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Q&A – Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley (Writers)

In this exclusive with, HUMANS writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley discuss their decades-long writing partnership, artificial intelligence and what they hope fans take away from the show.

Q: You’ve described HUMANS as lo-fi sci-fi. What motivated the decision to mute some of the science fiction elements?
Jonathan Brackley: It’s an alternative now — as if these things [Synths] have been invented 10 years ago. So everyone treats them in a sort of “matter of fact” way. They’ve been around for awhile, and people aren’t in wonder of them constantly.

Sam Vincent: When people ask me why it isn’t in the future, there are a lot of reasons for that. Above all, the story is happening now, because the story IS happening now, in the real world. Yes, we’ve exaggerated it for dramatic effect, but right now in all of our pockets we have one device with the sum total of human knowledge. Our technology is racing ahead, it’s becoming more and more human, in the way it communicates with us in the very least, and everyone is talking about it and there’s a big cultural conversation gearing up about what is happening. There’s a lot of people who are very legitimately concerned with what’s happening now. So that’s part of why we didn’t set the story in the future, because if we had set it in 2050, we’d lose our connection and relevance because the story is happening now.

Q: HUMANS seems vaguely different in tone from some of your past work such as Spooks (MI-5) and Spooks: The Greater Good. How does your voice carry over?
SV: I think on each project your voice is refined for that specific project. I think we’re not one of those writers who returns to one topic, time and time again. Our interests reach far and wide. For us, we were quite comfortable with the genre aspects of it. The interesting new challenge for us was to write the human family drama. We’ve got this fantastically exciting and high stakes drama about androids, and we’ve got to meld that with stakes that are deeper and more real. So that kind of dictated our tone and voice I think.

Q: How do you two work together as a writing partnership?
JB: We’ve known each other since we were 11, so we’ve known each other a lot longer than we’ve written together. We’ve developed a shorthand, which makes it easier since we’re constantly talking about the show.
SV: Too much, yeah. There’s no ego between us since we’ve been friends since school. I think in most partnerships there’s that element of rivalry – which maybe we do have, a little bit, but it never takes us to a bad place. But we don’t have an ego, so if Jon’s written a bad line, I say, “Well that’s sh*t,” and we take it out.
JB: I cry for a few days and then we get back on.
SV: But I can’t say that to anyone; I can only do that with Jon. We don’t need to be polite, we cut straight to the point and we know it’s never personal. If we really have an argument or we really disagree with something, it’s resolved pretty quickly because we realize the other one feels more strongly about it and gives in, so it’s nice having that shorthand. I don’t think I could do it with anybody else.

Q: What sort of research did you do while working on HUMANS?
SV: We realized our research on Synths themselves is less relevant since we know what we depict in the show is actually many years away, but what was really interesting and what is happening now is the effect of technology on society, and another kind of automation boom. A lot of different types of jobs are automated now. When I go into the airport, everything is automated with a kiosk now, and there’s no guy at the counter. There’s a real explosion of that happening and we wanted to reflect those social and economic trends, which really are happening now. If we had something like the Synths we have on our show, that effect would be magnified a hundredfold, and that was quite interesting. We’re really going quite deep into how society would change if a massive amount of the workforce were suddenly laid off.

Q: All this being said, would you get a Synth?
SV: I would say no, for one clear reason: I have a 18-month-old son, and I would be profoundly uncomfortable with having something he couldn’t tell wasn’t a human in his home, helping to look after him. If I was on my own? I would be much more open to getting one, so I’d never have to lift a finger again [laughs]. I would become very, very lazy. But no, not with young children. I feel like their minds would become warped. But, then again, isn’t that how we feel about new technology when it comes out? I actually remember being in school when I was 14 and my school got the Internet for the first time. I remember thinking, “I’ll never use that. It’s just for computer geeks.” So, who knows?
JB: That being said, I have a seven-month-old daughter and washing bottles is one of the most boring things in the world. So if there was a Synth that just did that, it would be worth it.

Q: What do you hope fans take away from the show? What do want the “water cooler” talk to be, so to speak?
JB: We want to engender debate. We purposely avoided trying to pass too much judgement on whether Synths are going to be a good thing or a bad thing, if they existed. We don’t want to present it as a utopia or a dystopia, and we want the audience to make up their own minds. We don’t really mind what the water cooler talk is, so long as there’s plenty of it.
SV: We want people to ask each other, “Well, would you get one?” We would like to think that kind of conversation is going on. And then the conversations about a usual drama. We want you to feel like these characters are real people, you care about them, you’re drawn in by what’s happening.

HUMANS premieres Sunday, June 28 at 9/8c.

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