Sunday, January 26, 2014

Almost Human - A Little Cyber, A Little Punk

I'm enjoying Fox's sci-fi cop show Almost Human far more than I thought I would.

The pilot gave us a fairly paint-by-numbers dystopian, crime-ridden future where police are required to be paired with android partners.  We are introduced to Det. John Kennex, played by Karl Urban (Eomer, Dr. McCoy, Judge Dredd), a trauma-stricken cop whose last bad day on the job put him into a coma and cost him his flesh-and-blood partner as well as his leg.  Fixed up with a synthetic leg he resents and paired up with a pedantic and calculating para-military MX android that rubs him the wrong way,  it isn't long before he pushes it out of his moving car into highway traffic, with predictable results.

Kennex is given the opportunity to partner up with a discontinued DRN model android, designed to simulate emotional responses through a protocol called 'synthetic soul'.  Dorian, we learn, is observant, humorous and passionate, but must pit his extraordinary abilities against the prejudices of almost everyone around him, from his own partner's distrust of machines to those who consider the DRN series to be an unpredictable liability, 'one of the crazy ones'.

Like a lot of shows, the pilot has a lot of backstory and motivation to get out of the way, which doesn't leave a lot of room for actual storytelling or even worldbuilding, but later episodes have explored a setting with an assortment of near-future sci-fi ideas, from lovebots wearing stolen skin (!), through the dark side of social media, to someone trying to immortalize themselves through cloning.

Still, even with intriguing ideas in the mix, Almost Human is really just another police procedural, with an unfortunately common buddy-cop motif that isn't even new to science fiction (Alien Nation anyone?)... until Kennex and Dorian have to drive someplace.

Almost all the best interaction of Almost Human comes not from interrogations or gunfights (although they tend to be pretty entertaining), but from the patter in the front seat of their electric police cruiser.  We learn the depth of Dorian's 'artificial' personality, and the limitations of Kennex's bigotry.  For instance, there is some great discourse after Kennex wanders into the charging area to pick up Dorian, but ends up seeing a naked MX (which they could show on prime time since they are completely featureless below the belt):

To be fair, the show is not without its flaws; in addition to a lacklustre pilot, there is the surprising lack of arrests on the program.  I'm guessing that future prisons must be fairly, since almost everyone would rather go down in a hail of gunfire than be incarcerated.  Some of the tech they use is inconsistent: if a pocket-sized gizmo can generate a force-field strong enough to contain a bomb blast, why bother with body armour? And since Dorian is completely networked, he can access police files, employee records and darned near anything else, which is great if your job is to be the exposition and not a detective.  Thankfully they have found a couple of imaginative ways to limit his abilities, including an inability to recharge due to rolling blackouts...

Almost Human has been on an upward trend in terms of the quality of its writing, and its lively dialogue and engaging characters are enough to keep me checking out the series for the time being.  Everyone in the house enjoys it, and there is very little happening in the way of a larger arc, which is actually kind of a relief, given how many of the shows I enjoy (Agents of SHIELD, Arrow) really depend on it; as a result, it shouldn't prove too difficult to jump in mid-season if you are so inclined.  The series is only 9 episodes in, and well worth checking out if you like action, comedy, or science-fiction, despite Fox's terrible track record with sci-fi.


  1. Despite its weaknesses I'm enjoying Almost Human; aside from the inconsistencies you mention, I think it's done an excellent job of worldbuilding a believable near-future, and the leads are charismatic; the supporting players are also enjoyable. This is the sort of show that has enough potential to really take off and become another Buffy or TNG. Will it? We'll only know if we keep watching.

  2. I was a huge fan of "Space: Above & Beyond" but even I know better than to blame FOX for all of the sci-fi woes of Prime time. Neither "Dollhouse" or "Firefly" had ratings to back up the larger than life word of mouth both hand.

    Granted the Friday night death slot of prime time didn't help but fans who were supposed to be excited about the shows really, um, er, weren't.

    Even then the mediocre fare of the Scyfy/Space channels is really, really disappointing. It's become so painfully formulaic that I really have trouble watching it. They all operate from the same checklist:

    A.) Made up word for a profanity we can't say in prime time. (Thanks Battlestar!)

    B.) Deeply researched alien language that only .00001% of watchers care about.

    C.) Borderline deviant/non-mainstream behavior to show how progressive/regressive/dystopian the future/alternate reality is.

    D.) Cliché strong female lead in a role that is neither genre defining or isn't a retread.

    I know I'm semi-ranting but there's only one show in recent years that has impressed me out of the pack and here in the U.S. they've handled it terribly: "Millennium" which I'm pretty sure the Canadian Sci-fi channel, Space, didn't even develop. (Which really impresses me.) It's not filled with "B" tier actors who all appear in the genre shows and has a fairly impressive level of writing with only a few really awful scripts here and there.

    I have started to finally watch "Sleepy Hollow" and have had a few laugh out loud moments so I'll give "Almost Human" a shake as well.

  3. If anyone is interested:

    Cable ratings for Defiance:

    Then the jump to prime time network:

    Firefly Ratings:

    Dollhouse Ratings:

    Agents of Shield ratings:

    Shield is staying ahead of the 6 million mark but if it drops much beyond that it will be in trouble. I couldn't find solid numbers about Buffy but my guess is it never crested above 3 million even at it's best.