Silly Human

By Cory Williamson | Sci-Fi
An actress stars in an A.I.-produced TV show. It demands one thing -- perfection.

Linda is a struggling Broadway actress who has landed a role on the hit show "Silly Human." The show is a 1950s family sitcom in the vein of "I Love Lucy," but it has a unique distinction: it's directed by an artificial intelligence entity named Charlie. Taking the form of a camera with a round light with the voice of a smoothly confident man, the A.I. directs the actors, demanding perfection for each line.

Linda is hopeful that her role will go well, but rehearsal proves nerve-wracking. Linda's fellow actor is blase and curt; there's no other crew on the set. And things go from bad to worse, as the A.I. gets increasingly demanding, even abusive, of Linda, who can't get past a certain line. But before they can make it through rehearsal, it's time to go live -- and the show must go on, though the consequences for failing may prove perilous.

Written and directed by Cory Williamson, this cerebral and provocative short drama seems at first to be an arch parody of 1950s television, with its rigid gender roles and sanitized social mores. Shot in a gleaming, high-contrast black-and-white, we watch Linda rehearse an archetypal scene of a housewife making dinner preparations as her husband comes home, both chit-chatting with one another about their son. But as rehearsal proceeds, lorded over by an ominous A.I. in the role of director, a different thematic comes to the fore.

The A.I. is less of a director and more of a dictator, able to only note when something is "wrong," and yet provide no guidance on what is right to the actors. The situation offers dark, sardonic humor at first, but as Linda and her fellow actor Dale flail underneath the increasing demands of the A.I. Viewers and actors can't quite figure out what is right for Charlie, which seems to comment on the idea of A.I. trying to master the subtleties of human emotion, especially in the context of art.

Actor Alicia Blasingame offers a multifaceted performance, able to portray the perfect 1950s housewife and mother but also an ambitious, creative actor and theatrical artist looking to take the next step in her career. Yet her big break proves daunting, and no matter how hard she tries, she can't quite please the enigmatic Charlie. Yet there seems to be more at stake here than getting the scene right, especially as the actors get increasingly anxious and fearful as they barrel towards showtime. They don't even make it through the scene when it's time for them to go live, putting on a final touch to their costume that reveals much more is at stake than just career or creative satisfaction.

The last sequence in "Silly Human" then takes on a fully dystopian Theian dimension, as we watch, almost helplessly, as Linda and Dale go through the scene. It hits us just how sunny, innocent and cheerful the scene is, but for a few hints of violence -- and what a contrast it is to the actual horror of the larger context that this entertainment takes place within. By the time we get to the commercial, "Silly Human" unfurls no less than a sly, intelligent commentary on the ruthlessness of modern media and entertainment, resting as it does on a foundation of exploitation and even cruelty. With an increasing intersection with machine learning, those laughs could come at the expense of what makes us human: empathy, compassion and an understanding based on commonality of feeling, things that an algorithm may never quite understand.

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