Who: “Almost Human,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on FOX, Mondays at 8:00 PM.
What: “Almost Human,” a science fiction action/crime drama set in a future where police forces are partially staffed by androids in cities where crime runs rampant, and a police officer named John Kennex (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), who loses his partner in an ambush after an android statistically determines that the partner is too badly hurt and too beyond help, must reconcile with returning to work following his own coma, the addition of a “synthetic” prosthetic leg, and the partnering with the androids he comes to dangerously resent.
When: The series premiered on FOX, Sunday, November 17, 2013, at 8:00 PM.
Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it strikes this viewer as being Los Angeles, California, in the year 2048.
Why: It’s science fiction, it features Eomer/the new Dr. McCoy (Mr. Urban), and it was created and is executive produced by J.J. Abrams and one of his cohorts from Fringe. As I am in the Cult of J.J., I must sample everything that man touches.
How – as in How Was It?
The pilot/premiere rating scale:
***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING. HOLY SMOKES!
**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing. I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.
*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens. There are things I like, and things I don’t. We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.
** – I will give it three episodes. Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together. No matter how unlikely.
* – Pass on this one, guys. It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.
Almost Human = ***
John Kennex (Urban) finds his life forever altered after a crime syndicate ambush, to which he mistakenly led officers under his charge, results in their deaths. When one of the force’s requisite androids abandons John’s mortally wounded partner during the siege, categorizing him as an unacceptable risk, John’s partner loses his life, and John loses his leg. He is then comatose for seventeen months, until he is revived with a synthetic prosthesis to replace his missing limb. Though he attempts to undergo black market treatments to recover some of the memories of that fateful day, his superior (Lili Taylor) recalls him to work and assigns John his mandatory android partner – which he promptly shoves out of a moving vehicle while investigating a robbery. He is then assigned to work with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an early generation android prototype programmed to have actual feelings and to interact, emotional responses in tact, with his human counterparts. John must set aside his deep seated prejudice, while Dorian reminds John of what it is to be human in a world populated by a growing number of artificial copies, as they investigate and work in a city ravaged by crime and “unregulated technology.”
The concept underlying Almost Human reminded this viewer instantly of fare like Robocop or I, Robot, since those big screen vehicles featured cops and robotics. The pilot/first hour-long episode of this show was exposition heavy, almost to a fault. While several seeds were planted from a story perspective, almost none of them were offered an intriguing push toward something more tantalizing in the future, and the haphazard sprinkling of such seeds ultimately left the pilot proper playing with a flat and unfocused quality that rendered it somewhat boring, though the second episode (which aired the following night) was a bit better.
The most impressive element of this new program is the visual effects, depicting technology that is either an advanced imagining of devices currently available, or a creative glimpse into devices that have the potential to be invented and simply haven’t been yet. From the view-screens and floating displays to the changes in the appearance of androids’ faces and eyes depending upon their status, Almost Human may be one of the most visually stunning science fiction offerings on television today, whether free network or cable.
Urban offers a capable if clipped performance as the affected Kennex. He plays a typical man’s man, haunted by his demons or ghosts of same, since his memory has not fully recovered. He also has a charming odd couple chemistry with Ealy, who is easily the scene-stealer of this program. Ealy infuses his soul-programmed Dorian with an effortless innocence and walks the line of “feeling robot” quite deftly. It’s his “almost human” character that lends dimension to an otherwise hollow affair, a small screen copy of similar stories from film and TV past.
Yet, Almost Human offers some intriguing bits of potential where story is concerned. Not only are John’s buried memories keys to larger questions, but Dorian’s existence and reemergence after being decommissioned for some time posit some interesting back story regarding this “crazy” feeling android that may serve a larger story arc. Unfortunately, as is standard for all J.J. Abrams-produced vehicles and as was true of Fringe, this production team’s previous effort, it may be several episodes before that story arc emerges. For now, these two cops, one human with android features, one android with humanistic features, are learning to navigate their partnership while abandoning their individual, preconceived notions about their time and their environment. If this program drifts into futuristic procedural territory as a mainstay, where each episode merely centers on this odd couple buddy cop team solving a new crime each week, this viewer will not stick with the show.
Almost Human is for anyone who loves futuristic, science fiction related action stories. Another similar film with a completely different premise is Minority Report: the visual pastiche of both vehicles are reminiscent of each other. Also, fans of Karl Urban will probably enjoy his star status and constant screen time in this show.
THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:
Too early to tell. For now, the ratings have climbed and decreased at fairly steady intervals, though at small increments, since the premiere. In addition, FOX moved Bones to Fridays and gave the latter show’s time slot (Mondays at 8:00 PM) to this new program; the show has held its own when up against The Voice on NBC. Let’s see how it all fares in the future.