Review: Almost Human

Historically, science fiction shows don't last on television. Sure, there have been a few exceptions throughout the years, like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who, but for the most part, the best a sci-fi series can hope to accomplish is garner a strong cult following. Luckily, that doesn't stop the networks from taking risks on new sci-fi based shows. Even though most of them aren't worth the time to watch them, every now and then there's one with a little bit of promise.

Last night, Fox premiered its newest foray into science fiction with Almost Human, a buddy-cop drama with a premise similar to Small Wonder. In the future, the police force is spread so thin that human officers need to be team up with android partners called "Synthetics". The show focuses on John Kennex, an officer with a lot of baggage, both physical and emotional. Kennex holds a grudge against the idea of synthetic partners, blaming one for the loss of his last human partner in a raid gone bad and as a result, opposes being partnered with one. But his commanding officer, Maldonado, chooses an out-dated model of synthetic as his partner, one that was decommissioned due to a known issue with emotional responses.

Almost Human opens fantastically in the middle of the raid that screws up Kennex, showing us how he became the person he is in the show. The production values of a full scale shoot out were simply amazing, proving that the show makers are sparing no expense to pull off their vision. Karl Urban, best known for his role as Bones in the latest Star Trek films as well as the titular role of 2012's Dredd, plays Kennex. He brings a natural, tough-guy air to the role, showing audiences how much of a hard-ass he can be. In the first scene, we see Kennex refuse to leave his partner despite the protestations of the synthetic he is with. This shows us that Kennex values human bonds over logical thinking, an idea that is alien to androids. The pilot's director also gave a humorous nod to one of Urban's other roles, showing a shot from a first-person view, a la Doom. It was quick and almost imperceptible but hilarious none the less.

Michael Ealy plays DRN, pronounced "Dorian", the defunct synthetic that gets paired up with Kennex. Unlike the other androids in the show, Dorian does have the ability to feel and think critically, giving Ealy the opportunity to actually act, which he does pretty well. As an android, Dorian is self-aware, knowing what is required of him in certain situations but he also gives off that "fish out of water" vibe when faced with something new, such as when Kennex tries to turn him off with a synthetic command. It makes for a light-hearted moment in an otherwise heavy drama.

The rest of the cast does well enough. Lili Taylor is Maldonado, the police captain who cares for and trusts Kennex. In all honesty, I'm not sure she is the "captain" as I don't think it's explicitly stated in the pilot but whatever. Maldonado is the reason Kennex is still on the force; after the trauma that he goes through it's hard to understand how any psychiatrist would clear Kennex for active duty a mere 17 months after losing his partner and his leg. It would only be through the actions of a high ranking police official that Kennex get his gun and shield back, and that's Maldonado. Taylor manages to carry her own weight in the show and I can see her being a driving force in future episodes. Honestly, I like her character more than I do Orlando Jones' in Sleepy Hollow, so I'm good with this.

The other female character is Minka Kelly's Valerie Stahl, a detective that works alongside Kennex. It's clear that she admires Kennex but why is never made clear. What is clear is that the show runners are setting up some sort of romantic interest between these two.

I was really impressed with the depths of the science fiction the show portrayed, setting up the city in amazing ways. They managed to maintain a feeling of familiarity. Buildings, highways and even a few models of cars all look like they do in present day. But what I really liked is the way the sprinkled in some of the fantastic, like the idea of fully synthetic limbs and hoop-shaped vehicles. By not imagining the world was completely transformed in the span of 35 years, it made the science fiction seem less hokey. When it comes to sci-fi, it's really easy to go overboard with the idea of what could happen, which could turn the show into an ongoing Demolition Man. But by not being so liberal with the "fiction" part of the sci-fi, it makes the show easier to relate to.

I've watched a lot of new shows this season and have been impressed by many more than I expected. Almost Human is one of those shows. I really liked the character of John Kennex and look forward to seeing more of his relationship with Dorian. They set up a great scenario for the first episode, cleverly introducing a secret conspiracy and, in essence, an underlying enemy for the show's protagonist. Even though it looks like the show will devolve into a standard police procedural, I was thoroughly impressed with the pilot and look forward to seeing episode two tonight.

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