upon finding it. The arrest was certainly well-timed from a ratings perspective, but unrelated to the production schedule of the show.

In that sense, The Jinx manages to do what Serial did not – figure out what really happened. And while that’s no detriment to Serial’s production, it does give The Jinx the kind of closure that you may find yourself craving after all this true crime hullabaloo. The Jinx manages to come off as a more interesting 20/20.  It doesn’t sex up the effects or take any questionable licenses with the topic, but it is engaging, fascinating storytelling. It’s the perfect thing to take up your time until the world’s most favorite podcast comes back. Get on it, Koenig! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

I Am Jazz

The statistics are staggering.

According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, approximately half of transgender youth will have made at least one suicide attempt by their twentieth birthday.

Jazz Jennings, star of TLC’s I Am Jazz.

That’s why it is so heartening to see an honest portrayal of the struggles of transgender youth on, of all places, TLC. TLC has gotten a bad reputation due to its exploitation of children, such as the now-defunct Toddlers and Tiaras, the hot mess that was Here Comes Honey, Boo Boo, and the recent sex abuse scandals involving both the Boo Boo clan and  the Duggar family. TLC has obviously decided to class up their act, and while we cannot really expect The Learning Channel  to actually be, you know, about learning, it’s good that they have finally decided to create a show about a nice, normal, healthy family.

Enter I Am Jazz.

Like Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings has several advantages. One, her family is incredibly supportive. Mother Jennings is a tireless advocate for her daughter, and is basically a mama grizzly. The Jennings family was involved in a two-year lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation over the federation’s refusal to allow Jazz to play on a girls’ soccer team.  Jazz’s father, older twin brothers, college-age sister, and adorable grandparents all support Jazz’s transition.

Sister Knows Best

Secondly, the show makes it clear that although Jazz is bullied by certain individuals at school, she has a strong group of female friends who accept her and form the core group of her social life. Thirdly, just by looking at the family home and considering the fact that Jazz has access to excellent health care, I think it is safe to assume that the Jennings family is well-off financially.

Thirdly, although Jazz is suffering through the pains of adolescence, and like any normal 14-year-old is stressing about her looks and her relationships with boys, her awesomely supportive family and her social network are there for her one hundred percent. How many cisgender teens can say that?

That is not even to mention that this girl is drop dead gorgeous.

Genes like this always come in handy.

Jazz has signed a deal to appear in Clean & Clear commercials and has also modeled for the NOH8 campaign.

Having watched both I Am Cait and I Am Jazz, I have a pretty good idea which I prefer, and I prefer I Am Jazz. Although Jazz has been a YouTube celebrity and was featured on talk shows starting at an early age, there is definitely a more authentic quality about I Am Jazz.  I won’t go into Caitlyn Jenner’s obtuse commentary (which I feel she hasn’t taken enough slack for) here but I do think there is less of a circus atmosphere on Jazz. Jazz is a kind and genuine person, and her struggles to be accepted by her peers, her worries about her changing body, and her touching relationship with her family give me the feelz. Anyone who has ever been a teenage girl, or any parent of a teenage girl, can relate to Jazz.

Caitlyn, Imma let you finish, but Jazz Jennings had the best reality show of all time!

I am not closely associated with the transgender community, but here are a couple of personal tips I’ve picked up and that I’d like to share with you:

  1. Sometimes people are born into the wrong body. So what? It happens. Anyone who is transgender has the right to take the necessary steps to correct this, be it clothing, cosmetics, or surgery if they can afford it.
  2. Anyone who isn’t transgender: Why do you need to have an opinion?

I Am Jazz airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TLC. It is also available on various and sundry streaming services.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Netflix I Watched On Paternity Leave: Ben Nitpicks Attack on Titan

So, I've been spending some quality early mornings feeding and rocking and otherwise caring for a small person whom I am 50% responsible for. As a result, I've watched a lot of streaming video. Also I am writing this with a baby in my left arm.

First up: Attack on Titan. It's a diverting show, not a complete waste of time, but a bunch of things keep wrecking my suspension of disbelief:

1) The Title. The show's English title is "Attack on Titan" because that's what the Japanese designer wrote in English under the Japanese title, in English only slightly better than my Japanese.
These two lines of text are not the same.
Basically, the way this was translated is if I wrote a manga-style comic called "Revenge of the Otters" and titled it in Japanese "Revenge on Otter." Depending on whom on the Internet you ask, the Japanese literally translates to "advancing giants" or "the giants' attack." Also, in Japanese grammar you don't always have to indicate whether a noun is plural (you can leave it to context), but this is kind of an important thing in English.

And the Japanese version makes a lot of sense, because the story is one of mankind under assault by giant, man-eating, genital-less naked people with varying amounts of skin and/or grotesque physical deformities (for which "titan" is an acceptable homonym). So the titans are attacking. 

But with every opening sequence, I'm smacked with that English title and I say, "translation fail!" Which opens me to be critical of-

2) That's How You Intend To Kill 50-Foot-Tall Monsters?

So, you are being attacked by giant, super-strong, regenerating monsters, and cannon are not ideal weapons against them because you can only kill them if you hit a precise spot on the back of their necks. Let's further add that you have a century to develop an awesome steampunk way to combat these giants.

The obvious development in weapons technology is to arm the traveling cast of Peter Pan with Batman grappling hooks, jetpacks, and mini versions of those utility knife swords from Evangelion, right?
This makes so much more sense than developing man-portable, semiautomatic artillery with high-explosive shells that could be mass-produced for use by minimally-skilled troops.
As you can imagine, when humankind's soldiers fail to be the absolute perfect combination of Spider-Man, Zorro, and Cirque de Soleil, they get eaten. And as this show keeps a plausibly low number of characters with superhero-level talents, casualties are high.

So, every episode, I ask myself, "why aren't you doing something more efficient?"

But this is not what made me say, after episode 15 or so, that I could put this down and watch more episodes of Leverage when bottle-feeding a newborn. That was:

3) Obligatory Magical Teenage Boy.

So, after watching a lot of Lost Boys fail to think enough happy thoughts to avoid getting eaten by titans, the plot decides to give one of the obligatory Overly Moody Teenage Boys magical powers. Of course it goes to the Harry Potter-like one with the impulse control issues.

An aside: this show's Harry Potter has as his potential love interest his sort-of adopted sister (who has the same name as the company that made my wedding china), which is made even weirder because the reason she's sort of his sister is that as pre-tweens they teamed up to kill the slavers who murdered her family and were going to sex traffic her, so she ended up living with his family. In my mind, that's a set of facts that do not lead to a romantic relationship that I am comfortable endorsing.

The powers, sadly, do not go to the show's Ron Weasley.
Sorry, Armin, you're totally the Ron Weasley of this show.
So, basically, now I have to get smacked with bad translation title, cry with frustrated despair at futile wire-work swordplay, and deal with the least deserving, most irritating main character with magical powers, plus at least Ron gets to mack on the brains of their trio. I may finish the season; I'm a little curious what's in Magical Angst Teen's Creepy Unethical Medical Dad's basement, but I'm in no hurry.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015


It's summer! Yeah, still. Ugh.

I know, I know--it's hot, you're tired, you're cranky, you want to just kick back with the AC on and get lost in a tv series that won't tax your brain too much.

There's not a lot of choice right now, but thankfully AMC is there to fill the void with its series (made in partnership with British television station, Channel 4), HUMANS

Cue the synopsis!
Your Saturday afternoon errands could result in purchasing a fully functional robotic domestic helper that will get your kids ready for school or take care of an ailing parent. Whether that’s a good or bad decision is the question HUMANS sets out to explore. It’s not about what this technology is capable of; it’s about the impact that this advanced technology will have on the human population. Will this new way of navigating life be detrimental or beneficial to us as a human race? And who will we become when this technology arrives?  
Set in suburban London, HUMANS takes place in a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a “Synth” – a highly developed, artificially intelligent servant eerily similar to its living counterpart. At the center of the four concurrent story lines explored throughout the series is the flawed but loving Hawkins family. 

HUMANS isn't plowing any new ground. There are androids, they are used as servants, some of them have developed feelings. Blah blah blah. What sets this show apart from its predecessors are the mysteries that surround the characters. We know a lot of things aren't right...but we aren't exactly sure why.

Nobody is this happy to be cleaning. Something ain't right, y'all.

HUMANS is expertly plotted with multiple story lines that connect in surprising ways. I was gratified that it doesn't take too long for characters from seemingly disparate plots to begin interacting with one another. Each episode teases out more information about the underlying mysteries--some about the overall plot and some about the characters themselves. Why does Laura, the mother in the Hawkins family, keep her kids at arms length and doesn't trust herself around them? Why is Leo tracking down four synths that have developed personalities and what is his connection to them? What is Dr. George Millican's (William Hurt!!) connection to the synths and why is he hiding his old original model?


Another point in HUMANS favor: the actors. Much like the similarly atmospheric sci-fi series, Orphan Black, HUMANS is anchored by an amazing performance from its lead actress, Gemma Chan. You might recognize her from Sherlock (but probably not). She absolutely nails the role of a synth...who's not quite right and frankly kinda creepy. The other performances are excellent too, especially Katherine Parkinson as Laura Hawkins, the mother with a secret.

In short, HUMANS is a perfect summer series. It covers familiar territory but is tightly plotted, well-acted, and addictive. And you don't need to worry about getting drawn into a series that will get cancelled--it's already been renewed for a second season.

You took her out of the original packaging? YOU FOOL.

HUMANS airs Sundays at 9PM EST on AMC.