Admittedly, I went into “Almost Human” with a degree of skepticism; after all, and I know many people will be appalled, I’m not as a rule a J.J. Abrams fan. But I like Karl Urban, I like sci-fi and the premise looked like it was going to hit every one of my buddy-cop buttons … so I gave it a go. I am very glad that I did.
To start with, the tone of the show strikes just the right balance between humor and gravitas. While this is often the tone most dramas seem to strive for, it is a delicate tightrope that can all too quickly lead to an overly joking mood when weighty emotional subtext is being presented, or the sort of grim, unrelenting malaise that can render a show too dark for healthy viewing.
With “Almost Human,” the creative team appears to be well able to navigate these treacherous waters. The injections of humor, while undoubtedly hilarious at times, feel very organic in the context of the characters and the setting. It’s often gallows humor, as it likely should be given the law enforcement stage, but it doesn’t seem tacky or forced. This is critical in keeping the characters grounded and sympathetic.
As is a frequent refrain in the world of entertainment, much of the success of the show comes down to chemistry and casting. Detective John Kennex (fan-favorite Urban) serves here as the narrative focal point for the series’ social network of criminals and heroes. On paper, Kennex is a well-defined stereotype, the wounded cop with trust issues hiding a tender heart beneath a gruff exterior, but the show has taken the metaphor of a man at odds with himself a step further by giving Kennex a prosthetic limb, which he has yet to fully accept. Not only does this allow for some cool visuals, it gives Urban a chance to explore layers of the human psyche that are often glossed over in serialized dramas, not the least of which include response to trauma, grief and body image disconnect. It’s pretty heady stuff for network television, and I applaud it.
Partnering with Kennex is “Dorian” (Michael Ealy), a DRN-model synthetic human. One of the core premises of the series is that human law enforcement officers must have a synthetic partner. While Dorian represents a model that has been mostly decommissioned due to what amounts to as overly “emotional” behavior, he is the only model available as an alternative to the current industry standards that Kennex no longer trusts following the events leading to his injury.
But Dorian has his own conflicts to address, and it is through his eyes that we see the ethical dilemmas of how creations capable of self-directed actions find their place in a world in which they are not treated as truly human. It’s the classic moral conundrum of A.I. creation; how self-aware must a machine be before it becomes a “person,” and how do you define “murder” and “human rights” for the synthetic populous?
Of course, beyond the academic and ethical implications, the show is a cop drama with stand-alone crimes embedded in the framework of a larger mystery. It’s too early to say if the big picture will coalesce at a satisfying pace, but thus far the stand-alone elements of the episodes have been well done. I can only hope that the series doesn’t fall prey to the temptation to keep too many irons in the fire for too long, but I’m optimistic. Plus, I think the Kennex-Dorian relationship will not only smooth over any rough patches as the series settles into its final groove, but also keep viewers tuning in even if the crime procedural elements prove inconsistent.
The supporting cast should also help with viewer engagement, boasting the always talented Mackenzie Crook as a quirky techie/coroner, and Lily Taylor as the police captain. The cast is both visually diverse and filled with distinct personalities, and this is an excellent asset to the series as a whole.
In sum, I think “Almost Human” is an excellent addition to the television line-up, and I can’t wait to see what this series ends up bringing to the table in terms of both special effects and future ethics law. At the very least, I look forward to a slickly-produced, fast-paced, visually appealing, buddy-cop success story!