From Lost to Fringe, Revolution and Person of Interest, just about every new genre TV concept seems to have JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production team behind it lately. And the train shows no sign of slowing just yet. We sat down with both Abrams and Fringe creator JH Wyman last week to discuss their latest TV collaboration, Almost Human, a futuristic buddy cop procedural which premieres on FOX on Sunday Nov. 17.
Set in the near future, and staring Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, Almost Human depicts a society overrun by crime, necessitating all cops to be partnered with artificial intelligences as partners. When technophobe Kennex (Urban) is partnered with the oddly human AI Dorian (Ealy), the scene is set for an odd couple buddy cop procedural with a distinctly futuristic bent.
“It is very much a cop procedural show, which is a very familiar show,” says Abrams. “We’ve seen a million buddy/cop shows and the fun of that was twisting it in a way that Joel [JH Wyman] came up with, which is having it set in a place and with specific characters that allow for conflict and cases every week that don’t feel like everything you’ve seen a million times before. I think that this show has a level of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done. I think that part of it is just the relationship between Karl and Michael’s characters.”
The similarities to Fringe, including the presence of weird science, futuristic tech and government conspiracies, are evident in Almost Human, and Abrams and Wyman are candid on just how cult classic Fringe led to their latest endeavor.
“Basically, for us, the idea was that we had done Fringe; it was on FOX. We had great partners there,” said Wyman. “It was just the idea itself; it just inherently seemed like it was a really big, fun, exciting idea that was a very popcorn idea. Fringe had certain elements of it that were much more serious and contemplative. We thought it’d be really, really fun to have something that was really big and bombastic [by comparison].”
“I think the network model right now really promotes those kinds of ideas, something that is big and more popcorny, something that could be definitely an action-oriented program. We were in a great position. Then, luckily and fortunately on Fringe, with our partners at Warner Brothers and Fox, and we decided to continue the relationship.”
“For me, on Fringe, a lot of the research that I did, and got to experience on a week-to-week basis, really definitely influenced the direction of this program and how it was conceived. When you start to get involved in what’s possible, what technology is out there, how is science dangerously out of control, what are we up against as the human race? It just really starts to make your mind expand with all these concepts that you sometimes worry about and sometimes go, wow, that’s really wild.”
“That for me was a huge influence. Looking at what’s to come, in my experience on Fringe, it definitely was the seed of this program. I’ve always loved to talk about what ifs and scenarios of look where we’re going. This is a perfect platform for these cautionary tales and ‘what if’ scenarios.”
Teaming up with Fringe creator JH Wyman was something Abrams admits he was keen to do again. “I think that the fun of working with someone who loves the ‘what if’ and is able to imagine situations and characters that make you laugh as much as it makes you squirm because the ideas are so close to what’s possible. On Fringe, as crazy as things were, and it got pretty crazy, they were so often things that felt like, God, that just seems like something that might be happening right now. Then almost invariably you’d read about something within weeks or months that proved that out. It’s always been fun working with Joel and Almost Human is no different.”
Future tech and Fringe pedigree aside, Almost Human will inevitably play second fiddle to the unique relationship between the show’s leads.
“What Michael Ealy brings to this role is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion and he is playing a character who is, by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop,” notes Abrams.
“But he’s also as altruistic and as considerate and empathetic as you would want. I think what Michael brings is that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The title Almost Human, of course, applies to both Karl and Michael’s characters. I think that the idea when Joel pitched it was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was in many ways more human than his partner.”
By comparison, notes Wyman, Karl Urban’s Kennex is “a little bit worried about the advancement of technology and where that’s led humanity and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new developments and unchecked growth with technology.”
“He feels, while he appreciates technology, such as things like the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for the police, he still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics, or synthetics. He looks at that and is forced to kind of deal with the idea that his well-being now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with a sense of contempt. That’s the journey for him, is that he’s starting to realize it’s not the technology that’s bad; it’s how you use it.”
Catch Almost Human’s two night series premiere Sunday November 17 and Monday November 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.