That other “Human” show.
Karl Urban returned to the small screen this fall in the very genre titled, Almost Human.
As if Karl Urban’s face wasn’t enough to make me tune in, the show was created by J.H. Wyman who had me at “Fringe.” J.J. Abrams signed on as an executive producer along with Wyman and Bryan Burk. Knowing only that Urban would be portraying a cop in the future, I tuned in prepared to be blown away with high style and intriguing plots that left me pondering their outcome long into the night, after I’d turned my television off. The season didn’t come quite that close but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.
Not to be confused with Being Human, the show about a vampire, werewolf and ghost shacking up in Boston (or Bristol if you prefer your sci-fi with an English accent), this show has a slick urban setting and science-based plot themes. Set in 2048, technology has developed so quickly that the crime rate has risen 400% in Almost Human Land. Due to this, every police officer is assigned an android partner. They’re life-like enough to avoid CGI portrayal, but artistry and contact lenses have made them distinct as androids.
Visually, it’s very reminiscent of Fringe and Star Trek with blue overtones and strong saturation. Thankfully, less lens flares than Star Trek and more open and airy than Fringe. The future, being only fifty years away, is realistically advanced. There are odd-shaped vehicles and holographic computer screens everywhere giving it that pleasant in-the-future style, but there are also modern-day semi trucks cruising down the highway keeping the show feeling as though this world is possible just a generation away.
Leading the cast is Karl Urban as Detective John Kennex, a human cop with a slight chip on his shoulder and not much love for the android officers. Two years prior to where the story begins, Kennex led a raid with his partner on the criminal group Insyndicate, but the raid goes awry and the accompanying logic-based android abandons Kennex rather than help him attempt to save his partner. Kennex’s partner is killed and Kennex loses a leg in a blast falling into a coma for seventeen months.
As we enter the Almost Human universe, Kennex has a handy new cybernetic leg and rejoins the squad thanks to Captain Maldonado, portrayed by Lili Taylor. The commanding yet compassionate Captain, assigns a MX-43 (another logic-based android) to Kennex. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for the droid. Urban takes the first step into earning the viewer’s admiration as he portrays Kennex casually pushing the MX-43 out the car onto the highway when the stickler-for-the-rules android attempts to report Kennex for breaking protocol.
Enter Michael Ealy as Dorian. Captain Maldonado, realizing her detective isn’t going to so easily play along, assigns a re-commissioned DRN model android to Kennex. The DRN models are designed to be as human-like as possible (see: can’t deal with crap and suffer from emotional trauma) which initially caused their replacement by the logic-based units. But the wise Maldonado says, “Hey, Kennex has got issues, let’s give him an android with issues too.” And there, a beautiful friendship is born.
Michael Ealy’s portrayal of Dorian is a lovely one. He creates a warm, gracious character filled with both vulnerability and aggressiveness when needed, with a quick wit capable of slinging the barbs back at Kennex like any good buddy-cop should. Ealy maintains a speech pattern and mannerisms distinct enough to make Dorian perfectly almost human and combined with his arresting features he stands out as the humanoid one of the pair. His laid-back style pairs well with Urban’s sarcastic depiction. Their chemistry is top-notch, creating the best scenes within the show- the car rides.
The humor took me a bit by surprise. I suppose I just wasn’t expecting it from a cop story set in a futuristic world and while some would argue that there are plenty of bromances on television already, the give and take between Kennex and Dorian is endearing and often hilarious with their science-fiction twists from Dorian scanning Kennex’s testicles to Kennex being far less impressive to kids as Dorian to Dorian’s impressive robotic anatomy.
Adding these humorous elements together with a talented cast and solid character set-up creates a thoroughly likeable show. Minka Kelly shines as Detective Valerie Stahl, a “chrome” [genetically engineered human] who goes against the grain by becoming a cop. Also on the roster are Michael Irby as Detective Richard Paul, the irritable but reliable detective at odds with Kennex, Mackenzie Crook as Technician Rudy Lom, the police force’s android expert and the aforementioned Lili Taylor.
The cast really is fantastic. While the season doesn’t stretch the boundaries of their skills, you know instinctively that anything that gets thrown at them, they’re going to portray with amazing capability. Mackenzie Crook, in particular, delivers a strong performance turning Rudy into that underestimated character who you know will really be the most important of all.
So with all this praising, why did this show not quite live up to its imagined marvelous-ness? Short answer: pacing of the main plots. There are two main overlying plots that were introduced in season 1. The first being, Insyndicate the gang and Kennex’s ex-girlfriends involvement with them and what that means to John. The show began with a Kennex desperate to learn answers, still a bit angry at the world but it felt that rather quickly he became much more happy with his routine and being back on the force. So when the issue was again brought into the forefront (thanks to Fox’s rearrangement of the episodes) and Kennex was pill-popping and sweating and wrecking police Ford Fusions in episode ten “Perception”, it felt a little out of left field. And despite learning that Kennex is being watched via surveillance in his house, the issue isn’t revisited before the season’s end.
The second main plot point that is left dangling is regarding “the wall”. In “Unbound” (episode nine), John Larroquette guest stars as Dr. Nigel Vaughn, the scientist who created the DRNs and the “Synthetic Souls” that make Dorian, Dorian. In the end, Dr. Vaughn has an ulterior motive other than just helping the police – he steals the Synthetic Souls and some processing cores and escapes beyond a giant wall (think The Lorax). Whoa, what wall? We’d never seen that before. And yet, you’ll never see it again in season 1.
Almost Human serves up some terrific sci-fi stand-alone episodes with dark and threatening undertones while maintaining a sense of style and excitement. From “Arrhythmia” where people are dying from black market sold human organs to “Simon Says” focusing on a demented man who kills people remotely with bombs and airs it live on the internet to “Beholder” introducing us to a man who kills people to steal their facial features so he can build the perfect version of himself to impress a woman he loves [caaaraaazzzy!]; the singular stories are intriguing and provocative. Therefore, had the main plot points been woven in tighter throughout the season, unity between the episodes would have been felt. The season finale failed to endcap any of the plots presented in the prior twelve episodes, nor explore them further. In fact, I was not even aware this was a thirteen episode run and fully expected another episode as it didn’t have that “finale feel.”
So, why did Detective Stahl choose to become a police officer? What’s the background of Captain Maldonado? Why does The Wall exist? Will we ever know the answers to these questions? Maybe not. The show, as of now, is on the cusp of cancellation. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a second season to fulfill the masses of potential this show contains and I’m hoping the producers come back prepped with stronger writers and a firm sense of where the story is headed. I’d hate to see this cast and premise go to waste.
Almost Human Season 1 Gallery