Better Than Us / Лучше, чем люди

Published: November 8, 2019

Better Than Us (Лучше, чем люди) is the first ever Russian-language Netflix original series. A sci-fi drama, it takes place in the near future where fully anthropomorphic robots commonly live among humans. It focuses on Arisa, an experimental domestic service robot programed with “the semblance of freewill” and an increased ability to defend herself and those close to her. The intent was to create a robot that could take the place of a mother. The result, however, was the creation of the only robot in the world capable of killing. The robot then escapes her masters and finds her way into a family after being befriended by a little girl.

In January 2019, Netflix bought the rights to the series and had it available to stream in August in some countries. Currently, there are 2 seasons with 16 episodes. Season 3 is expected to be released in 2020.

You can watch the trailer here:

Synopsis

Georgy Nikolaevich Safronov, the main character played by veteran actor Kirill Käro, is a down-on-his-luck morgue operator. Sleeping on the couch at work, he is woken up by his robot assistant and discovers he is late, again, to pick up his children for his visitation time.

Arriving at his ex-wife’s impressive apartment, he greets her new husband and gives her a permission certificate for the kids’ to take a month-long trip to Australia. He finds that his young daughter Sonya, played by Vitaliya Kornienko, is eager to spend time with him, but the elder son Egor is out and ignores his call.

At school, Egor is being bullied by three boys but manages to get away. He is then shown with his best friend and saying goodbye, as he is moving to Australia permanently. Meanwhile Georgy also finds out the trip is not for one month, but a permanent move, from his daughter while they are playing in the park. Gregory returns to his ex-wife and demands the permission slip back and accuses her of attempting to kidnap their children.

Victor Toropov, the head of Russia’s biggest robot company, CRONOS Corporation is participating on a TV program discussing the topic of cybersex. Also on the show is a couple who is dealing with a tough situation as the woman has found that her husband is sleeping with a sex robot. The debate is whether or not that counts as cheating. The other interviewee, Svyatoslav Ivannikov, speaks against the robotic market and directly attacks Victor, a sexbot industry pioneer. Victor’s stance is that such interactions with robots can have several psychological benefits and help eradicate human prostitution. He also does not see them as an issue for the couple as he believes robots cannot replace humans in a relationship.

In his office, Victor introduces his Technical Director Igor Maslovsky to a superbot he imported from China as one of the sex bots called Arisa. After the two leave the room, one of the employees who is guarding the door comes in and attempts to molest Arisa. However, she has programmed to have humanlike instincts for self-preservation and familial duties. She physically rejects him. He persists, and eventually, Arisa grabs him by the neck and kills him. Arisa steals a coat from another robot and escapes the room.

In the basement of the building, Arisa finds herself another charging station but, in searching for his now-missing bot, Victor orders the electricity of the entire building shut down, forcing Arisa to leave the station. He also tells a security guard to have the death of the employee recorded as a natural cause. The dead body is brought down to an ambulance, which Arisa finds and gets in to use the charging station there. Arisa leaves without anyone noticing.

The ambulance arrives at Georgy’s morgue. He is, apparently, a go-to contact for false death certificates. Now fully charged, Arisa leaves the ambulance and enters the office, where she scans Georgy’s family photos. Georgy arrives with his daughter, whom he has kept after visitation to ensure that she will not be taken out of the country. He is discussing the situation with a lawyer who advises him to return his daughter and file a lawsuit to ensure that he himself is not accused of kidnapping. Georgy is not happy, but he agrees. He is about to turn the car around again, but sees the ambulance, and knows he must go in for work. He leaves Sonya briefly in the car.

Sonya, curious, exits the car and walks to the ambulance and meets Arisa, who authorizes her as a “first-level user.” Arisa sees a small scratch on Sonya’s hand and tells her to wait for her while she goes look for something in the ambulance. Georgy comes back, and the two leave before she can return.

Georgy seeing that the cause of death is obviously not a heart attack but a broken neck, ask for 300,000 rubles the security guard to write the fake death certificate – this is way more than is usually charged, but it is the exact sum he needs for his law suit. Meanwhile, Egor is very upset that Georgy has denied him permission to leave for Australia and confronts his father, unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Alla’s friend says she has a plan to deprive Georgy of his parental rights if Alla leaves the children with him. Alla agrees to the plan and tells Georgy that she and her new husband will leave for Australia and Georgy will stay with the kids. Finally, Victor sees footage of superbot killing another man in China before she was shipped to Russia and knows he must find her soon as robots who can kill are illegal.

The episode ends with Arisa somehow having found Sonya and coming into her bedroom.

 

Analysis

Better Than Us confronts one of the most difficult dilemmas of our time, the line between humans and technology and how much technology we should allow into our lives. It tells this story splendidly through the life of a complicated Russian family.

At the same time, as one of the few Russian TV shows on Netflix, Better Than Us opens the door to life in Russia to many western audiences. One user on IMDb page who gave the series 9/10 commented, “They are not glacial cold Russians, there is a story of a family and the most surprising of all is that it will catch you… Look at it without prejudice. It will surprise you.”

In addition to the storyline, the series has brilliant cinematography, creating a technologically advanced but still recognizable and believable world with a few simple tricks such as showing drones in the sky or hover boards in the park. The cast is also well selected, with most of the critical praise going to Paulina Andreeva, who plays Arisa the robot, and Vitaliya Kornienko, who plays the little girl Sonya.

Most importantly, the series leaves the audience with several lessons—one of them being that humans may be worse than robots, and robots may be better than us. The original Russian title is, in fact, Лучше, чем люди, or, literally, Better Than Humans.

The show was produced by Yellow, Black and White Group in cooperation with Sputnik Vostok Production. It was originally released on November 23, 2018, on the START video service and the online site of Channel 1. The series is directed by Alexander Kessel.

In 2019, the series won the prizes of “Best Visual Effects” and “Best Makeup” by the Association of Film and Television Producers in the Field of Television Films.

Overall, Better Than Us has received 7.4/10 on IMDb, and its season 1 has received 89% of audience score on rotten tomatoes.

About authors

Tanya Tanyarattinan

Tanya Tanyarattinan is a third-year, Thai international student at the University of Denver, double majoring in International Studies and Economics with minors in Russian and Japanese. She is currently studying Society, Business, and the Arts in St Petersburg with SRAS’s Home and Abroad Scholarship. With an interest in pursuing a career in politics, she travels to see how the world works from different perspectives. Her next stop is Berlin where she will complete her study abroad year. In her free time, she likes to play games and try new food.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Tanya Tanyarattinan