Almost Human: TV Review
Fox's new sci-fi show has enough polish, plot and action to bring viewers into a genre series that's a welcome addition to broadcast television and gives the network a strong one-two punch.
There’s a lot to like about Fox’s latest drama entry, the sci-fi heavy police procedural Almost Human. It has action, intrigue and humor, and it can’t hurt to be futuristic in a small-screen attempt to conjure up a Blade Runner vibe.
An equally important element is that Fox is putting Almost Human on Monday nights (following a sneak peek on Sunday, Nov. 17, which will give it a football lead-in), and there’s only drama competition from The CW, which means there’s no real competition for a drama. The Voice on NBC and How I Met Your Mother on CBS are stalwarts, but Almost Human gives some fresh blood to Fox in the Bones slot, which then slips into freshman hit Sleepy Hollow. That’s a good, solid two-hour block that some people (here’s one hand up) will find as a welcome diversion from singing shows and tired sitcoms.
Almost Human is being touted as something from executive producer J.J. Abrams (both the Star Trek and Mission Impossible franchises, plus Lost and Fringe), but it was created by J.H. Wyman (Fringe). The series is set 35 years in the future, 2048, and focuses on a very futuristic, unrecognizable Los Angeles and Det. John Kennex (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), who is just returning to the police force after nearly being killed in an ambush.
Kennex was devastated by the attack, losing a partner, a leg and suffering a deep depression that, to this point, has all combined to keep him off the force. But he’s back, mostly with the help of Capt. Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor), who believes someone is leaking information to a deadly renegade group called The Syndicate, which is terrorizing the city and which was responsible for the attack on Kennex.
In this modern world, the cops are losing the battle against outside forces. For some time now, the department has been using robotic or android partners. Upon his return, Kennex is teamed up with the latest model, the MX-43, which not only can spout endless amounts of information like a computer, but lacks emotional elements that undercut the previous, now-discontinued version of the robots.
Naturally, Kennex is not keen on the robots -- especially since they tend to probe him for weaknesses they can report. Also, Kennex is rejecting his synthetic leg for reasons we're not quite sure of. And faster than you can say "annoying android," Kennex has pushed his bot partner out of the car because it knows he might be getting illegal drugs off the black market in a dangerous part of town.
Fresh out of MX-43s, Kennex is instead partnered, allegedly temporarily, with an older, discontinued model. This one is named Dorian (Michael Ealy) and his line was put out of commission mostly because they were engineered to be almost too human -- they had emotions, etc. That was seen as a flaw in the field and the more brutal, task-assessment MX-43s have been the preferred choice ever since. But Kennex slowly, begrudgingly begins to have a fondness for Dorian’s emotional side and a buddy-cop show is born.
What makes Almost Human work is that it’s clear that Wyman, schooled in the J.J. Abrams worldview, has a real sense of a mythological backstory to Kennex and the wider world. But the series also operates as a weekly procedural, which shouldn’t put up resistance to people who fear committing to an ongoing serialized story.
Both Urban and Ealy are good, and the show is adding John Larroquette. Minka Kelly is also a regular. Luckily, nobody overdoes the modernity angle in their acting and so Almost Human feels grounded -- dark, dirty and lived-in, almost like Blade Runner (the pilot was directed by Brad Anderson). There are enough futuristic elements (a variety of cars, including what looks like a high-gloss, rolling doughnut; advanced weaponry; technological advancements; etc.) that the show feels fresh.
Coming very late in the fall launch game, Almost Human benefits by not having to fight the crowds and could catch on. It’s certainly worth the Sunday-Monday double blast of its premiere and offers viewers something fresh and worthwhile, particularly if it can keep up the vibe of the pilot.