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Nov 4, 2013

TV Review: ALMOST HUMAN: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot [Fox, NYCC 2013]

Michael Ealy Karl Urban Almost Human

Fox‘s NYCC Almost Human Pilot TV Show Review. Almost Human: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot from the 2013 New York Comic Con introduced a future where the pairing of Human police officers with android partners is mandatory. For Det. John Kennex (Karl Urban) that represented a real problem, given his intense dislike for androids. That antagonism may have sprung from a previous ambush, where cold android logic cost him both a friend and a leg, or something deeper.  The ambush had also cost him some of his memory, and Kennex was determined to reconstruct it – that event, in particular. This meant frequent visits to a Recollectionist (Hiro Kanagawa), to retrieve them.

After a… “falling out” with his assigned MX android, Kennex was assigned an DRN model called Dorian (Michael Ealy); considered a better match, due to a personality and emotional component. The DRNs were decommissioned when that component was deemed a liability – the whole point of adding androids to the mix was to supplement human officers, not compliment them. The pitfalls of Human psyches were bad enough without having to worry about the stability of their DRN partners. This was to be the future of high-tech cops, not Blade Runners.

Here, then, were forced together two strong personalities, with emotionally baggage. Kennex had his personal case to solve, and the lingering images of a lover who disappeared after his attack (Mekia Cox). Dorian, some catching up to do (as an old model in a new model world) and putting up with Kennex’s entrenched bigotry towards newer MX models.

Karl Urban presented a character that was something of a curmudgeon – delightfully so, at times – but not necessarily sympathetic. Michael Ealy, on the other hand, effortlessly stole his scenes with charm, wit, and measured temperament. This was unfortunate. Sure, there was meant to be a clear irony in the android being more Human than the Humans. Yes, there will likely be a series of morality and ethics lessons, about the de-humanizing effects of our civilization, to come. Placing Dorian head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast, however, does not just elevate him, but diminishes the show’s Human characters. It raises a question as to why should I root for a society into which a robo reject has to reintroduce humanity. That question left me hoping for a noble cause behind the band that ambushed Kennex, but let him live. Even though the pilot’s plot revolved around a personal vendetta against the LAPD, and may not be representative of what Kennex’s assailants were about, the ruthlessness of its scope and execution took away from that hope.

Between Kennix’s PTSD and the side-effects of the recollection process, he was something of a burn-out. No real rhyme or reason was presented as to why his C.O. (Lili Taylor) would keep him on (particularly once he failed his psych evaluation). She apparently arranged for his pairing with Dorian (and presumably kept him around) because she thought them both “special.” I suppose we were meant to stick around for clarification. The recollection process might have well been termed “Recall” (but that would be too obvious), and the episode’s major twist had a similar familiarity to it.

I have to admit to some unease at watching Kennex treat Dorian like a bothersome commodity. Whether intentional or not, I sensed an under current of slavery to the dynamic. An Asimov influence, with an obsolete Dorian set to be the liberator and future of android kind? I may be getting ahead of myself, again.

Det. Kennix was a loose cannon with a chip on his shoulder and authority issues. Given his shaky past, and his unpopularity amongst his peers, he was a man that clearly had something to prove (at least to himself). Hardly an original template, but just a template, all the same. There is only so much about a character – even a central one – that can be fleshed out upon introduction. However clichéd his character may have seemed, the pilot only gave us a base upon which future episodes should build a much more nuanced and well-rounded character. The same could be said for Dorian. As much of a scene stealer as he (and Ealy) was, however, I’d say Dorian was given something of a developmental head start.

Almost Human was set in a future landscape that, while not entirely convincing (quite a bit of “retro” vehicles, weapons and fashion, on display), was at least tangible. The pilot did not rely on CGI as heavily as most tech-heavy sci-fi series have, in recent years. The blend of practical and special effects avoided some of the cheesiness that comes from creating CGI landscapes on broadcast TV budgets. Of course, a top tier studio, granting a sizable budget to J.J. Abrams, for a platform on a major network, might have had something to do with it. True, that formula also gave us Revolution, on NBC; but the last collaboration between Warner Bros., Abrams and FOX brought us Fringe. Color your expectations accordingly.

There is a fairly long list of films and TV series that can be referenced to Almost Human as inspiration, rip-off sources, or just wild coincidence. The first examples, popular and obscure, that occurred to me were I, Robot (the film) and Mann & Machine (enjoy Ealy, ladies; I miss Yancy Butler). This could present the series with either a handicap or a challenge. Hopefully it will be the latter. The show’s creative team could treat such comparisons as another template, from which something memorable – if not unique – can be forged.

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