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TELEVISION REVIEW: FTN review Almost Human S01E01

November 23rd, 2013 by Irwin Fletcher Comments

Created by: J.H. Wyman
Starring: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy and Lili Taylor

In a not-so-distant future, human cops and androids partner up to protect and serve.

Almost Human had my interest from the moment the first trailer for it appeared, mainly as the first thing I thought of when I saw it was how reminiscent the plot was of 90s Sci-Fi classic Total Recall 2070, which was about a robot-hating human detective who was paired with a very advanced android who was a near perfect replica of a human.

Almost Human is set thirty-five years in the future when humans in the L.A.P.D. are paired up with lifelike androids; detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) , who has a dislike for robot partners, survives a devastating ambush and is partnered with an android named Dorian (Micheal Ealy), an android capable of emotion.

See what I mean?

That said, the plot for The Raid and Dredd (which also starred Karl Urban) look the same on paper but are very different in execution, so I was willing to give it a chance.

I prefer my television futures to be dark and nasty places, more Blade Runner than I, Robot and Almost Human delivers the darkness in spades. Gangs run amok in a dystopian future; the crime rate has increased by 400%, which is why the cops need robot help to do their job. While people do drive on the ground, the obligatory flying cars are present, seemingly reserved for emergency services.

However, a personal niggle I have is everything looks clean, even the dodgiest areas of the city look like someone has recently taken a sponge to them. Fringe and the recent Total Recall film had the same look, apparently in this dystopian future there will be no dust, even the rubble from explosions looks like it was washed down with a power hose.

The pilot opens with a battle between the cops and some syndicate types, the aforementioned ambush, it’s a pretty intense action sequence and not for the squeamish. It sets up Urban’s detective character nicely, a combat robot refuses to help him save his wounded partner ala I, Robot and abandons them in the middle of the battlefield.

It does not end well for them.

When the scene ends we fastforward two years after the ambush, and what we just witnessed was a Kennexs memory of the events, which he was viewing by using a black market recollection service -or a fricking recall device as anyone who’d ever seen either of the movies or the TV show would call it.

It took 4 minutes and 39 seconds for this show to start getting on my nerves. That’s a new record.

Kennex is called back to active duty as the Syndicate have resurfaced and is paired with a standard robot partner. The other cops blame him for the deaths at the ambush and his reception is frosty at best, though Gina Carano’s character seems to be there as a future love interest and little more unfortunately.

While he is recovered physically, Kennex has some mental hang ups and using a black market recall machine hasn’t helped. When the side effect of this manifest and the standard issue robot informs him that it will be making a report of it to his boss, it has an ‘accident’.

This is where Micheal Ealy makes his first appearance as Dorian, a decommissioned robot from a line deemed a failure due to its experimental software causing emotional issues that lead to incidents. There’s a bit of a Frankenstein moment as he is zapped to life with a shock stick.

At this stage it becomes a classic old cop gets new partner situation, Dorian soon proves himself to be a valuable asset and Kennex begrudgingly accepts him as a new partner.

The robot/alien partner as a metaphor for race relations is an old trope for sci-fi but it’s presented in a very heavy handed way here – Dorian seems offended whenever he is referred to as a Synthetic , which happens several times in the show, referring to it as ‘that word’. Now, if he wasn’t a robot but just a plain old African-American what word would you think he was referring to?

Seriously, I know the show’s on Fox but they’re laying it on way too thick.

From there on everything is a mix of the plot from Total Recall 2070 and the special FX from Fringe. In particular the weapons deployed by the bad guys are taken directly from Fringe, by which I mean those exact things were used in episodes of Fringe.

The second episode is a Ghost in the Shell affair that suffers from all the same problems, borrowing even more from Total Recall 2070.

The production values are on a par with the final season of Fringe, no surprise given the people behind that are also involved in this. This alone puts it ahead of most sci-fi shows. The pairing of Urban and Ealy works brilliantly but the writing is atrocious; it’s full of heavy-handed metaphors and borrows heavily from other shows.

Fox have already started messing around with the series, postponing the show’s launch for two weeks and then splitting what was supposed to be a feature length pilot into two episodes on consecutive nights. Fans of Firefly may interpret this messing around as a signal that this show is set for a similar fate, in this case however I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that would do anything except give the actors a chance to move on to something more innovative.

I could yet be proven wrong; maybe they are playing it safe for the first few episodes, not going anywhere new in case it scares the right wing conservatives that run Fox. Maybe the third episode will show us something new.

However, I believe it will more than likely continue to recycle stories, albeit with better production values, until it ends its only season and sinks to obscurity, only coming into play for tough six degrees of Kevin Bacon questions.

I'm an LA journalist who really lives for his profession. I have also published work as Jane Doe in various mags and newspapers across the globe. I normally write articles that can cause trouble but now I write for FTN because Nerds are never angry, so I feel safe.