Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pilot Review: Almost Human

Almost Human (Mondays at 8:00 on Fox)

Dystopian stories are all the rage now, what with the insane popularity of The Hunger Games books and films and at least half a dozen similar tales coming down the pike. Almost Human is Fox cashing in on that craze. As is the case with most thrown-together stories that follow a trend, it's almost entirely derivative and devoid of any creativity, originality, or fun.

In 2048, the world has gone insane. Not really, that would have been too interesting. No, actually, the world is pretty similar to what we know now: cities are dirty and full of crime, cars don't fly, and illegal drugs are easily procured on the black market. There's one significant difference, however: every cop on the street is paired with a Synthetic, a logic-based android. Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban, who's probably best known for The Lord of the Rings films) doesn't like this very much, and he likes it even less when his android decides to allow a friend to die during an ambush by a group of underground criminals. But Kennex is seriously injured as well, returning to work two years later with a synthetic leg and a new robot partner. When he pushes that one from a moving vehicle, he's paired with Dorian (Michael Ealy, who got a taste of the future on FlashForward), an advanced android with the power to feel emotions. They're the most mismatched police team since Cagney & Lacey!

The whole sci-fi oeuvre isn't really my thing, mostly because I'm always bothered by stylistic things. Why is everything in space or the future see-through? Don't these clear, keyless phones and computers get smudgy? Why does everyone wear spandex or body armor? Why is everything shades of black and white? A lot of these same problems hold true in Almost Human, but its logistical and execution issues far outweigh them. The script by former Fringe writer J.H. Wyman is full of laziness. To begin with, the concept itself is a combination of a handful of better-done ideas (Robocop, Blade Runner, Minority Report and I, Robot, just to name a few). It's also a bit suspect that the same terrorist cell which ambushes Kennex in the opening remains both largely unaccounted for and uncovered for two years... until the very day he returns to work, in fact. So 35 years from now, the LAPD has enough resources to build multiple models of robot cops, but they're too inept to catch a bunch of criminals who drop clues about their identities and whereabouts in two years? No one but Kennex, not even the guy who designs and "fixes" the Synthetics (Games of Thrones' Mackenzie Crook), has ever thought to look at an out-of-commission droid's video recording device to see what it saw? It's all too convenient and too quick to paint Kennex as the savior of the LAPD. But he's complicated! He's also addicted to some kind of pills and was betrayed by an ex-girlfriend! Have you heard this one before?

Then there's Dorian, which is probably the biggest problem Almost Human has. Ealy is fine in his portrayal, but the whole idea of Dorian's particular robot model is just stupid. What's the point of having a show about a man and his android partner when the android is so nearly a man himself? Kennex has emotional issues, and so does Dorian. Dorian is so human-like in his very makeup, that there's no point in him being a machine. In fact, it would probably be more interesting for a man's man like Kennex to learn how to properly express his emotions from another man; that would at least break gender expectations. It does nothing in Almost Human. Where's the message in a man learning from a machine? That everything we know, down to our feelings, can be programmed? What is this show trying to say? As heavily as the series borrows from other sources, it didn't take any of their themes (self-perception, free will, rebellion, etc) and expound upon them; it just stole plot points or ideas and crammed them together without much to add.

There's almost no point in commenting on anything else. Yes, the special effects are good. The performances are fine but never rise above the mediocre script. But who cares when there's stuff blowing up, fast cars, and big guns? There's not an ounce of intelligence on display here (which is why I haven't labeled the show as "science fiction," since it's not smart enough to deserve being associated with science), which may be fine for some; if you just want a buddy cop show with a lot of futuristic action and nothing to think about, then you'll probably be fine keeping Almost Human on in the background while you surf Facebook and make Ramen. But if you're the kind of person who puts any thought into what you watch, you may want to steer clear of this frustratingly pedestrian take on what police procedurals may look like in the future.

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