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TV Review: ‘Almost Human’

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With a great cast and a setting in a crime-ridden near future (2048), Fox’s newest scripted drama Almost Human holds a lot of promise as compelling science fiction/police procedural drama. After the first four episodes, the series definitely has me hooked.AH.107.1

Karl Urban (Star Trek, Lord of the Rings) stars as John Kennex, a policeman who’d lost everything in an ambush, including his right leg. In a coma for many months, he is brought into a brave new world of policing, in which each human cop is outfitted with an android partner. Trusting neither the technology nor the robotic parnter, Kennex is introduced to a different sort of android cop — Dorian (Michael Ealy), a  discontinued model designed to be, well, not so robotic.

Kennex — the human — carries with him a lot of baggage; he’s tough, street smart and cynical. In the year and half he’s been out of it, technology that has advanced quite far, and by the time we meet him — and he’s met it — technology has spun out of control and has become not only the double-edged sword it has always been, but a laser-edged weapon with the ability to do great harm on many levels.

Kennex’s lost leg has also been replaced a prosthesis — a realistic robotic limb. But it’s a huge issue for him, rendering him not completely human. Part of him, at least his leg, is android — synthetic.

During a recent conference call with the show’s executive producers J.H. Wyman (Fringe) and J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek, Revolution), Wyman noted that 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.”

Kennex’s journey is reconciling the good and bad of the technology that makes his health and well-being possible. “He looks at that,” Wyman said, “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.”

Urban enjoys playing the part, noting in a recent conference call that “he can be kind of prickly on the surface but as we get to spend more time with him in the show we get to see a real softer side to him.”

Kennex’s journey starts from a place distrust, particularly problematic because his partner is, well, a robot. Urban explained, “At first, as you see in the pilot, Kennex is pretty averse to accepting robots, robot technology, but the wonderful thing is that he forms this incredible bond with Dorian and he really comes to accept and see the value and the special unique qualities that this robot has.  For me that’s such an endearing evolution in the character.  I think that’s been one of my most favorite aspects of portraying Kennex.”

Dorian, the android, was created to have a deep emotional core along with the mad computer skills one would expect of a partner with a computer for a brain. Abrams noted that Ealy imbues Dorian with “an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion, 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.”

Ealy models Dorian on characters from three movies (or series): Jason Bourne, the Terminator 2, and  Robert Patrick’s version and Starman, played by Jeff Bridges.  Ealy noted in a recent confeThose are all three movies that I kind of watched over and over again to try and find a good, strong foundation for Dorian. In one sense, Dorian is nearly more human than the cynical Kennex. He’s nice, compassionate, caring, emotional. He wonders about his own humanity. He is the flip side of Kennex, whose humanity is atrophied from disuse. Perhaps together, they are one complete human being.

According to Abrams, the series 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.”

The pilot episode opens up the board with the suggestion of a rich, textured mythology, only touched upon in episode one. The episodes following thus far have plucked the threads of this promise, but only lightly, as they have followed on a more straightforward procedural track. And, make no mistake, Almost Human is indeed a cop/buddy show. Yet, the details of the near-future world in which our heroes reside continue to elevate it, provide ample room for social commentary and create a unique world that is detailed and layered.

The look of Almost Human has echoes of the iconic Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Acknowledging the debt owed to the classic film, Wyman hopes, however, Almost Human strikes a more optimistic note than the bleak world of Blade Runner. “I think what we were talking about is something a little bit more hopeful, that we 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.”

“I really believe that the world is going to get it right somehow,” he continued. “I wanted to make it a brighter environment where it’s not raining all the time, the atmosphere is not completely ruined, that people still have children and are very excited about their daughter’s seven-year-old birthday party.  That they’ll want to do what they can to get her that present that she wants.  That there is a sense of going forward and a sense of, okay, this is the future in 40 years.” 

Although Almost Human isn’t really an ensemble show (at least not at this stage), Urban and Ealy are backed by a fabulous cast of supporting players. 

Urban is coaxed back into action by a longtime ally, Captain Sandra Maldonado (played by Emmy Award nominee Lili Taylor, Six Feet Under, Ransom). And the genius behind much of the android tech is Rudy Lom.

Played by British stage, film and television actor Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Carribbean, Game of Thrones, British version of The Office), is all wired and nervous energy, a sort of “Q” figure for Kennex. But there’s more to the character, and in last week’s episode “The Bends,” we see Rudy go undercover for the first time, giving Crook the chance to move beyond the comic relief and allow us to see a richer picture of him. There is a certain undercurrent in his character that goes beyond the tech and suggests an interesting relationship he has with the androids he creates.

I’ll be reviewing Almost Human weekly here on Blogcritics, focussing on the plot, but trying to dig a little deeper between the lines and into the characters and social commentary suggested the episodes. So stay tuned!

Almost Human airs on Fox Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. ET

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.