Äkta människor (Real Humans)


“Graceful. Elegant, efficient. Did your life just get longer? Good morning. The Hubmax phd takes care of the day to day chores while you can focus on what really matters. Are you ready to change your life?”

Back in 1986 Channel 4 aired a TV movie which introduced Max Headroom to the British viewing public. The Subtitle of that pilot 20 Minutes in the Future could easily be applied to Äkta människor, for this is a science fiction series which is set in a world recognisably similar to our own. The cinematic and televisual history of the robot subgenre is mined and exploited within a series designed for the iPod generation and whilst acknowledging and celebrating the cyberpunk movement the series is structured so as not to alienate those whom may not be familiar with the works of Gibson, et al. Äkta människor is a ten part series produced by Swedish public service broadcaster SVT. First airing in January 2012 the series has already generated an active international fanbase that is engaged in varying degrees of productivity. Significant academic literature exists concerning the phenomena of media fandom but the communities which celebrate and appropriate Scandinavian televisual and filmic texts is relatively under explored within the discipline of Cultural Studies. How this particular fandom responds to Äkta människor is a development which must surely warrant further investigative analysis. Although I have seen all ten episodes of this series I will only discuss the pilot so as not to spoil viewer pleasure. Those wishing the show in its entirty should lobby BBC Four to acquire this superb show and also contact Arrow Films to secure a DVD/Blu Ray release.


The series opens with the image of a deserted stretch of county road in the dead of night. The only source of illumination is the headlights from a pick up truck. The sound of a mobile phone ringtone signifies that whilst this is a science fiction series the fictional world is not too far removed from that which we, the viewers, currently inhabit. A senior citizen is on the phone to his partner telling her that he will shortly be home. He refers to her as “pumpkin” which is an oblique reference to the Cinderella narrative,  one of the many sources which the producers’ have employed in the construction of this text.

Momentarily distracted whilst placing his mobile phone in the docking station, the driver fails to notice a woman standing in the centre of the road and his car collides with her, sending the body crashing over the bonnet and smashing the windscreen. Whilst surveying the damage to the car we notice a sticker placed in the corner of the screens notifying us that the driver supports an organisation called “Real Humans”. The aims and objectives of this group are withheld for now but within the context of this scene it serves to distinguish between humanity and mechanised lifeforms, something that becomes apparent when the driver exits his vehicle to see if he can offer any assistance to the female he has knocked down only to baulk in terror upon hearing mechanical sounds which signify that his car has not knocked down a human as he had previously thought but has instead damaged an android (referred to as hubots within the narrative).


The sight of a group of hubots marching in the distance terrifies this man and he returns to the vehicle and drives off to the safety of his home – where we see that he has a “Real Humans” sticker posted by the entrance. Tension is accelerated as domesticity clashes with paranoia and robophobia within the confines of a rural home. We, the viewer, are directed to enquire why this man has so much to fear from hubots.

At this stage in the narrative information has not been disclosed as to the function and purpose of hubots although tension has been signposted through the use of the “Real Humans” sticker (twice) and the possibility that a revenge attack for the mowing down of a female android may be about to occur. Thus, already we are employing intertextual coordinates in the reading process and may be drawing from the robot as sentient threat narrative which has been employed in several filmic texts, most noteably Blade Runner.

The, thus far, unnamed driver expresses his paranoia to his wife;“This is what I’ve been talking about all along, isn’t it? I’ve warned about this and now they’re here.” Ramming home his point the domestic sphere is swiftly placed under siege. Windows are smashed as arms reach in grappling for door handles. Gunshot proves no match for this so for obliquely seen opponent. Whilst the house and its occupants are terrorised a subplot is deftly woven into the narrative which in contrast to the brutality displayed elsewhere suggests that synthetic lifeforms are capable of experiencing love for humans. This moment of tenderness is enhanced when the hubot is captured by scavengers thereby initiating a quest for her recovery.


The teaser sequence establishes the narrative world and core parameters to be explored in this pilot episode and the series’ remaining segments. The viewer is treated to a discourse of conflicting and competing information. We are unsure for certain, at this stage, if the hubots are the primary threat to narrative equilibrium or if they are acting to preserve the new species from the threats posed by both the “Real Humans” movement and scavengers who might swoop at any moment to appropriate technology which they can recycle, rebrand and sell on through the black market.


Äkta människor has several narrative strands which explore the interrelationship between humans and technology. Additionally, it explores what it means to be a “real human”. Is it our capacity for emotional intelligence that defines humanity? As we become increasingly reliant on technology is our “humanness” being eroded? Conversely, as we create ever more intelligent hardware at what point does the paradigm change from usability to slavery? If hubots are capable of experiencing love then what right do humans have to erase this information from their electronic brain? These issues are explored throughout the pilot episode and thankfully no firm conclusion is reached at this stage in the series.


Äkta människor is the most satisfying science fiction series I have viewed since the introductory seasons of Battlestar Galactica and Heroes. Production values are comparable with anything currently being made by American studios and the scripts for all ten episodes are superbly structured. Additionally, the performances by the ensemble cast are grounded and at times evoked very strong emotional responses from me. Definitely a show to savour.


TV Review: Lilyhammer


Aware that an audience exists for foreign language programming BBC Acquisitions has cast its net far and wide in the hope to build on the ratings success of The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge but with its latest purchase Lilyhammer viewer loyalty may be tested to its limits.

At the time of writing a transmission slot for the programme has yet to be formally announced and to avoid spoiling viewer appreciation this blog shall primarily refer to the pilot episode although events in later episodes will be loosely referenced.

The series is a joint production between Norwegian broadcaster NRK1 and the American online content provider Netflix. Interestingly, subscribers to the American version of Netflix are able to access all eight episodes thus we may perhaps be entering into a new paradigm shift with regards the production and consumption of televisual texts, one in which the week-long interlude between segments is eroded by online broadcasters emulating the experience of consuming a DVD boxset.


Lilyhammer is a comedy-drama which knowingly and playfully recycles the tropes of the American gangster genre within a ‘fish out of water’ narrative. The approach taken by the producers is not new and was previously undertaken by the French-Canadian filmic text Crime Spree and whilst that movie is relatively obscure the similarity in tone, obviousness of the humour and predictability of the narrative’s arc suggests that British audience may lose patience with the show long before the eighth episode is screened.

To non-music aficionados, Steven Van Zandt may be most recognizable for his role of Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. As Silvio Dante Van Zandt would frequently invoke other filmic and televisual gangster texts and his casting in Lilyhammer acknowledges and accentuates the intersection of assorted archetypes which the audience may draw upon when engaging with the transmitted artifact. In this series, he portrays a gangster known as Frankie “The Fixer” Tagliano who is forced to enter into the Witness Protection Programme and relocates to Lillehammer, Norway.


The series opens at the funeral for a leading member of the American Mafia. As is the norm within this subgenre the proceedings are held in a Chapel of Rest, gangsters hold court within proximity of an open casket coffin and through clunky expositional dialogue, we learn of the backstory, current group dynamics, and potential sources of narrative disequilibrium. The viewer will, inevitably, feel that s/he has seen this before many times and that is the key to the scene and the text, as a series. Depending on one’s viewpoint the over-familiarity of (sub) generic codes employed either affords the producer to construct a postmodern text which recycles tropes for the purposes of social and cultural commentary or signifies an alarming sense of derivativeness which is worthy of significant critical scorn and the employment of the tv remote in the quest for better programming than this drivel.

Following a bungled assassination attempt Frankie agrees to enter into the Witness Protection Programme on the basis that he is relocated to Lillehammer having been impressed with televisual footage of the area whilst watching the 1994 Winter Olympics and with this clumsy set up the producers yet again ram home the point that this is a series which plays upon media representations and referentially. Having relocated to Norway under the assumed name of Giovanni Henriksson, Frankie swiftly becomes proficient in the language despite spending much of the pilot listening to an instructional CD.


Scenes frequently switch from English to Norwegian in a dramatically implausible manner which is no doubt an attempt to cater for the two producers and their respective audiences. Whenever this occurs I find myself experiencing a level of disbelief that I haven’t encountered since the BBC canceled Eldorado.

After the expositional cold open the series firmly begins with a scene set on a train which is designed to introduce several characters that viewers will come to know more fully over the following weeks and show Frankie’s dramatic and comedic strength. Riffing off a similar sequence in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Frankie remonstrates with anti-social behaviour displayed by youths and wins the tacit approval of the woman who will become his love interest and an elder male who will assist in ensuring Frankie is not convicted of an offence by the end of the episode. This early sequence demonstrates that the set-ups are far too obvious but viewers may gain pleasure from the text’s predictability.


By the end of the pilot, Frankie has managed to become the owner of a local nightclub, infuriate the local police and embark upon a relationship whilst simultaneously corrupting the fabric of Lillehammer’s society. By the end of the series, he manages to make the Chief of Police an accessory, after the fact, in a murder and on one reading this may just be the comic extrapolation of the archetypes dramatic potential. Alternatively, this may be a televisual discourse coded within a popular generic form that transmits the message that immigration is bad for Norwegian society.

My reading of the text increasingly became sensitive to the deeply problematic racial stereotyping employed particularly in scenes where the immigrant population were being forced to assimilate but were represented as being harmful to community cohesion and the impartiality of Norwegian public services.

Netflix and NRK1 have expressed their support for the series through the commissioning of a further season which is due to start filming when Van Zandt’s commitments for Bruce Springsteen’s tour come to an end.

I can only hope that BBC Four decides to invest its money elsewhere and drops this turkey from its schedules.