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Jan 12, 2014

TV Review: ALMOST HUMAN: Season 1, Episode 7: Simon Says [FOX]

Karl Urban Almost Human: Simon Says

FOX‘s Almost Human Simon Says TV Show Review. Almost Human: Season 1, Episode 7: ‘Simon Says,’ as the title suggests, involved a serial killer with a penchant for rigging victims with explosive collars, compelling them to perform various tasks. “Simon” (David Dastmalchian) wasn’t in it for money or revenge (not entirely, anyway), he was in it for the attention. It doesn’t take a show like Almost Human to point out the darker direction our current online community culture will take. Incriminating selfies, trolling and cyber-bullying were not in the cards for the founding visionaries of the Information Age. The case would be the principal driver for the episode, with the interpersonal issues of the cast taking a back seat.

The issue, this time around, stemmed from power rationing. Since this tech-heavy future setting made no headway in solar flare safeguards, power rationing went into effect for all androids. As the “token” DRN, Dorian (Michael Ealy) was at the bottom of the android recharge list. Worse, he found it completely demeaning to charge alongside the MX models. This could have been the opening for another allegory of civil rights. One sucker punch later, and the episode settled on showcasing what an emotional android becomes when its charge starts running down; namely, semi-functionally bipolar.

So, short of Kennex (Karl Urban) getting the opportunity to address his difficulties re-integrating into the force, this was to be a mostly character development free procedural episode.

It would be easy to fault Simon’s first subject for providing an opening, but if it could be assumed that he lived the insulated life of a high financier, than a certain naivete can be forgiven. ‘Simon Says’ may have taken some measure to keep its victims relatively blameless for their predicaments. If this was a deliberate calculation, to highlight the vindictive and callous nature of Simon’s viewers, then it was unnecessary. I understand and appreciate that some people hate cops, and even more hate bankers; but when the same level of contempt and bloodlust is leveled at a florist, then all socially relevance comes out of the Dark Internet angle. If DarkNet is populated by nothing but inhuman Trolls, then it can be dismissed as a singular cartoon villain.

It is always too easy to criticize futurism in hindsight – considering how many media predicted problems we wind up solving in the present (how many sci-fi stories made room for the USSR beyond the 21st century?). In addition to comparisons to other shows and films, I’ve been trying to avoid thinking of things that should no longer be of issue, in Almost Human‘s setting. I won’t mention, for instance, that a cordoned off sting/ bomb diffusion scene – complete with surveillance drones overhead – should not be a place where a recognizable fugitive can abduct an officer and get completely clear. I also won’t mention that S.W.A.T. would likely find a way past the deadman switch staple by the time we get to actual robocops (“actual” ’cause… well, Murphy was really a cyborg). Nope, not a word.

Ultimately, what really made ‘Simon Says’ fall short was the character of Simon, himself. Frankly, I’ve seen better motivation behind anime villains. The fact that he somehow drew a parallel between Kennex’s sense of isolation and his own perpetual sense of rejection (during a pretty morbid bonding session), left me wondering whether to question his characterization or the episode’s writing. He was supposed to be professionally trained, but he didn’t think to use a remote detonator until he was foiled. He anticipated the police response, and was careful to keep ahead, but allowed himself to be identified. He put meticulous work into his snuff productions, complete with some understanding about his subjects, but completely unhinged when criticized. Worst of all, a character that exists entirely as an extension of others – faceless and anonymous, at that – is not really a character at all. Yes, he was meant to be a creep; but creeps are people too. Either Almost Human needs more creeps on its writing staff, to add some dimension to characters like Simon, or the episode may be indicative of a larger concern of mine: that more effort will be going into humanizing Dorian than the show’s actual humans.

With Dorian sidelined, as a caricature of “womanly problems,” and the episode itself being filler, however, there really wasn’t much to be done, here. ‘Simon Says’ was supposed to be a futurist’s nightmare about the narcissism of the YouTube generation, and the primal over-indulgence behind internet trolling. A valid subject, certainly (you shouldn’t put your opinions – particularly critical ones – online without allowing for Anon blowback); but it was clumsily handled, here. Frankly, I was hoping for a little more tact and nuance than in previous efforts, like… say, the film Gamer.

Almost Human remains one of the better examples of Asimov on the small screen (better even than some big screen examples I won’t mention). Until it figures out what to do with its human cast (other than being a sounding board for Dorian), Almost Human‘s showrunners should focus on organizing series arcs, rather than stringing viewers along with gee-wizardry fillers.

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