'Humans' Writer Teases Season 2's Sexual Themes, New Antagonists

Des Willie/Kudos

Stars, writers and producers of the AMC and Channel 4 hit drama also discuss its recipe for success and the challenges talent faces when playing "synths."

The second season of AMC and Channel 4 co-production Humans ‎will go further in exploring the relationship between humans and "synths" and feature more conscious ‎"synths," writers of the hit drama said in London on Tuesday evening.

Produced by Kudos for Channel 4 and AMC, the show‎ imagines an alternative present where "synths" have been developed to mimic their human counterparts. It became U.K. broadcaster Channel 4’s most successful drama in 20 years.

Speaking at an "Anatomy of a Hit" panel discussion organized by the Royal Television Society, co-writer ‎Sam Vincent noted that "most of our wonderful cast" will return for season 2. Asked about what viewers can expect, he said, "We want to go deeper into relationships between humans and synths, all kinds: sexual ones, love ones, romantic‎ love, platonic love and familial." He added that will be partly achieved via new characters and new combinations of existing characters.

The new season will be set some time after the first, meaning synths will be even more sophisticated and more integrated into society, with "more responsibility." Vincent also promised "a new antagonist or two." And he shared: "The big one is that the conscious synths, the ‎small group ... that we know from [season one] they will turn out to not be the only conscious synths."

Writers, producers and talent of the show on Tuesday also discussed its approach to artificial intelligence and the drama's appeal.

‎Discussing the show more generally, Vincent said he wanted to combine the spookiness of artificial intelligence with rooting things in everyday life. There is a "far-flung" sci-fi and a "more everyday allegorical" level to the story in the drama, he explained.

Co-writer Jonathan Brackley said after watching the Swedish original that the drama is based on, the writing team first decided what elements to keep.‎ The result, he said, is "a very domestic way into what could be a science fiction show."

‎Beth Willis, deputy head of drama, Channel 4, said the U.K. broadcaster was aware of the Swedish original, but liked the ideas of the writers to "gently adapt" it. "It speaks to a problem every mother feels, which is perpetual guilt" that she isn't doing anything well enough, she said. "I connected to it in an emotional way that I just found incredibly effective."

‎Simon Maxwell, head of international drama at Channel 4, added that the show also taps into "a fear about our relationship with technology" and the difference between humans and machines.

Star Gemma Chan said: "There are lots of people in society that we treat as less than human," which also is an interesting theme of the show.

About playing her synth character, which turns out to actually be two, she said: "I discovered the power you have in stillness and not giving everything away." She said she kept in mind with the help of notes she made on the script how much of her second character she would show at different stages as that character breaks through over time.

Chan described the production team's and a choreographer's advice on the movement of synths, saying "there had to be an efficiency" in each movement. "Everything had to be relearned." She added that she found playing a machine "really different" from playing a human," adding: "It was really, really hard."

The producers, meanwhile, recalled seeing first scenes and asking the actors playing humans to avoid moving less or moving more efficiently like the synth actors.

Actor Tom Goodman-Hill at that point described as "incredibly weird" and "unsettling" acting opposite Chan and others portraying synths.  

Chris Fry and Derek Wax, executive producers for production firm Kudos, were also part of Tuesday's discussion.

Wax recalled that his firm was in the middle of preparations for the show with XBox when the latter pulled all funding for original series. AMC was "most in tune" with Kudos' and Channel 4's idea for the show, he said. Fry called AMC a great partner and said it had only "productive" notes during the production of season one, adding that AMC embraced it as a mostly British show with a British feeling. And Maxwell said there were no disagreements about casting choices with AMC.

Brackley recalled though that AMC asked the writers to not use the British word "milk float" since American audiences wouldn't understand it. It describes an open-sided van used for delivering milk to houses. Brackley quipped that the writers were fine with the note since younger audiences likely didn't know the word either.

Tuesday's discussion also saw panelists asked if they would buy a synth. "Yeah, why not," said Goodman-Hill. Brackley also raised his hand.