The last few years have been a treasure trove of genre greatness on the small screen for nerds and geeks. This year alone has seen the debut of ‘The Originals’, ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’., ‘The Tomorrow People’, ‘Sleepy Hollow’, and ‘Once Upon A Time in Wonderland,’ to name a few. That’s not even taking into account the sophomore debuts of ‘Revolution‘ and ‘Arrow‘. And now, thanks to the good folks at FOX, we now have ‘Almost Human‘.
*For those expecting the traditional recap, that regularly scheduled programming will return next week. What you will get are Quickcaps for both episodes, a who’s who in the world of ‘Almost Human’, what’s worked, what needs to be cleaned up, and a final verdict.
A Cast of…Several
- John Kennex (Karl Urban)—The hero of our tale, Kennex is a gruff hard ass with serious psychological issues. It’s hard to blame him, considering he lost his partner, his leg and found out his ex-girlfriend’s working for the premiere organization known for fostering badness across the spectrum.
- Dorian (Michael Ealy)—A DRN whose line has been dubbed “crazy” for their unpredictable behavior due to the inability to mesh with their emotional programming, Dorian combines the best of the MX series along with a more human shell.
- Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor)—She’s tough and is fighting a war she can’t win. She’s also hiding something about Dorian from Kennex that will ultimately end up being vital. Despite the cloak and dagger motives behind pairing Kennex with the DRN, she knows her detective well enough to understand what he needs.
- Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly)—She appears to be a new addition to the force and almost immediately shows that she has the hots for Kennex. But behind the pretty face is a vastly intelligent, fierce and dedicated officer whose specialty includes profiling suspects and bringing motives to their actions.
- Rudy Lom (Makenzie Crook)—What’s a genre show without a resident “brain”? Rudy’s a brilliant scientist who specializes in robotics. Like many of his ilk, he’s spastic, awkward and generally has a hard time identifying the social queues on behavior. He’ll also provide an extra sense of comic relief.
- Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby)—For some reason, Detective Dick has a real jones for Kennex. His attitude is born on the fact that Kennex was the only survivor of the raid on the Syndicate hideout two years prior. He’s the asshole wishing the hero to fail…until Kennex and Dorian save everyone’s bacon at the end of the pilot episode. How they frame Detective Paul will be interesting though not necessarily a priority.
- MX—These logic-based androids make decisions based on facts. Intuition, empathy and any other characteristics that make good cops great are non-existent. They definitely have a place on the battlefield that is 2048 though mandating every cop have one as a partner doesn’t seem to be the most ideal use of their particular skill set.
Episode 1 Quickcap—“Pilot”
Set in a 2048 rife with crime and all sorts of badness, ‘Almost Human’ follows Detective John Kennex and his journey through a world of technology, bioterrorism, and the Syndicate. But Kennex is fighting much more than external forces as his psychological profile is all red flags after the events leading to the loss of his leg and partner’s death throw him into a seventeen month coma. Things have changed since he went dark and Kennex has returned to a police department where policies mandate every human to be partnered with the MX series android. Already blaming the logic driven husks of silicon and circuits, John escorts his own MX out to the street…while driving on the expressway. His Captain, Sandra Maldonado, commissions an order for his new partner, a DRN model named Dorian. Despite being an older design, the primary idea behind the DRN’s were to make them as human as possible. John is less than enthused, still seeing androids as untrustworthy tools.
Though his prejudices run deep, John has bigger things to face, the biggest of which is the Syndicate, a brutally ruthless, efficient and well-funded criminal organization tapped in to all things bad. They end up kidnapping Detective Vogel to find out information on one of his former cases before using the officer as a test subject on a bio warfare type concoction that targets the inoculations specifically given to the police force. By craftily positioning a man on the inside after hijacking some bio research, the baddies send out a pulse that takes out all the MX droids in the station. John and Dorian prove to be the one-two punch missing and they take out the Syndicate cell before any real damage is done.
The good guys have won the day but questions remain. After going through a final memory “jolt”, Kennex remembers his girlfriend, Anna, was there at the raid fighting for the Syndicate. And then there’s the business about Dorian. When Kennex asks Maldonado about why she commissioned the synthetic-souled DRN as his partner, her cryptic response is simple. “Cause he’s special…like you.”
Episode 2 Quickcap—“Skin”
Androids are the way of the world and what’s a world like this without sex bots? When a prominent sex bot creator is found dead, Kennex is drawn into a case where an Albanian group is integrating the DNA of kidnapped women with their sex bots.
Between gathering clues, Kennex and Dorian spend some quality time together. ‘Skin’ offers a philosophical approach to life, death, and the impact we make on the lives of others. Dorian is especially affected by the case, sadly watching the exploitation and eventual destruction of his android brethren. John must confront his own past, breaking through a hurdle and visiting his old partner’s family.
Despite the Syndicate and John’s ex-girlfriend’s affiliation with the organization being a potential season-long story arc, it’s relegated to the background in this episode. Instead, the relationship between Kennex and Dorian is quickly solidifying into the show’s backbone.
If It Works, Keep Doing it…
- The most important thing in a show is the chemistry between the principal actors. You can have the greatest script and most compelling of stories but they mean nothing if the actors don’t have that “it” factor. When the chemistry is there, even the mundane writing or uninteresting scripts become interesting. Thankfully, ‘Almost Human’ hits on all three cylinders, spearheaded by the magic between Urban and Ealy.
- I sometimes find it difficult to understand how certain shows bring it with the special effects and others falter so badly. Of the effects heavy shows on this season (‘The Tomorrow People’, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’., ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘Wonderland’, to name a few) ‘Almost Human’ effects team shines at the front of the pack, bringing quality that rivals most movies.
- Cliché as it may be, you have to have a special someone for the main character and Detective Valerie Stahl appears to be that person for Kennex. The second he walks into the station she’s giving him the eye and when Kennex describes his perfect match to Dorian, Detective Stahl just so happens to fit that mold. It’ll be interesting to see how things move between the two. There has to be that UST buildup, some legitimate obstacles before the tearing off of clothes commence.
…and if it doesn’t…
- Granted, most series premieres lack an overall strength, often throwing too much at the audience in order to garner its attention (‘Sleepy Hollow’, I’m looking at you). With ‘Almost Human’, while there were some things they could’ve held off on (see the next bullet) the most disappointing aspect was the villain. Though the Syndicate is built up to be a mighty machine of terrifying proportions, there was absolutely nothing scary about the head baddie of the cell shown. Despite the chemistry between Urban and Ealy as well as the possible ‘ship between Kennex and Stahl, a formidable and engaging big bad has to be in place to up the ante.
- Anna’s involvement with such a powerful organization is brilliant and offers up some very interesting angles regarding Kennex and his former girl. With that said, the big reveal of her working with the Syndicate probably should have been pushed out at least a few more episodes.
- Gunfight–The show starts off with a bang, showcasing an intense and unrelenting gun battle between police and the Syndicate, the most likely big bad. Both the sound and visuals are striking, putting this scene as not only an amazing way to start a show but up there with any big screen production.
- On Dating—By the second episode, Kennex and Dorian are slowly starting to find a comfort zone with one another. There is a limit to said comfort. It doesn’t extend to “scanning [Kennex’s] testicles” as Dorian may have done. The conversation here is as funny a scene as there’ll be on television, sit-coms included.
- Where do we go?—After speaking with Victor, the small son of one of the kidnapped victims, the partners get into an existential discussion on why we say the things we do when loved ones die. “Tell them they went to a better place,” Kennex remarks. Dorian doesn’t quite understand why and Kennex’s response is simplistic yet powerful. “It’s designed to give hope, comfort; to ease the pain. People believe it because they need to.” Truer words were never spoken.
The future is bright…
Let’s get it out of the way; ‘Almost Human’ is not extremely original. It seems to borrow heavily from the Will Smith movie ‘I, Robot’ as well as mixing in several futuristic snippets from ‘Blade Runner’ and a handful of other work, including Urban’s own ‘Judge Dredd’. But originality is nothing without execution and that’s where ‘Almost Human’ shines. It’s a premise that rarely gets old and the star power of two successful Hollywood actors in Urban (‘LotR: The Two Towers & Return of the King’, ‘Red’, ‘Judge Dredd’) and Ealy (‘Think Like a Man’, ‘Underworld: Awakenings’, ‘Barbershop’) along with their fabulous chemistry and witty dialogue has this ship headed in the right direction. A good supporting cast along with the mysteries surrounding Anna’s involvement with the Syndicate helps build a wonderful foundation that will continue to grow so long as the stories grow tighter and the dangers become more real.
‘Almost Human’ is a very fun ride that even in sampling other sci-fi movies and shows, clamors for a closer look as it builds towards its own unique mythology.