Created by J.H. Wyman for Bad Robot Productions, Almost Human is Fox’s latest attempt to swim in the Science Fiction pool. This time, though, they’ve jumped into the deep end and it pays off splendidly from the initial concept to the cinematography to the special effects design to the inspired casting. There’s a casual familiarity to the world Wyman is creating here that feels like a natural extension of the work he did as Producer/Showrunner on Fringe. It doesn’t hurt that Almost Human‘s Cinematographer Tom Yatsko, Production Designer Ian D. Thomas, and Special Effects Coordinator Bob Comer, are also all veterans of Fringe.
I was a little concerned leading up to the premiere after news broke in September that Executive Producer and Co-Showrunner Naren Shankar (who has a nice resume himself, including work on one of my favorite shows of all time: Farscape), left the series due to creative differences, leaving Wyman the sole Showrunner. After that disastrous final season of Fringe — Wyman’s first as solo Showrunner — I didn’t quite know what to expect. Although, in retrospect, that final season might have fared better as a whole new show rather than as a continuation of Fringe. And on the plus side, Fringe didn’t really come into its own until Wyman and Jeff Pinkner took over as Co-Showrunners with the start of Season Two.
And hell, I think Seasons Two and Three are some of the best SF TV ever. So there.
One of the main strengths of those seasons was the way the alternate world’s advanced technology was integrated into the everyday workings of the characters, allowing the storytelling to unfold organically in a fully-realized Science Fiction environment. And this production team is doing the same thing with Almost Human.
The narrative framework here is essentially the same as that of the alternate reality Fringe Unit’s; a high-tech police procedural with an overarching story involving terrorist activity. Where Fringe was playing around with two worlds, however, Almost Human is staying fairly conservative right out of the gate (at least with the structure of the episodes; not so much with the content). So much so, in fact, that if it wasn’t for the charisma of the lead actors, I don’t know how engaging the show would be.
Mr. Science Fiction himself, Karl Urban (Chronicles of Riddick/Riddick, Doom, Star Trek/Star Trek into Darkness, Priest, Dredd, etc.) stars as Detective John Kennex, the manliest man who ever manned up for manliness. After he tosses his mandated robot partner out of a moving car (Manly!) for annoying him (Double Manly!), Detective Kennex is assigned a new robot partner — this time a discontinued model named Dorian and played with cool assurance by Michael Ealy. Dorian’s line was shelved due to some “malfunctions” caused by being programmed to behave as human-like as possible.
And if the first two episodes are any indication, that included pretty much total independence in their decision making. Dorian seems more human than Kennex when the series begins, and their dynamic is the glue that should keep viewers watching, even when the actual plots are goofy (or borderline nonsensical). And the plot of episode two is pretty darned goofy.
In fact, the plots for the Pilot — terrorist group targets cops with designer plague so they can steal some unknown something from the evidence room — and Episode 2: “Skin” — Sexbot makers kidnap and steal the skins from women because it’s much better than the synthetic skin the Sexbots (or Bangbots, depending on who you ask) already have — border on utter stupidity. Although I liked the idea of the designer plague, it really wasn’t executed very well at all after the first kill.
The best parts of both episodes have been Kennex and Dorian driving around bickering and being smartasses to each other. Dorian’s playfulness is an excellent counter to Kennex’s dour, barely subdued hostility, and watching that playfulness rub off on the emotionally damaged cop is priceless (see: Stabbing himself in his cyborg leg because he thinks it will entertain children). Add to that, Dorian setting up an online dating account for Kennex under the pseudonym Doctor Richard (pronounced Ree-shard — but all I could do was laugh and say “Doctor Dick!” over and over) after scanning the detective’s testicles and concluding that he was “backed up” and needed a sexual outlet.
I’m almost sad that there has to be boring-ass cop stuff interfering with the fun.
The other performer who got me to watch is Lili Taylor as Captain Sandra Maldonado, but unfortunately she is entirely wasted here. She’s the tough-but-fair boss who hooked Kennex up with Dorian for a mystery reason, and so far she’s not really being given much to do. And it was kind of painful watching her force the word Sexbot out of her mouth with a straight face.
So we’re two episodes in and instead of a cop show, I want to see Urban and Ealy drive around and play with tech while being lovingly dickish to each other. I have a feeling that’s not what Fox signed on for, so expect more borderline stupid cop plots that allow our heroes to bond in curmudgeonly gruff ways while providing a few moments here and there to ponder the morality involved in having robotic slaves.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.