Bad Robot Productions
Almost Human is an unexpected treat, the first hints of a new Sci-fi show from Bad Robot Productions came last year. The news kind-of got buried by ‘Agents of SHIELD’ and this summer’s Hollywood blockbusters. It wasn’t until this spring that it looked as though ‘Almost Human’ created by J.H Wyman (Fringe) could be something big and a game changer. Bad Robot Productions has a good reputation with hit shows such as Lost and Person of Interest. Other shows such as Alias and Fringe were also very good but were cut short due to falling ratings. BRD recently hit a rough patch with shows that were released prematurely in my opinion, Alcatraz got cancelled after one season and Revolution is only just with its second season finding it way. Almost Human seems grounded in the procedural elements of Person of Interest while using the special effects expertise and thriller elements of Fringe. Combined with the year 2048 setting it is a recipe for action and suspense while also playing it save.
Total Recall 2070
After watching the pilot I am at times reminded of that by-gone Sci-fi show ‘Total Recall 2070’. Readers of this blog will know that I reminisce about the show often. To me it remains one of those big questions as I wonder what could have been had the show not been cancelled after one season. Almost Human follows a similar premise when the detective protagonist is teamed up with an android (synthetic) to fight in the urban sprawls of the future. Almost Human may not have the experimental elements of Total Recall 2070 such as thought-provoking robot philosophy, existentialism discussions and blatant nudity but it does feel more polished. Which probably increases its chances of success by a factor of 10. It will remain to be seen if Almost Human can step out from under the shadows of its predecessor. Continuum failed in that regard. The irony is that the shows creative staff are having to defend it against the accusation that it is another Blade Runner. This could probably be due to the fact that Total Recall 2070 (a name sake of the 1990 movie) was often confused as an official successor to the Ridley Scott movie from the early 80’s. A few shots of the cyberpunk world of Almost Human seem to be a homage to Blade Runner, such as when the antagonist Kennex walks over to his car amidst dripping rain and intrusive neon signs.
Time will see of if Almost Human can provoke interest in viewers just as Lost, Fringe and Person of Interest did before it. Yesterday evening the pilot for the show aired but Mondays is the regular air date, so you can tuck in for another episode of Almost Human this evening. The show is blessed with having an actor such as Karl Urban as the main antagonist. Karl Urban (Dredd, Star Trek) is a movie actor and so for him to work on TV is a bit of a risk. His acting is excellent though I did feel that the depth of acting was too similar to Dredd, in essence he is pretending to be Dirty Harry from the future.
The show follows the recently reinstated detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) as he tries to uncover what the crime organization known as ‘The Syndicate’ is up to. Kennex was wounded two years before in a Syndicate ambush and had lost one of his legs. The artificial limb that replaces it doesn’t agree with his anti-robot stance. Kennex’s boss Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lilli Taylor) is keen to have Kennex continue his pursuit of The Syndicate and manages to team him up with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an older synthetic with a ‘soul’ after Kennex wrecks his previous synthetic partner. Dorian seems acutely aware of Kennex’s misgivings and is easily capable to both impress him and keep his anger in check. Other police officers are rather more skeptical of Kennex’s return and at least one blames him for falling into the ambush that killed his partner. Kennex spent some 17 months after the ambush in a coma and often visits an illegal mind-surgeon to retrieve his memories of the event.
After the last session he remembers that his former girlfriend was the person who used a stun grenade on him during the ambush. With the help of Dorian Kennex manages to defeat an assault on the precinct, in this he is aided by Captain Sandra Maldonado, Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) and Richard Paul. The Syndicate was interested in an item from the evidence vault but without knowing what every item will have to be researched. The pilot ends with Kennex accepting his partner Dorian for what he is. At the end of the episode The Syndicate has been established as the main villain and Kennex will need to uncover what they are looking for in the precinct and what his former girlfriend’s involvement is. The viewer knows that they are after the head of a female synthetic, Syndicate members were previously seen preparing a female synthetic’s body.
The pilot for Almost Human is surprisingly polished considering that they are usually crap. Within 45 minutes a pilot needs to introduce the characters, the plot, the relations and have a meaningful self-contained story to properly round everything off. The first episode of AH has done a good job on all items. The show’s special effects don’t disappoint, unlike Continuum there are plenty of shots of the future world and plenty of future tech that is shown. Especially the cyberpunk style set decorations have to mentioned though a few were cutting it close to Blade Runner.
Nonetheless at times I had the feeling that I was watching a rehash of other TV-shows and movies. You know what I mean, it’s when you whisper; I, robot, Dredd, Minority Report and Fringe. The influence of Fringe extends beyond just the cinematography but also includes things such as police procedures and the background set. I am not saying that these are per se bad things. I liked that Almost Human was very polished even if it felt familiar at times. Never judge a TV-show by its pilot, after tonight’s episode we will see if the show can find steady ground to stand on.
Score; 8,7. Polished pilot for a show that still needs to make its mythology work.