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J.J. Abrams and Joel Wyman Talk ‘Almost Human’

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Both J.J. Abrams and Joel Wyman have a very respectable list of science fiction under their belts: for Abrams, it’s the widely popular Star Trek reboot movies, as well as his work on Revolution and Fringe. The latter is a project he’s teamed up on with Wyman, and now the two are partners yet again, on another science fiction show set to air on Fox on November 17: Almost Human.

It’s a fairly simple but exciting premise: in the not-so-distant future, a human cop, John Kennex (played Karl Urban of Star Trek fame, and possessing a rather deeply entrenched dislike of robots) is forced to team up with an android partner, Dorian (Michael Ealy), to solve crimes. As a science fiction premise, it’s intriguing: the melding of humanity and robotics allows for the potential of both great interaction between the leads and an exploration of those questions that science fiction is so good at tackling – including, notably, the question of humanity.

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I had a chance to listen in on a conference call with both producers (and ask some questions of my own), and in the process got to hear some very exciting things about the upcoming show. J.J. and Joel talked about science fiction in general, this show in particular, and what sets it apart.

It’s that science fiction element that makes Almost Human incredibly special. “We’ve seen a million buddy/cop shows, and the fun of that was twisting it in a way that Joel 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,” Abrams noted. And, in a world where CSI: Everywhere has become ubiquitous (literally), it’s an exciting premise to infuse a procedural with such a different science fiction element.

Almost Human is also different than Abrams’ and Wyman’s previous collaboration, Fringe. “The difference,” Wyman notes, “is that Fringe had a mythology every week, that was the main thrust of it…People immediately gravitated toward that mythology.” Almost Human differs from that, with its focus being on the weekly cases and the way those develop both the characters and relationships on the show. Instead of mythology, there’s going to be a lot of action, but also, as Abrams both teasingly and climactically insisted, “cases you’ve never really seen before, or concepts you have seen, but just told in very different ways.”

But amidst the differences, there are also similarities – to other works of science fiction, and to both producers’ previous work in the genre.  Abrams and Wyman are well-versed in science fiction, and their love of it has definitely influenced their work.  Both producers seemed incredibly excited by the possibilities this show offered to continue exploring those ideas their other science fiction work had raised.

“My experience on Fringe, it definitely was the seed of this program,” Wyman noted. “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.” Excited by the possibilities, he listed the big questions he’s interested in having the show tackle:  “What technology is out there, how is science dangerously out of control, what are we up against as the human race?”

We got a preview of exactly what some of those complex questions and what-if scenarios might look like in the story itself. For one thing, our human protagonist, John Kennex, has a synthetic leg, meaning that a conflict between humanity and technology is a theme literally embodied by the series protagonist. “[Kennex] still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics, or synthetics,” says Wyman. “He’s 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.” But, he adds, on a more optimistic note, “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.”

The series also promises to tackle the important subject of ethics. When one creates artificial intelligence, there arises the obvious question of defining what should be considered alive or human. Wyman gives an exciting preview of this issue as well, mentioning the ethical questions that their consulting MIT roboticist (and doesn’t that sound like it came out of an Asimov novel?) helped them develop as they worked on the show: “Those concepts of what exactly is a robot?  What is an android?  What is a being?  If it’s able to think, if it’s able to be, then what?” Sentient robots may be a long way off from our reality, but in the story, we get a glimpse of that future, where, as Wyman says, the robots “are definitely robots, not human.” However, he hurries on to add “They’re not becoming human, but they’re definitely becoming beings.”

But, besides its potential to touch upon some thorny issues of 21st Century society, the show also promises a phenomenal assortment of actors to add entertainment to the intellectual stimulation. Wyman practically gushed about the contributions made by the two leads, Michael Ealy and Karl Urban, as well as the supporting cast.  “We knew that fundamentally they were right for the roles,” he insisted, “but just who they are, and what they bring to it, and what they’ve examined now having these roles as actors, and what they dug into, has just made the show that much more rich and provided us with a lot of opportunities and avenues that we didn’t even dream of.”

In addition, the story promises both humor and optimism; in keeping with the ideology of that other great science fiction show, Star Trek, Wyman describes his – and the series’ – conception of the future in similarly hopeful terms.  “[W]e will have some hardships as a human race and it will be difficult at times, but ultimately, we will persevere because that’s truly what I believe,” he offers.

Which is all to say that, at this moment in time, Almost Human sounds like it has a lot to offer, from a compelling story and interesting characters to ideas and hope. With that in mind, I can’t wait for the birthday present that it’s sure to be (and yes, Fox has picked a pretty perfect premiere date for that). Let’s just hope that it lives up to all the expectations.

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About Anastasia Klimchynskaya

My mind rebels at stagnation. Find the rebellious thoughts of that constantly racing mind at my blog, Monitoring the Media.