Review: Almost Human 1×1-1×2 (Fox)

Almost all male

Almost Human

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Find it in the schedules where you live

Visions of the future almost by definition have to fit into two camps: things are either going to have to go better or they’re going to have get worse. Whether it’s Robocop, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes or any other piece of sci-fi, authors tend to veer towards either the utopian or the dystopian in their projections.

So to a certain extent you have to give Almost Human a good deal of credit for envisioning a future that is both worse and better. It’s 2048 and science and technology have advanced considerably. Unfortunately, gangs of criminals have access to that technology and the crime rate is increasing at 400%. So the police decide to pair every human detective with a police/combat android, capable of incredible acts of strength and analysis.

Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban from Dredd 3D, Star Trek, The Bourne Supremacy, Xena: Warrior Princess, et al) loses his leg in a police operation that goes badly wrong. When he comes back to duty over a year later, the android he’s paired with annoys him so much he destroys it. So the lab guy (Mackenzie Crook from The Office) gives him one of the older models (Michael Ealy from Common Law, The Good Wife, FlashForward and Sleeper Cell): the ‘crazy ones’ with ‘synthetic souls’, capable of not just emulating but feeling human emotions, in addition to having natural robotic talents. Together, Kennex and ‘Dorian’ have to stop crime and learn to get on with one another, although is that even possible with an android?

And as you might expect from such a rundown, a good deal of imagination has gone into the science-fiction side of things, particularly as it relates to law enforcement, giving us everything from genetically targeted diseases to DNA bombs and robots capable of doing forensic analysis inside their bodies. The show also mines the obvious parallels with racial discrimination that having an underclass/slave population such a set-up gives us.

But as far as the human side of things goes, that’s where the imagination ran out. Here’s a trailer:

From Emmy Award-winning executive producer J.J. Abrams (“Fringe,” “Lost,” “Revolution,” “Person of Interest,” the “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises) and creator/executive producer J.H. Wyman (“Fringe,” “The Mexican”), comes ALMOST HUMAN. Starring Karl Urban ( the “Star Trek” and “The Lord of the Rings” franchises”) and Golden Globe Award nominee Michael Ealy (“Sleeper Cell,” “Common Law”), the new series is an action-packed police procedural set 35 years in the future, when police officers are partnered with highly evolved human-like androids.

The year is 2048. Meet Detective JOHN KENNEX (Urban), a cop who survived one of the most catastrophic attacks ever made against the police department. After waking up from a 17-month coma, he can’t remember much – except that his partner was killed, he lost one of his legs and he is now outfitted with a highly sophisticated synthetic appendage.

Suffering from depression, mental atrophy, trauma-onset OCD, PTSD and the “psychological rejection of his synthetic body part,” John returns to work at the behest of longtime ally Captain SANDRA MALDONADO (Emmy Award nominee Lili Taylor, “Six Feet Under,” “Ransom”). By mandate, every cop must partner with a robot. And despite his passionate aversion to androids, John is paired up with a battle-ready MX-43. But he abruptly terminates his partnership after the robot discovers incriminating information about him. So technician RUDY LOM (Mackenzie Crook, “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise) introduces John to DORIAN (Ealy), a discontinued android with unexpected emotional responses. Although such responses were deemed flaws, it is in these “flaws” that John relates to Dorian most. After all, John is part-machine now, and Dorian is part-human. John and Dorian’s understanding of each other not only complements them, it connects them.

As he adjusts to working with his new partner, John also must learn to get along with his new colleagues, including the sharp and insightful human intelligence analyst Detective VALERIE STAHL (Minka Kelly, “Friday Night Lights,” “(500) Days of Summer”) and the distrustful Detective RICHARD PAUL (Michael Irby, “Law Abiding Citizen,” “The Unit”), who does not welcome John back with open arms. ALMOST HUMAN will follow the week-to-week missions of John and Dorian, as they fight crime across this futuristic landscape, while the mysteries surrounding John’s attack and the larger mythology of this new world unfold.

ALMOST HUMAN is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc., in association with Bad Robot Productions and Warner Bros. Television. The series was created by J.H. Wyman, who wrote the pilot. The series is executive-produced by J.J. Abrams, Wyman and Bryan Burk. Kathy Lingg (“Person of Interest,” “Revolution,” “Fringe”) and Reid Shane (“Fringe”) are co-executive producers. Brad Anderson (“Fringe,” “The Killing”) directed and served as co-executive producer on the pilot.

Is it any good?
It’s very enjoyable, actually, with far more ideas than any Fox show should have access to, by rights. However, at its heart its a very conventional buddy-buddy show, where women are almost superfluous to requirements.

The first episode is largely about establishing the two characters: Kennex, a gruff, old-school detective who doesn’t mind breaking a few rules if he can stop the bad guys and who has minimal social skills, particularly with kids; and Dorian, who paradoxically is more of an easy-going, New Age, people person. The split here is more emotions v brains rather than bad cop/good cop, with Dorian using his greater intelligence and technology to achieve results that Kennex can’t, Kennex having more drive and passion than Dorian to motivate him.

On top of this central, relatively standard pairing, you have the standard ‘nerd in the basement’: Mackenzie Crooke. He’s the guy who fixes things and explains plot segments, as well as occasionally being a bit creepy. And then there’s the gruff captain (Lili Taylor) who won’t put up with any more of Kennex’s nonsense… but still does, Michael Irby (The Unit) as the tough, bigoted cop to antagonise the two buddies, and finally Minka Kelly (Parenthood, Charlie’s Angels) as the hot, understanding but practically line-less fellow cop and potential romantic interest for Kennex.

So essentially it’s a more positive version of Total Recall 2070, marrying some of the aesthetics of Blade Runner and Minority Report, coupled with a standard male cop drama. Indeed, although it’s supposed to be a hopeful vision of the future, it’s depressingly modern-day in its outlook. Sure, we have a female captain and Kelly, but that’s the entire regular female cast and they get nothing to do. And, virtually all the civilian victims are female, all the police and androids are male.* Oh yes, apart from the sexbots in the second episode… Ealy’s performance is good, but would it really have killed them to have had Kennex partner a black female robot (Undercovers’ Gugu Mbatha-Raw would have been a great option)? As it is, it’s making Terra Nova look positively feminist.

Indeed, apart from the sci-fi, the show is largely getting better by on Ealy’s and Urban’s performances, because although there’s some good ‘future shock’ on display, the series arc is pretty minimal at the moment – it’s not even touched on in the second episode – and there’s very little for anyone apart from them to do.

Nevertheless, it’s a couple of good episodes to start the show with and there’s plenty of room for it to develop. Kelly’s role could get a boost, although there’s precious little to work with at the moment. And you know, Gina Carano’s coming by soon. It’s just a question of how long you can get by on buddy-buddy bromance.

* Technically, androids can only be male because the word comes from the Greek word for man, άνδρας. ‘Gynoids’ would be female-looking robots, ‘anthropoids’ would be robots that look like people. But you know what I mean.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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