So I’ve learned over the past couple years that I am an absolute sucker for the J.J. Abrams aesthetic, particularly when it comes to science fiction. I adore Fringe and, although I didn’t write about it, Super 8 was one of my favorite movies of its year. And of course, if I hadn’t seen his Star Trek, a big integral part of this blog might have never gotten off the ground.
You may surmise, then, that I was thrilled to see a new TV SF series from Abrams’ Bad Robot company and produced by him and Fringe contributor J.H. Wyman, who created the show, Almost Human, was to premiere on Fox, which it did this past Sunday and Monday. Karl Urban, the new McCoy, even stars in it! How awesome could this be?
Well, as it turns out, plenty awesome. Almost Human manages to, I think, get back to the “lived-in” SF aesthetic present in the original Star Wars while still managing to feel very real and of-the-now.
So what’s the story? Well, it’s the year 2048 and while technology has moved forward by leaps and bounds, the rate of change is now so fast as to be almost unregulated; thus, criminals are constantly coming up with new tech to confound the cops. Luckily, the police have android officers around to help them.
Det. John Kennex (Urban) and his partner are leading a raid on a crime syndicate when they’re ambushed and his partner is shot to pieces. Kennex, angry that an android refuses to help, saying the man is doomed, attempts dragging him out himself, only to have his leg blown off and himself knocked out.
We cut to two years later, where Kennex, out of a coma and with a robotic leg, returns to active duty. He’s paired with the now-standard MX-model android, but when it proves too coldly robotic, he disagrees with it–by pushing it out of a moving car. Needing something a bit more suited to him, he’s gifted by technician Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an antique DRN model that was deactivated four years ago due to his make being invested with a “synthetic soul”–programming to help them intuit and emote, thus making them better at their jobs–that made them unstable; however, Rudy believes it’s suited perfectly for Kennex because they’re alike. “You’re both a little outdated,” he says.
After some misunderstandings, the two set out to deal with the same syndicate that killed Kennex’s partner as well as take down any criminals they’re assigned against.
So does this concept of heady SF premise + procedural cop show work? Yeah, quite well. To begin with, like I said, the future is sleek, but not too sleek; we have robots, but everyone still drives regular cars. Not a jetpack in sight. Such thinking helps ground the show’s Detroit environment and enables us to pick up on any parallels to the present day that might be made.
And oh boy, do we have some. We’ve got the very partnership of the title as well as Dorian helping Kennex overcome his hatred of androids standing in, on some level, anyway, for race relations; we have sexbots show up to take the place of human prostitiution and I’m sure there’s more to come.
Like other cop shows, this wouldn’t work if there wasn’t chemistry between our duo and Urban and Ealy have it in spades. Ealy, as some have noted, is definitely the star, getting all the best lines and having the most interesting angles to play. But that’s the nature of robots: they might not be fully three-dimensional but they’re meaty parts. It’s made easier by the fact that Dorian has a synthetic soul, thus his emoting is natural and believable within the context of the story.
Urban is great, too, making a perfect verbal sparring partner. Kennex is a bit rote as the grizzled cop veteran, I suppose, but as someone who doesn’t watch cop shows normally, I didn’t really get that vibe. He’s a great presence to pin this show around and it looks like he can pull it off.
Crook–known now and forever as Gareth on the original British Office and Ragetti, the guy with one glass eye from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise–hasn’t gotten a lot of screentime so far, but he owns every minute he gets. He’s a wonderful comedic presence and is easily the best coroner character I’ve ever seen on this sort of show.
Overall, this is a great show and one of the success stories of the fall season. Check it out now on Hulu or on Fox’s website. You’ll be glad you did.