Derren Brown: Pushed to the Edge

Whatever he does, whether it’s a card trick, spin a roulette wheel, count toothpicks, or create a zombie apocalypse, it’s always very exciting and, yes, very moving as well. Derren Brown. British magician, illusionist, mentalist, créateur d’expériences sociales, has done it again. Pushed to the Edge is a psychological trap, really, in which an innocent man is being manipulated in order to push another man off a roof.

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Object of Affection
Never a dull moment with Derren Brown; he always has something up his sleeve. An experiment. Trick. Stunt. Mind game. He’s made people do things in the past they never would’ve done if they hadn’t been under hypnosis. This time, Brown solely relies on social circumstance. And farce. He doesn’t even meet his object of affection, Chris, until the experiment is over.

Bernie
Chris is a regular joe. IT guy. ‘Tech guru’. He’s invited to a fund raiser, populated by actors, as an opportunity to network. Some people with deep pockets, there, like Bernie. Tom, the organiser of the night, shows Chris around, has him do all kinds of small tasks. Small questionable tasks, like labelling meaty snacks as vegetarian. Tom introduces him to Bernie, and that’s when Chris’s world slowly starts crumbling. Before they know it, Bernie gets a heart attack. Dead. Tom and Chris are the only ones there. The room where the bidding is going to take place, isn’t open to the guests yet. So they’ve got a dead body on their hands. A dead body who was going to donate a lot of money to the charity foundation PUSH. This is where the farce element comes in. Bernie has to be hidden; sound familiar? It’s Fawlty Towers all over again. They’ll inform the police once all the funds are raised; the future of PUSH depends on it.

The Wooden Crate
Luckily, there’s a wooden crate in the back room. Chris hesitates. Dignity is not in a crate, he says, but Tom persuades him to go along with it. There just isn’t another way. The fund raiser begins, and although Chris is not feeling too happy about everything, Bernie’s out of sight. All he needs to do is wait until the night is over, call an ambulance and that’ll be the end of it. Unfortunately for Chris, Derren Brown sits behind the controls.

The Kick
The crate comes into play during the auction, which forces Chris and Tom’s hand to move Bernie elsewhere. They decide on leaving the body at the bottom of the stairs. That way, if people find him, they’ll think he fell down. Chris goes along with Tom, who’s getting directions from Brown through an ear piece, but he can’t be made to kick Bernie’s body in order to bruise him – which would’ve happened if he’d indeed fallen down the staircase. He won’t feel anything, Tom says, but no, that goes too far.

Gone
Tom can’t keep up their charade any longer, especially when Bernie’s wife is put into the equation. He confides in three people in charge of security they’d met earlier that evening, and lets Chris ‘tell everything’ that happened. When they take them to the stairs, Bernie’s gone. Chris and Tom were informed by his wife that Bernie could possibly have something that looks like a heart attack when he doesn’t take his pills. He might not be dead, after all.

Far-Fetched
In true B-movie fashion, Bernie’s shouting at Chris and Tom from on top of the staircase; he’s gone to the roof, for some reason (to smoke). Everybody follows him. Bernie’s (accidentally) recorded everything that Chris and Tom have made him gone through, and is outraged. It’s all a bit too good (or strange) to be true, these last couple of twists, but Chris is in it now. His tunnel vision keeps him from stopping and realize, this is all just bit too far-fetched, people. Who’s pulling my chain?

The Push
Bernie sits on top of the roof (on the edge), his back turned away. PUSH can forget about his money, that’s for sure. Chris already thought he was dead, so why not push him off the edge? It’s a win-win for everyone. Except for Bernie, of course, but everybody agrees this is what needs to happen and Chris should be the one to do it. It’s an incredible, silly, dark, emotional ride Brown has taken us on, once again. Every step of the way you’re feeling for Chris. You’re also trying to imagine what you would’ve done in his place. Social obedience is a powerful thing, that’s for sure. Chris hasn’t been the only lab rat. Brown has orchestrated this twisted game for three other people. Out of the four test subjects, three gave Bernie a push at the end (he was hooked to cables and everything; he’s fine). There’s a deep lesson here: ‘You can’t always be on guard, because then you’ll live your life constantly on edge (…) but when certain situations present themselves, do think about it before you act upon it, and think what am I doing?’, as Chris puts it afterwards. ‘By understanding how we can be manipulated, we can become stronger. (…) We can push back’, as Brown puts it. I love this guy.

Humans – or – The British Kyle XY

Channel 4 and AMC conceived it together, but their new show Humans looks and feels much more like a British Kyle XY than an American remake – which it is – of the Swedish series Äkta Människor (Real Humans). Despite the fact AMC’s trademark – depth – has been thrown overboard, the pilot’s nevertheless an entertaining piece of sci-fi.

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Synth
If I had to guess, Channel 4 produced the show and put AMC in charge of the leader and music score; both things echo the style of Halt & Catch Fire. Everything else clearly comes out of the same factory that made Spooks and MI-5.
The series is a variation of Bicentennial Man. Human looking robots are everywhere and they serve as slaves, basically. They’re a bit stiff, but then again, the show takes place in the UK. They’ve got green eyes – that’s their big giveaway. Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) purchases one of these so-called synthetics, shortened to ‘Synths’, without consolidating with this wife Laura, played by Katherine Parkinson (The Honourable Woman). She’s quite busy with work, so he figures they need someone to clean the house. He goes over to the Synth Store and buys one. His lame excuse will be ‘it’s a surprise’, when his wife comes home later.

Anita
Although Joe felt compelled to get an electronic maid, it’s odd that, for the remainder of the episode, Laura’s home quite a lot. Her work doesn’t seem like a big problem anymore, actually. They’ve addressed a plot point and then forget about it all together.
Anyway, their Synth, called Anita (Gemma Chan), does the laundry, dishes, reads a book to the youngest daughter of the house, and occasionally gets some sort of flashback. Laura’s a bit on the naggy side, but other than that, it’s a pretty normal household. Like Kyle XY; an ordinary family with a commercial product of artificial intelligence put in the middle of it. I was hoping for a scarier approach, but this family definitely isn’t something to be too concerned about – or invested in.

Stryker
So what else is going on? Where do Anita’s flashbacks come from? Well, it turns out she once belonged to a group of highly intelligent Synths. Somehow her memory got wiped clean and she was put back on the market as a smart-but-not-too-smart Home Prius. The flashbacks she’s seeing are scenes from her previous ‘life’.
The other Smarty Synths are hunted down by a man with a goatee. A sort of William Stryker – for anyone who’s seen X2. Scared of what these upgraded green-eyed beauties might decide to do once they develop some kind of humanlike consciousness, he tracks them down and studies their software by autopsy.

The Doc
And then there’s William Hurt, who plays Dr. George Millican. He’s quite fond of the older Synth model he’s having, for some reason (I can’t help thinking it’s something sexual), but the thing’s malfunctioning and misbehaving. His storyline has nothing to do with the rest that’s going on, but he’s a doctor. He might be the inventor of the Synths, for all we know.
So far, it’s a very family friendly show, with just one creepy moment and that was when Anita produced some strangely programmed laughter. If you were hoping for a dark tale of artificial intelligence mayhem, this probably isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a decent series about family issues and running robots, it is.

A.I. + I, Robot + Her + Bicentennial Man = Humans

Every few years there’s a peak in series and movies that deal with artificial intelligence. AMC has joined the current rise in robots looking like people with their new series Humans.

Humans

First and foremost: the title. AMC (or aMC) can do so much better. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Halt & Catch Fire, Rubicon, at least in terms of their names great shows. Human Target, Almost Human, and Being Human twice, it’s time to redirect the word human to the recycle bin. Humans, yeah, but not really human, we get it. Move on; next title suggestion on the board, please.

AMC has co-adapted the Swedish series Äkta Människor (‘Real Humans’) together with Channel 4. That’s why the cast is almost entirely British. And no one you’d know. The only American that AMC was allowed to squeeze in is a big name. Or was a big name. Or lost Hollywood’s favour all together. He’ll kind of reprise his role as professor Hobby in A.I.: William Hurt.

(Hurt will also star in the mini-series Beowulf, coming to another British TV network, ITV, in 2016.)

With the movie Ex Machina on the way – of which the trailers look very promising – AMC has got its wind in its sails. From what is known about the plot, the show will investigate the (moral and ethical) dilemmas humans face when surrounded by human-like robots. It’s what AMC has a knack for. To take time, invest and deepen.

They’ve ordered a first season of 8 episodes to explore intelligence, love, morality and I’m sure un-robot-like emotions like jealousy, pain and feeling conflicted. This could be a very serious look into what’s in store for us humans in the future. Be afraid. Be very afraid.