Recurring Cast: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook, Lili Taylor, Michael Irby
It could be said that, surrounded by terrific shows like the Walking Dead, True Detective and many others, Almost Human buys its way into our hearts with a massive budget. Bank-rolled by Sci-Fi god, J.J Abrams, Almost Human is never anything less than a spectacle. However, to say that this is little more than a pretty, shallow show is taking away from the larger themes and strong chemistry between leads that show-runner, Wyman, carefully constructs. Almost Human is set in the future, where technology grew too fast to control. The criminal underworld is rife with new and dangerous inventions, meaning that the police force is struggling to keep them at bay. At the front of the action is returning cop, John Kennex, recovering from the betrayal of his girlfriend, who killed his partner and blew off his leg, leaving him for dead. He is paired with a decommissioned android, Dorian, whose model was shut down, after proving to be emotionally unstable. The pair of them, segregated by the rest of the force, become an unlikely duo, holding their own, as the last line of defence between civilisation and total chaos.
My favorite thing about Almost Human is that, despite boasting a wondrous new Sci-Fi world, it is actually very familiar. After a show-stopping pilot, the series settles into a more typical cop show. Each week, there is a crime and the lead characters have to solve it. This laidback nature helps you feel grounded in this new world, unlike other Sci-Fi shows that quickly got lost in its own universe (I am looking at you, Defiance!). It is impressive in its simplicity. Something else I noticed about this movie is that it is so cheesy. Some of the dialogue is almost awful. “You finished what your father started.” “A lot of good cops died that day.” Some of the plot lines could have been pulled right from a low-budget 80s cop flick. But somehow it all works. It creates this sense that the universe of Almost Human might be filled with robot police officers, genetically perfected humans and luxurious homes for rich people, but the same social problems exist. The second we are introduced to John Kennex we totally get his character, making this series an easy one to sink into.
The two leads play it very well. Karl Urban is the kind of actor, who can be hit and miss. I have always been a fan of his, but I have noticed that if the script is below average, he tends to suffer because of it. For example, in ‘And Soon The Darkness’, his performance came across as a little wooden, yet in things like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, he is really impressive. As the series embraced the cheese factor, I was worried the joke would get lost, as Kennex played it too straight. Thankfully, the humour really helps here. Just when Urban is looking a little too stiff, a well-timed joke (and Urban is great at playing action heroes, who don’t mind playing the butt of a joke for a laugh), livens the mood and we can see the range of the actor. However, I must admit that Michael Ealy is just that little bit better. Ealy has really taken off this year with some really good roles. The show is definitely aware of the fact that Ealy comes across as more human than Kennex. Through Ealy, we tackle the identity and social questions that come with having a universe with robots. While we totally believe that Ealy is a robot, there is an early emotional moment where Dorian stays with a sex-bot being decommissioned, conveying the idea that robots do fear ‘death’. Small moments like this really lift Almost Human from the clichés, just when the familiar nature of the show threatens to come across as average.
Almost Human does suffer from First Season Syndrome. The supporting cast haven’t really get decent roles as of yet. Lili Taylor barks commands as the sympathetic head of department. Michael Irby sometimes doesn’t even bother to show up in the story. Mackenzie Crook provides the comic relief, although he doesn’t really push himself into new territory as an actor. The most likeable of the supporting cast is Minka Kelly in the role of Detective Stahl. While the show doesn’t really embrace her full background, it is soon clear that she is more than just a pretty face. We learn midway through the series that she is a Chrome, a human perfected genetically at birth. One of the more interesting things about the show is how Stahl seems to resent her supposed perfection, as she feels like she hasn’t earned her high-ranking detective position, because of it. I also appreciated the subtle direction, where her beauty is a fact, rather than being played on in any way by the writers. She might be good-looking, but her role as a strong female figure is never weakened by it, even when romantic subplots begin rising from the woodwork. Another aspect of First Season Syndrome is that there aren’t many overall plots. This is the main disappointment of Almost Human. The pilot promised a massive arc where Kennex tracks down his rogue ex and her terrorist cell, but that is only briefly touched upon later. An interesting story about the enigmatic Wall is soon forgotten. The show seems to enjoy its episodic nature a little too much. On the other hand, the whole Chrome thing is one of the plot lines that actually benefits from being swept under the rug. The social issues are there, but aren’t fully dissected, creating a moreish feel, rather than an unsatisfying one. And I guess with all of these stories still in the air, we are left craving a second season right away.
Final Verdict: It’s early days yet, but Almost Human is likeable enough to make us want to spend another season in this interesting universe.