It's the 1930s and America is coming to terms with a new technology - robotics. Android workers known as "automata" are part of everyday life. Welcome to a world where robots can be bartenders, manual labourers, cops, detectives or prostitues, but it is AI, not alcohol that is now becoming subject to prohibition.
Automata is a new webseries released under the Dust channel on YouTube, based on a comic series originally published at Penny Arcade. Episode 1 premiered this week. It's just under 9 minutes long. As with the comic series, the protagonists are Sam (human, played by Basil Harris) and Carl (automaton, played by Doug Jones) - ex-cops and now partners in Private Investigation, investigating cheating partners and other crimes that happen to have a robotic aspect.
The idea of humanoid robots living amongst us is not new, and right from the start this series reminds me of Real Humans or Humans, transposed a century into the past, mixed in with a little I, Robot. The themes of robots as lower class members of society, facing direct or subtle discrimination, and being exploited are pretty much the same, along with the Dickian question of humanity. And if the trailer is accurate we are also at some stage going to see anti-robot humans beating robots up in clubs - exactly like Humans. So can this new webseries actually provide anything new?
Well, the first thing it can provide is a sense of style. There's something about the 1930s, Prohibition, the gangsters, the suits and hats, the hairstyles, the dark alleyways and speakeasies, the jazz, the smoky, rainy, dark film noir atmosphere and the sense that an awful lot is going on just below the surface - taken together and done well, this is a great setting for any drama, particularly when it comes to crime and moral ambiguity. Automata has been well-made and so far the style and the attention to detail is impressive, including the design of the automata themselves.
There's also opportunity to tell some important stories in the Prohibition era. In real life this was a dystopian era in the US - a government reaching to control the lives and habits of its' citizens far beyond any reasonable mandate, and the parallel birth of a violent organized crime network. So far Sam and Carl's investigations have only placed them at the beginning of an investigation so it's too early to say exactly where the scriptwriters are heading, and I also want to avoid spoilers, but it's an interesting opening gambit. I think this series has promise and I am looking forward to episode 2.
Episode 1 can be watched on YouTube here.