I’ve had a bit of a bone to pick with J.J. Abrams for quite a while now…or at least since around May. Ever since he shattered my dreams of the new Star Trek film living up to Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, my issues with him have grown tenfold. As a Trek fan I was annoyed on principle alone (especially considering how good the 2009 reboot had been) and as someone who simply appreciates the art form it has struck me how different the level of effort he puts into whatever project he is working depends upon the pre-existing interest he had in said project.
Luckily I soon realized that the creator of the show was J.H. Wyman who has worked on previous shows such as Fringe. Despite this, the worry still lurks considering the Bad Robot logo, but the worry is diminished upon realizing that it appears Abrams was only the executive producer for the first episode.
The show’s premise is undoubtedly cool. Set in 2048, science and technology has evolved at an uncontrollable rate. This rise correlates with the rise of crime which has increased 400%. Feeling outnumbered and overwhelmed they thought up a new strategy to put into place. Every Police Officer will be paired with an advanced, combat-trained droid.
See? It’s cool, or at least it should be.
In the mind of being fair, this episode really wasn’t too bad, if not worryingly rocky. There were a lot of negatives to outnumber the goods, and to cement itself as a worthy show to keep audiences coming back each week they’re going to need to step their game up on how they run the show.
The Weak Spots
After losing his partner in a surprise attack as well as his leg and being stuck in a two year coma, John isn’t a particularly happy man, add on to the fact that his girlfriend has made a mysterious disappearance and there’s now an extra layer of bitterness on top of our damaged cop.
He’s persuaded into coming back to work by his boss (played by Lili Taylor) and despite his reluctance agrees when she tells him that she may have information about who was behind the attack that cost him so much.
Once he arrives he’s told that he’s required to ride with a “synthetic” (android/robot) and does so, which ends poorly. The robot picks up on his trauma flashback at the crime site, his inability to adapt to his synthetic leg, and the black market drug he’s taking to help calm him down.
The synthetic ends up face first on the highway and John is in need of a new partner which is why he’s led to Dorian.
Karl Urban is usually charismatic and a scene stealer, embodied with a rogue charm that makes him instantly likeable but with the role as John it seems that all of the charm and depth has been sucked out of him. To be fair, there isn’t much to play with considering the one dimensional character he’s been stuck with—a grumbling cop who has past issues, a chip on his shoulder and a drug problem. He’s playing an archetype but with no substance to push it along.
I hugely enjoy Urban as an actor but the Batman gruff voice and chemistry with Michael Ealy’s Dorian can only go so far.
The Side Characters
As of right now there’s no real need for every supporting character to be well established—especially considering our two leads aren’t fully rounded yet—but, we should have a semblance of the impact they’re going to make on the show. Maybe we’re just spoiled now with the likes of new shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine which came in, declared who they were and what they were after and created one of the best ensemble casts straight out of the gate in quite a while.
Right now, on top of Dorian and John there’s also Taylor as Maldonado, the woman in charge of all of the operations, there’s Mackenzie Crook as Rudy (or as I’ll forever think of him, the one-eyed pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean) who is the offbeat scientist and then there is Minka Kelly as Valerie who, honestly, seems like she may only be in the cast due to the potential love interest storyline.
Which would be severely disappointing and I really hope isn’t true.
They’ve got a decently talented cast on their hands right now and it would be a shame if they weren’t all put to good use.
How they Tell the Story
By every right this should be a highly entertaining show. Or at least ideally you’d believe so. There’s robots, futuristic exploits, homages to Blade Runner, buddy cop drama and a great leading duo. Where is the fault?
In the pacing. The pacing was horrid for the first half of the episode. If I’m bored fifteen minutes into a science fiction show there’s something wrong. Science fiction gives allowance to absurdity because audiences are predisposed to suspend their disbelief a little more than usual.
The problem primarily was that the goal and the stakes of the episode were uncertain. In a premiere episode that’s typically okay due to how much time is typically spent of establishing the characters but like I’ve mentioned, they didn’t do much of that either.
We know that there’s a group, the same that was responsible for the ambush on John and his partner, that’s trying to get a vital piece of evidence from inside the police station. What that is? We don’t know until a shot of a woman android, but will that play into future episodes? Will it happen in the upcoming second episode a day after the premiere? All we’ve learned by the episode’s end is that the police officers are hard to overtake, the operation didn’t get what they wanted but still have more up their sleeve and John’s ex-girlfriend is somehow involved—although he only mentions that bit to Dorian.
I’d still argue that this premise would be a winning one for a feature-length film. They didn’t take their time in having John warming up to Dorian, allowing the two to get over their differences a lot quicker than most buddy cop dramas which love to play out the odd couple effect as long as they can. The future setting, the charismatic robot, the leading actors—all of this would have worked well in a movie context, confining the story so it didn’t get stretched out and was forced to define their characters’ motives a little faster.
Hopefully the show will prove me wrong in that regard.
Everyone is already saying this but it’s worth another mention: Ealy really is the show’s not-so-secret weapon. He brings a lot of charm to the character, going above and beyond the written word before him. He’s a joy to watch, makes Dorian all the more interesting after already being the more interesting out of the two leads.
Dorian is a synthetic (although he hates the word) that was put into storage in favor of the new androids. The reason? His model seemingly malfunctioned due to the synthetic soul that inhibited him with a free will.
His detriment was his emotions.
But it would seem that an emotional pull is what the partnership needs with John being the more robotic of the two. John needs a partner that has human instincts and acts out of impulse rather than pure logic and that’s exactly what Dorian does. He goes to look after a potential bomb despite the warnings because he knows they need information, he searches for John to stop him from doing something stupid, he does research and he takes part in the action.
He’s what John needs, as his boss tells him, because they’re both special.
I wonder what this show would be like if it was told from Dorian’s perspective?
Almost Human probably has some of the best visuals on television right now and they have created a visual landscape that allows for the future to seem otherworldly but also have made sure to not quite overdo it, making sure we the audience still recognize it as Earth, especially considering the future in this case is the not-too-distant future.
The action sequences are particularly surprising, but maybe I was just surprised at the amount of gore they could get away with on a Sunday night at an 8:00 pm time slot. The scene with John seeing his injured leg or the cop that’s poisoned while trapped inside an explosive-wired box are both mildly alarming and the make-up is very top notch, allowing realism to seep into the situation.
It’s what adds excitement to the adventure we’re supposed to be on. It allows the audience to take in the fully-realized world and accept it as it is because the cinematography and the special effects are so well done.
It isn’t a bad show but it has a lot to improve upon. It could go either way and soon be a forgotten show, or a “remember when…” or it could take an upswing in its storylines, allow Urban a little more humor to work with and wrangle all of the loose ends together and end up creating a wonderfully entertaining science fiction show, a genre with a built-in audience.
Something needs to take the Fringe slot and while I’d argue that Sleepy Hollow does well enough it’s still too polarizing for whatever reason. It wouldn’t take a lot to make Almost Human a top-notch show, it’s just a matter if the creators feel like putting in the required effort.