Must See Genre TV: Almost Human is Almost Perfect
If Blade Runner and Fringe had a baby then it would surely be called Almost Human. Coming to FOX this Fall, the show is bursting with genre pedigree from its star Karl Urban (Star Trek, Dredd) to its executive producer JJ Abrams, who is not exactly known for turning out duds.
Set in a dystopian future (2048) that has witnessed science and technology evolving at an uncontrollable pace, the world stands on the brink of chaos as new unknown drugs and weapons flood the streets. The contraband, we are told, is controlled and distributed by violent and faceless criminal organizations such as the sinister Insynidcate, and the crime rate has risen by 400%. Outnumbered and overwhelmed, law enforcers now require all police officers to be partnered with advanced combat-model androids for their own protection.
When Detective John Kennex (Urban) attempts to come to the assistance of a seriously injured colleague while fighting Insyndicate forces, his AI analyses his chances of survival before making the coolly logical decision to abandon him to his fate. What happens next cripples Kennex and leaves his team dead at the scene.
Fast forward two years, and Kennex is a shell of a man, depressed, suffering from post traumatic stress, unable to come to terms with injuries that have left him with an artificial limb and also missing crucial memories from that fateful day. Kennex has taken to visiting a backstreet recollectionist, who may be able to restore his memories for a price, if the procedure doesn’t kill him first.
However when Kennex’s newly assigned AI begins to hone in on his illegal activities, the detective deactivates him (read ‘pushes him out of a moving vehicle’), and is grudgingly assigned another model. But this new model is not like the old one. Decommissioned several years ago for its emotional unpredictability, the DRN, or Dorian as he calls himself (Michael Ealy), is an AI capable not just of recording data, but of extrapolating from it and of reaching conclusions, something the newer replacement models are not able to do. Dubbed the AI with the ‘Synthetic Soul,’ the DRN is designed to mirror human behavior in every way and is capable of a large range of emotional responses. In short this is a partner who would never have left Kennex or his team to die and gradually as realization dawns, the part android cop and the part human android – or two cops from the scrap heap, as one of Kennex’s colleagues unkindly puts it – form a tentative bond of friendship.
Almost Human is both visually impressive (we’re talking movie quality effects) and highly reminiscent of FOX’s now ended Fringe series (think weird future science, DNA monstrosities and futuristic weaponry) as well as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (think noodles, neon signs, dark rain-washed cityscapes and unpredictable synthetics questioning what it means to be human). The pilot episode is pacy and confidently executed and both Urban and Ealey seem perfectly cast in their roles as two men who share the same sense of brokenness and obsolescence.
If we had to gripe about something it might be the stray moment or two of wince-worthy dialog such as DRN’s comment to Kennex “You just violated the crap out of that guy’s civil rights.” There are also characters whose intentions similarly seem a little too on the nose, such as Kennex’s jealous colleague, Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby) who blames him for the death of his squad, and Minka Kelly’s Detective Stahl who spends much of her onscreen time in the pilot episode staring wistfully or lustfully at Kennex. However given time, and something else to do, these characters may blossom into something more interesting as the series progresses.
On the whole, Almost Human is must see TV for genre fans this Fall. Chances are if you’ve been bereaved by the loss of Fringe, this will be your next big love.
Almost Human is set to premiere Mondays 8:00 to 9:00 pm ET/PT from Monday November 4. The series is executive-produced by Emmy Award winner J.J. Abrams and creator J.H. Wyman and stars Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook and Michael Irby.