I’ve been looking forward to Almost Human since it was first announced alongside Sleepy Hollow as Fox’s newest sci-fi venture. A play on the buddy-cop/procedural Almost Human takes place in the year 2048 in a crime-saturated dystopia in which the police are embroiled in a war against terrorist organization the Syndicate and are required to pair up with robots. In the gray-tinged futuristic world full of advanced technologies that wouldn’t have looked out-of-place on Fringe (showrunner J.H. Wyman’s other Fox show, recently concluded), Almost Human excelled in presenting an exciting, electric world and its two leads we’ll be following into the center, though one of these men is more interesting than the other.
In the action-packed opening John Kennex (Karl Urban) led a team into a raid only to be ambushed by the Syndicate. In the chaos, the entire team was slaughtered with the exception of John, who lost a leg and was in a coma for over a year before he awoke with a synthetic leg (which he’s now in the midst of psychologically rejecting). His return to the police force was accompanied by the mandatory partnering with a synthetic model that he ended up tossing out of his car which led to his partnership with a DRN, also called Dorian (Michael Ealy).
Designed to be more human than other robotic counterparts, Dorian was decommissioned for that exact reason. The DRNS were too human, exhibiting the same emotional issues as humans did, reaching breaking points that humans would reach when pushed too hard. There’s a lot Almost Human is beginning to say about humanity and our appreciation (and lack thereof) for it. Dorian was deemed useless because of his humanity, and John’s equated with being just as useless by one of his new coworkers due to his own suffering. So if the world had the choice, would everyone be replaced by logic-based, analytical cyborgs insusceptible to the human feelings and therefore, human weaknesses?
Though Karl Urban is certainly a talented actor, the gruff-voiced John, rolling around in his manpain and coping with his guilt over ambush that cost his entire team their lives, is just as typical as the buddycop/procedural formula. There’s nothing new or interesting about John Kennex as he is now, and it doesn’t look like there will be anything very groundbreaking as he looks into ex-girlfriend and Syndicate member, Anna (Mekia Cox). But where John falls short, Dorian and Michael Ealy pick up the slack.
Ealy gives an endearing portrayal of Dorian who comes off as more well-rounded and “human” than even John. As a writer and purveyor of character driven stories, I’m always going on and on about three-dimensional characters, and in the space of forty minutes, Ealy has a range of emotions to convey. Polite and admirable, annoyed and enraged, steely and determined, amused and wise cracking and the list goes on and on and on, to further separate him from the other model of robots. Dorian’s basically a human with some extra-special skills though his biggest issue is going to be proving that to all the humans around him though by the pilot’s end John was onboard.
The relationship between the two (and the chemistry between Ealy and Urban) is going to be the cornerstone on which Almost Human is built, and already I’m excited to see where it goes. Despite their newfound quasi-friendship, there’s potential for the butting of heads which will keep their relationship dynamic. And as they learn more about one another, their relationship can expand into a real friendship rather than the timid connection they’ve formed now. Even John’s typical characterization was alleviated by his interactions with Dorian, as he began to recognize Dorian as more human and less machine. It seems like everywhere I look there are nice pairs of pals fighting evil together, and I’m excited to add John and Dorian to the list.
The pilot jumped straight into the show’s mythology surrounding the Syndicate and the police force’s battle with them, and it was a more effective method than jumping into the procedural parts. As a sci-fi fan and a lover of serialized storytelling, Almost Human‘s pilot was just what I wanted in that it didn’t waste time or pull its punches in establishing the mythology of the show. Procedurals are well, procedural, and I went into the pilot expecting just that, but I was pleased to get something else. But for casual viewers who aren’t too willing to jump straight into mythology, the sudden leap may be hard to swallow.
But even with the big mythological strides being taken, the pilot episode was at least a great exercise in world building. It had a cinematic quality to it and the finale, in which the precinct is overrun by the Syndicate and all the robots (save Dorian) are neutralized while cops were being taken down with a cop-specific bioweapon, felt like something that would happen in a finale episode. It would have been more effective and suspenseful if I knew and cared for the characters at risk (and actually thought one of them would perish) but it was still a fun sequence to watch if only to see Dorian menacingly approaching one of the Syndicate members.
There’s little to say about the supporting cast. The only two who received some slight development were Lili Taylor’s stern but likable Sandra Maldonado, and Mackenzie Crook’s manic scientist Rudy Lom. Minka Kelly also stars as Valerie Stahl, a detective poised to become John’s love interest though I hope that won’t be her only function. I’m most excited for the inevitable return of Anna if only to have Mekia Cox onscreen.
The series premiere event continues tomorrow with “Skin” which looks as if it’ll be the dabbling in the procedural element the pilot lacked.
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