As television shows are returning from their “fall finales” (when did that become a thing? Shows used to break for the holidays like everyone else with a few re-runs and it was no big deal) and networks trot out mid-season replacements for shows that didn’t catch on, I thought I’d throw my two cents out there on a show those of you out in geek nation should be giving a try (if you’re not already): Almost Human.
Hype was getting drummed up for this back during summer con season right until its delayed November premiere which gave both fans of speculative sci-fi and those who like to trash it something to look forward to. So far, it’s been a mixed bag.
For those unfamiliar, it’s basically a police drama set almost forty years in the future where cops are paired with androids in order to better combat future tech which is being used more often for increasing crime. Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) has returned from a job-related loss of a leg and has issues with these machines, blaming one for his injury. After impatiently destroying his newest partner, Kennex is assigned a reactivated model named Dorian (Michael Ealy) from an older series that was de-commissioned when deemed as “too human” which tended to let that get in the way of job “efficiency”.
Aside from the novelty of its’ future setting (still no flying cars!) and glimpses of advancement/how life is lived in 2048 (can you believe it’s only 5 years until the uber-dystopia depicted in Blade Runner was projected to be here?!), here’s where we can break out a basic checklist of prime-time cop drama conventions:
- A “buddy” situation where the two leads are primed to dislike each other and slowly come to begrudgingly respect, even care about each other as the show progresses and learn to work together? Check.
- An ensemble that includes a tough but likable superior (Lili Taylor) who ultimately always has our heroes’ backs, an on-staff “nemesis” (Michael Irby), and the current staple of-the-moment, another supporting team member (Mackenzie Crook) who sports a U.K. accent? Yep.
- A potential growing on-the-job love interest (Minka Kelly) for one of the leads? Of course.
- A background thread with questions to tease the audience that will serve as the overall unifying story arc for season one if not the entire series? Done.
It might sound like I’m knocking Almost Human as the same ol’ same ol’ with new window dressing, but wait. The stuff in that list I rhymed off aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They can even give a new viewer trying to sort things out something comfy and familiar to navigate with. The difference-maker is what the writing/production teams and their actors do with it.
So as Almost Human finds its’ footing like any other new show (after all, how many people list a first season of an ongoing show as their favourite?), I’ll give you two strong reasons to hang around. Keep these in mind while checking it out and as we wait to see if there’s enough there to tighten up and improve upon if it manages to reach a season two or beyond:
First, there is this show’s version of the future I already mentioned. There are natural progressions but the tech presented doesn’t seem that radical an extension of things already available to us and use today. Of course, your main suspension of disbelief has to be an acceptance of truly autonomous a.i. coming to be but have you peeked at Youtube clips and websites that examine and discuss this subject lately? There’s stuff coming down the pipe (or already here, depending whom you ask) that is truly eerie in functions that can be performed and how real it looks even now. So while some of these advancements are devices for storylines, they aren’t overwhelming “gimmick-of-the-week” distractions. They serve as fun elaborations on things we already know and deal with, making them seem fresh while doing their job of moving the plot forward and driving the characters.
Finally, I think Almost Human’s producers scored a major coup when getting Karl Urban to sign on as Detective Kennex. I didn’t really know about this guy until his turn as Bones in Abrams’ (also an exec producer on this show) Star Trek reboot, even though he’s been on the scene a while; including a stint in the first Rings trilogy and a part in Red. I immediately liked his take on the character, which paid respect to DeForest Kelley’s original while still making it his own (unlike say, the choice of Anton Yelchin as Chekhov, which still puzzles me). If you’re not a Trek fan, you have to give him props for his interpretation of Judge Dredd in Dredd, which single-handedly erased the fiasco of the Stallone/Schneider version from the 90’s. This guy still managed to kick ass agreeing to take a role in ego-driven Hollywood where he does not take off his helmet and show his upper face for the entire film.
In an era where a prior generation of action heroes too slowly ages out while no-one has stepped up as the heirs apparent (sorry, but nobody has emerged from the bevy of young turks who’ve tried the last few years; and while Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham can be guilty fun, let’s be honest – they generally play a caricature of themselves they’ve helped create; and Daniel Craig will only be seen as Bond until he’s done with that role), Urban is the gruff everyman who reminds me of Clint Eastwood in his 70’s box-office prime. After breaking out with Leone’s spaghetti westerns of the 60’s and moving on to cement his iconic status with the Dirty Harry series. On a parallel but opposite path, Urban is around the same age Eastwood was during that stage of his career but is now trying to cross from film to television instead of vice-versa (Eastwood first got wide recognition as a regular on the network western Rawhide). Even if Almost Human isn’t the product of a high profile cable channel like HBO or FX, film stars making this “reverse” move isn’t looked upon as bad for one’s career. In fact, these days it often boosts it.
So by refusing the easy route and not using the premise’s setting as a crutch or milking it for over-the-top flashiness and a stronger casting choice than what’s usually offered for a pilot/new show, I give Almost Human better odds than usual for sticking around…..at least for a while. How long that “while” turns out to be depends on how many of the rest of you out there get on board and show this version of our future a little support.
See you in two weeks and remember,
if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!