By: Grace D. Gipson
Set in Los Angeles in a not so distant future…2048, human cops and androids team up to protect you on Fox Network’s newest show: Almost Human*.
Stylized as ALMOST HUMΛN, this American science fiction/crime drama series was created by J.H. Wyman (Fringe) for Bad Robot Productions and Warner Bros. Television. Wyman along with Bryan Burk (Super 8, Person of Interest, Fringe) and J.J. Abrams (Star Trek and Mission Impossible film franchises, plus Lost and Fringe) serve as executive producers. The series stars Karl Urban (Star Trek, Dredd) and Michael Ealy (Think Like a Man, Barbershop) in the lead roles with Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights), Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Caribbean film series), Michael Irby (The Unit), and Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under) as part of the supporting cast.
Picture a modern, futuristic world where police officers are in a losing battle against foreign, outside forces. The department begins to brainstorm creative ways to improve; and one method that is implemented is the use of robotic and/or android partners. In this particular series, we follow the return of detective John Kennex, who intended to be teamed up with the latest android model, MX-43, capable of spewing infinite amounts of knowledge like a computer and lacking the emotional elements that destabilize previous, discontinued robots. However, since the department is “fresh out” of MX-43’s, Kennex has been partnered (allegedly temporarily) with an older, discontinued model. This particular android’s name is Dorian (Michael Ealy) and his line was discontinued predominantly because they were manufactured to be “almost too human” – with feelings, moods, opinions, etc. This glitch is thought to be a flaw in the field, hence its elimination in later models.
As the show progresses, we witness the slow cultivation of friendship between Kennex and Dorian. However, some slight concerns that arise in Kennex and Dorian’s relationship; the android subtly plays into the trope of the “magical negro,” aiding the white cop in finding himself. Nonetheless, Urban and Ealy do have good chemistry that highlights their strong character interplay. I mark this as one of the show’s strengths, in addition to the overall casts acting and originality of the show. Both Urban and Ealy (via their characters) bring a degree of seriousness, wit and humor that allows them to both shine and be well-rounded characters and not one-dimensional. In addition, the “buddy cop” dynamic works well in this series, as both main characters are appealing and relatable.
Now, even though Almost Human may be set in the future, it offers a level of sophistication. Far from being a whitewashed version of the Starfleet organization, the show paints a picture of a civilization where technological development begins to outpace ethical considerations, very similar to that fellow FOX show Fringe. After watching just the first two episodes, viewers begin to realize that the title “Almost Human” is more than just a name but an overarching theme. For example, Detective Kennex has a synthetic leg and his partner is an emotionally human-like android. Since Dorian has been [supposedly] temporarily paired with Detective Kennex, this opens up various questions/discussions ranging from:
• Will Dorian ever be accepted as an equal (human)?
• What makes a person choose to become a police officer?
• The idea of never really being a part of a stable family and/or relationship
Neither completely man nor machine, both characters feel like outsiders to the status quo. Furthermore, with these elements, Almost Human works as a promising and successful television series. It is also clear that creator and producer Wyman has been influenced and schooled in the style of Abrams as his narrative seems to provide a real sense of a mythological backstory to the Kennex character and the wider world. It also helps that the series functions as a weekly procedural thus quelling viewers’ fears of committing to an ongoing episodic narrative.
In this first season, the episodes step away from the contrived television methods and offer a blended mix of storytelling methods, sci-fi, action, and humor. If viewers simply looked at the ads, it would come off as a clichéd, stylized action drama, but it is so much more. Interestingly enough, the execution of the series is fresh and innovative as it further explores what will potentially happen in the real-life future along with further complicating human and alien dynamics. Additionally, Almost Human is a clever and thought-provoking series that within its storyline, provokes a variety of questions:
• Can/will humans and androids be able to co-exist in society?
• What does it mean to be “almost human” and what is this category’s relationship to race and the alien/outsider/other concept?
• How do we contend with the moral issues regarding technology potentially becoming “too” powerful?
These are all questions and issues that really do not have easy answers. However, the journey to explore them is an electrifying ride for those willing to embark upon it. Also the fact that the series has a high production value is an extra boost.
All in all, it is not as if we need another sci-fi action/crime show on television, but Almost Human is an entertaining show with enough to keep viewers coming back for future episodes. One of its standout features is that it has a simple premise: “Fighting crime with high technology.” With that said, Almost Human is one of the few shows that has managed to grab my attention within the first few episodes of the just first season. One can only hope that the show will continue to engage and hold our interest. Only time will tell. When one really thinks about, it is noteworthy that FOX (of all networks) committed to such a well-written and produced show such as Almost Human considering past Federal Communications Commission (FCC) woes and the indecency controversy that surrounds the network . As a whole, Almost Human offers a healthy balance humor, drama, and a running commentary on human mortality and social identity that hopefully will push the network to renew for another season.
*Catch Almost Human on Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX