If cops love donuts, then what do robot cops love?
It’s one of the many burning mysteries that the new Fox series Almost Human could address, but probably won’t… at least not immediately. Oddly enough, these are also the types of hard-hitting inquiries that preoccupy my mind about 98% of the day.
Executive Producers J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman, the creative minds that teamed up for the just recently wrapped Fox show Fringe, are back in the saddle again for another law-enforcement buddy series, but this time with a slightly unique spin. On a side note, is it a new Hollywood requirement for producers to have two initials for a first name, one of them being the letter J?
The new undertaking by the initialed duo takes place in the year 2048; a time where technology has advanced so quickly, the criminals are more gadget savvy than the police (sounds a lot like 2013) and as a result, the crime rate has risen 400%. Fortunately, the police still have enough tech to figure out that statistic and they decide to take drastic measures.
That measure consists of partnering human cops with android law protectors (and no, Google does not sponsor the series, surprisingly enough.) The most current versions of the robocops (see what I did there) are incredibly human in their physical appearance, and by the book in operation, although so much so that all traces of humanity have been seemingly removed to make them analytical problem solvers and enforcers of the law to an extreme degree.
For those that don’t feel like watching the first 2 hours, this should catch you up.
Enter Karl Urban (of Dr. Bones fame in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek films… coincidence, I think not), who now plays Detective John Kennex, a gruff no-nonsense cop that suffers devastating injuries while in the line of duty. Part of those injuries consist of a gruesome loss of a limb (ala Robocop… again) and I give Fox full props for showing the loss in full detail. It gave me faith that the network is still willing to push the envelope and try to attract money producing eyeballs anyway it can.
Back on point, one of the other wounds Kennex suffers from is that of head trauma which puts him in a coma for roughly two years. Outside of missing a few SuperBowls and 24 months of life in general, the one legged detective is also dealing with selective memory loss. After waking from his extended nap however, it isn’t long before his superior, Captain Maldanado (Lili Taylor) is literally dragging Kennex back to his one human and one robotic foot in order to help with a case involving the Syndicate. It’s probably important to point out the Syndicate is a major crime organization causing havoc in 2048 and the group responsible for Kennex’s injuries, not to mentions the murder of his human partner.
Seeing as the rules state human officers require the partnering with a silicone equivalent – and unfortunately Pamela Anderson wasn’t an option – Kennex is placed with one of the newer units despite his desire to work alone. After getting a little too nosey and having an “accident”, the captain decides a more personal touch is required for this partnership, so she arranges for an older more human-like model to be assigned to the ornery detective.
The old school model with the initials DRN, referred to simply as Dorian and played with a great deal of enjoyment by Michael Ealy, was originally put on the scrap heap for being (gasp) too human. Apparently, the more human they made androids, the more problems they had with the units going crazy. So pretty much just like real humans. Nonetheless, the captain plays a hunch and she teams the two up in hopes of finding a chemistry that could bring out the best versions of each other. Lucky for her, and the show creators, it’s there in spades.
Keeping on the theme of chemistry, I can’t emphasize enough how important actor chemistry is in shows such as this, specifically ones where the entire concept of the series revolves around two individuals who will be sharing the bulk of the storyline together.
From their very first scene together, Urban and Ealy play off each other with near perfection. Dorian (Ealy), is eager to please his new partner in any way he possibly can – except that way – while Urban is just looking for any excuse to send his latest match to a similar fate that his newer edition originally succumb to. I’m not sure if I had Wolverine on the mind, but Urban’s depiction of Kennex felt down right Logan-like, which seemed to be helped by the fact that he also bears a semi-striking resemblance to Hugh Jackman.
It’s also worth mentioning that Kennex is presented as the cold closed off bad cop whose robotic personality makes him seem more like a pile of circuits than the casually charming Dorian unit that is literally “almost human” in everything it says and does. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone, especially considering a character actually slaps us with the info during the series opener.
Most importantly, this human/droid buddy concept is built for humor, and the writers have wasted no time working laughs into the first few episodes. In fact, there is an exchange between the two leads during the second hour of the premiere that had me laughing harder than I have in quite a while. I don’t want to give too much away, but it has to do with running analysis on male genitalia. What can I say, it’s the simple things in life that amuse me.
Another outstanding element of the first two episodes was the special effects. Most series don’t start off too strong in this department just because budgets are low until it’s determined a series is going to stick around long enough to actually make a couple green backs. It seems J.J. and J.H. have enough street cred these days to warrant some decent digital effects right out of the starting gates. The first scenes were shockingly good and I felt as if I was watching a major motion picture film release on my miniscule 55″ HDTV. In general, the atmosphere gives off a Blade Runner like vibe, particularly during the evening shots. Despite the impressive backdrops, what really sells the effects are the little details, such as the autopsies of the androids and the techno-gadgets the cops work with on a daily basis.
To his credit, Abrams also hasn’t forgotten that we sci-fi geeks love our eye candy, so the casting of Minka Kelly as Detective Stahl makes Almost Human watchable should I ever go deaf.
As much as I enjoyed the 2-hour launch of my new network sci-fi staple – until it gets cancelled – it was by no means a perfect package. For starters, what’s the deal with the supporting cast? Let me rephrase that: is there a supporting cast? With most of the screen time being taken by the two lead coppers, the supporting cast of the police department was MIA at best. Obviously the main attractions are Kennex and Dorian, but they will need some third party support if the show is going to last for the long haul. Mackenzie Crook as droid fix-it man Rudy Lom looks like a Fringe-y Walter Bishop type role with potential, but it’s hard to establish a character after only 29 second of on air time.
The other potentially disturbing issue for me was the current lack of any exciting story arc. Am I being uber-critical for a show that has only run 80 minutes thus far? Without a shadow of a doubt I am and as usual I’ll be the first to admit it.
Nevertheless, my own personal concern comes from the comparison with some of my other favorite shows such as LOST, Fringe and The X-Files. Despite not necessarily creating a mythology in the first 15 minutes, the beginning of those series’ at least provided the underpinnings and possibilities for a grandiose story. At the moment, Almost Human just feels like a buddy cop show that takes place in the future. I realize shows like this take time to ramp up and I’m going to give it a full season without hesitation. I just hope that there is a game plan to develop and take the story somewhere interesting, somewhere different, somewhere no executive producer has gone before.
Maybe we’ll eventually find out what robotic officers of the future enjoy dunking into their morning beverage.