John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: 'Akta Manniskor,' A Harlot's Progress' are gems worth watching

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'AKTA MANNISKOR A.K.A. REAL HUMANS' (Hulu)

Mainly known as the inspiration for the series "Humans" rather than for any details of its own, Swedish writer Lars Lundstr m's original surpasses its English-language remake particularly in its satirical scope. Presenting a world where human-like robots, HuBots, have been created to serve "real humans," the series questions if the way humans measure consciousness, self, individuality, even existence, are all inherently chauvinistic, if by making ourselves the standard we have rigged things against all other possibilities.

Focusing on a group of liberated HuBots, who must find their way in the world, the action winds mostly around the Engman family — lawyer mom Ingrid (Pia Halvorsen), dad Hans (Johan Paulsen), and kids Matilda (Natalie Minnevik), Tobias (K re Hedebrant), and Sofia (Aline Palmstierna) — when they come into the possession of one of a liberated HuBot they call Anita (Lisette Pagler). Suspense ensues, but not at the cost of the family story, which also includes grandfather Lennart (Sten Elfstr m), who clings to ownership of his genial, but malfunctioning, HuBot, Odie (Alexander Stocks).

Another domestic drama unfolds next door as the angry, abusive and wonderfully dopey Roger (Leif Andr e) faces his wife's affair with her HuBot, Rick, played with sinister delight by Johannes Bah Kuhnke, who also starred in the excellent film, "Force Majeure" (also on Hulu).

In fact, some of the best acting work is from the Hubots, including Kuhnke and the previously-mentioned Stocks as Odie, who exhibits innocence with a hint of chaotic trickster. But there's also Marie Robertson as Beatrice, the cold, manipulative Hubot impersonating a police officer and Josephine Alhanko as Flash, the glamorous Hubot obsessed with fulfilling her programming to have a human family.

Like so many science fiction series these days, "Akta Manniskor" does rely on a conspiracy plot that unfolds inch by inch, but like "Orphan Black," it understands that it's the characters who carry the show. For all the suspense featured, this is more like a drama with science fiction elements, and the show's willingness to explore themes through in a humorous way, while still treating its characters with respect. makes it stand out as something really special.

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'A HARLOT'S PROGRESS' (Amazon)

Inspired by a series of six paintings and engraving by William Hogarth, this 2006 Channel 4 production uses a fictionalized account of Hogarth's labor on these works to portray the life of a prostitute in 18th-century England, as well as the general structure of moral society and its complicity in grinding people into poverty, sickness and death.

Hogarth (Toby Jones) struggles at completing a portrait commission from a wealthy patron, his interests focusing more on the squalor of London and the unfortunates who populate it, in particular a prostitute named Mary (Zoe Tapper), whose ambition forecasts bright prospects as a kept woman.

Hogarth captures Mary in paintings at various points of her life and peppers the canvases with specific information about her circumstances and the involvement of other Londoners in her fate. It's a downward journey for the prostitute, to be sure, but the intensity of the performances and the authenticity of the presentation of London at the time bring the production into vivid life and draws the viewer in. There's also great care taken to add documentary captions to put characters and events into historical perspective.

Director Justin Hardy is the son of "Wicker Man" director Robin Hardy, and successfully explored similar territory in the fantastic series "City of Vice" (also available on Amazon) along with the screenwriter Clive Bradley (who also scripts the current Icelandic series "Trapped," available on Amazon). Jones and Tapper are also simply remarkable in their roles, capturing the heartbreak and weakness inherent in both lives. This is a fascinating hidden gem.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at johnseven.me


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