Humans series 3: Will the real people succeed in stopping their robot servants from rebelling?

To err is human, to forgive divine. But what if the erring is committed by someone, or something, that doesn’t quite qualify as human? Can one forgive?

Channel 4’s Humans (9pm) provides a smart and stylish exploration of the joys and perils of putting your very existence into the hands of artificial intelligence.

The series two finale saw a subservient army of synths gain consciousness and independent thought, leading to fatalities in the hundreds of thousands through mass accidents and acts of violence.

So what now for the characters — human and non-human — who must re-evaluate their place in a new world?

Humans: Series 3 returns Thursday 17 May (Channel 4)
Humans: Series 3 returns Thursday 17 May (Channel 4)

First, a tech upgrade only marginally more complicated than getting the new iPhone: the green-eyed synths, now dangerous due to their ability to make up their own minds, are off the shelves in favour of new and improved, orange-eyed models claiming that they are “100 per cent safe. Guaranteed.”

The slogan does not inspire confidence after the montage of news clips covering the year since the changes took host, nor does the fact that the model bears a striking resemblance to the real-life Sophia robot who accidentally let slip that she wants to destroy humanity. But, for now, the message is clear: the future’s bright, and the future’s orange.

The present, though, is a bit more grey. The old green-eyed non-monsters of days gone by are either laying low in secluded bunkers — surviving off spare parts and battery charges — or hiding their true selves incognito and living as human. Meanwhile, the real things debate what should be done with their former aides: some support their right to exist, but naysayers — best summed up by the rabble-rousing Claudia Novak, a fusion of Sarah Palin/Nigel Farage well-versed in propaganda and emotional manipulation — call for their end. A war of words threatens to become war itself, and this series opening possesses palpable tension and drama.

For a programme so preoccupied with the concept of humanity, it is ironic that the highlights come via the artificial. Katherine Parkinson and Tom Goodman-Hill provide solid support as humans Laura and Joe — Laura, divorced and weary from fighting for robot rights despite threats to those she holds dear, while Joy pluckily gets on with things in his nostalgic, human-only green grocers.

But it’s the talent behind the synths that astounds. Emily Berrington, Ivanno Jeremiah and Gemma Chan stand out. She in particular has become an expert in the general rules of acting artificial but there is something beneath the synthetic skin. Chan possesses a serene strength that hints at a fierce core. When a fellow robot in her facility unflinchingly delivers the news that one of their own has “suffered an irreversible system failure”, she responds: “Death. Call it death.”

The fact that she cannot use expressions to express her grief has made her something of an expert in subtlety.

Humans has a tricky feat ahead of it. Fables of its ilk that follow a not-quite-alive character seeking a shot at humanity — I,Robot, or A.I — usually wrap up once this is achieved. We don’t, for example, see how Pinocchio deals with life once he realises that being a real boy comes with negatives as well as positives. But if episode one delivers on its promise, then the journey into the unknown will be a profoundly interesting one.


Pick of the day

Billions - Sky Atlantic, 9pm

One of the great things about this fast-paced financial drama is the way it toys with the allegiances of the audience. In the beginning, it seemed to be a straight fight between right and wrong, with Chuck Rhoades Jr, (Paul Giamatti), the ruthless US attorney trying to ensnare the double-dealing Bobby “Axe” Axelrod (Damian Lewis).

The two men began as mirror images, Axe had the charisma, Chuck the scruples, and they were linked by Chuck’s wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff), the shrink and in-house performance coach at Axe’s hedge fund.

Finer things: Money matters in Billions (Showtime)
Finer things: Money matters in Billions (Showtime)

Midway through season three, all three are compromised. But nothing stays the same for long, and the financial jiggery-pokery spirals off in a multitude of directions, effectively resetting the series. Chuck has reasons to reconsider his political ambitions, and Axe doubles down in his efforts to prioritise his career over his estranged family.

The title of this episode, All The Wilburys, refers to a scene in which Axe lectures his head of compliance Ari Spyros (Stephen Kunken) about the qualities needed to be a top player, using the analogy of rock group The Traveling Wilburys. Ari, we may surmise, is no George Harrison.

Screen time

Million Pound Menu - BBC Two, 9pm

THERE’s a slight sense of TV formats beginning to eat themselves in this new six-part series, which looks a lot like Dragons’ Den for food, with a side order of lightly grilled Apprentice. Fred Sirieix presents a contest in which 12 aspiring restaurateurs are given three days at a 40-seater pop-up in Manchester to try out their concepts. They are tested for food, service, team management and brand potential. Then they have one-on-one meetings with investors to see whether their ideas stack up.

All the usual ingredients are in place — scary investors in intimidating coats, the nervous energy of the kitchen during service, and the desperation of the candidates, whose hopes and dreams could be dashed by a misjudged baby beetroot.

London Go - Tomorrow, London Live, 7pm

Life is suite — sort of — for the characters in the play 3Women, as three generations of women from the same family confront lingering issues the night before a wedding. Host Luke Blackall will talk to the play’s writer Katy Brand about the topics explored in this comedy-drama, which stars Anita Dobson, Debbie Chazen, and Maisie Richardson-Sellers.

Blue Juice - London Live, 10pm

In the month that Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter have signed up for a third Bill & Ted film, called Bill & Ted Face the Music, the gnarliness continues with this screening of cult surf-slacker flick Blue Juice.

Wild stallions will have to keep you from watching Sean Pertwee, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Steven Mackintosh and Ewan McGregor slip into wetsuits and ponder the meaning of life — whether it’s settling down, and surfing locally, or travelling the world and surfing internationally.

Charming and salty, there’s even a sort of cameo from the Silver Surfer, far better than the one from the second Fantastic Four film.

Little-known director Carl Prechezer makes the most of the stunning Cornish scenery.

Catch up

The Windsors- ALL 4

The royal spoof is like the old Comic Strip films in that it’s less funny than it thinks it is, but there are some laughs in this royal wedding special. Most are provided by Harry Enfield’s Prince Charles, below, but there’s a surprise appearance by Jeremy Corbyn (inviting Princess Beatrice to a seminar on renationalisation) and the vowels of Hugh Skinner’s Prince William are worth a titter.

The Cancer Hospital - BBC iPlayer

A three-part series on the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow, looking at breast, prostate and lung cancer. The Beatson is a pioneering hospital, the second-biggest cancer care facility in the UK and these straightforward documentaries do a good job of putting a human face to some of our greatest fears. It’s less confrontational than the BBC’s excellent Hospital series, but the calm articulacy of patients and doctors is quietly inspiring.