Advent Review #25: Almost Human Season 1 Eps 1-3 (TV Show Review)
Almost Human is one of the newest shows to join the Fall line-up of television entertainment and it is yet another police procedural. But where it departs from the norm is that it is also an SF thriller through and through. It is set in the future and in this setting, each cop is paired up with a synthetic, an android cop. The ever-fantastic Karl Urban and the excellent Michael Ealy are in the lead roles here and much as with Fox’s Sleepy Hollow pairing of Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, the interaction between the two leads is what really helps sell the show.
I’d seen the trailer for the show a few weeks ago when io9 ran a round-up of the debut shows, but I’d forgotten about it since then. But a couple friends on Twitter were talking about them recently and I got interested all over again. So I decided to watch the shows, and came away with yet another big hit for myself. With Arrow, Sleepy Hollow and now Almost Human, my TV viewing has never been better. Almost Human hits pretty much all the right notes for me and the storytelling, the visuals, and the acting are all top-notch in here.
If you are the kind of viewer who liked Star Trek (various iterations), Andromeda and I, Robot and have read Isaac Asimov’s many novels, then this show is going to be right up your alley. Almost Human deals with android-human relationships and much as with Asimov’s superb novel Caves of Steel, the first in his Robot series, the show has a police procedural bent with both a human and an android cop. Throughout the six episodes that I’ve seen so far, I’m always reminded of that novel and since I remember it quite fondly, my fascination and love for Almost Human has been very strong. This is a show that takes itself seriously and involves some really excellent writing, which is a very key part of such a show.
The first episode introduces all the major characters and it sets up an overarching story for the first season, involving a terrorist/criminal organisation known as Insyndicate. Urban’s character Detective John Kennex has run into them in the past and his last major tussle with them led to him suffering an amputated leg (now replaced with a machine prosthetic; this entire thing strongly evokes I, Robot), a loss of memory and a long coma. Kennex is someone struggling to come to terms with a lot of things and one of the responsibilities given to him when he returns to the police force is partnering with an android cop. He promptly gets rid of it and is then assigned an older discontinued model, the DRNs, who were created with some kind of software that made them almost human. And this is where things really get off, because we dive right into the middle of things.
The first three episodes, taken together, do an excellent job of establishing the relationships between the characters. And of all these relationships, the one between Kennex and the DRN android Dorian is the one that’s at the heart of the show. Fox’s Sleepy Hollow is so great because the writers have taken the time to develop a real relationship of equals between its leads, and because the actors have been doing an amazing job as well. The same holds true for Almost Human. I’m a huge fan of Karl Urban, and of Michael Ealy, so this show brings together two favourite actors, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better pair of futuristic detectives.
Urban and Ealy really get into the intensity of their characters and deliver strong performances throughout each episode. And they both have certain quirks that help set them apart. Initially it all comes across as rote and predictable but the writers move the characters beyond those expectations very soon. One instance is when Kennex keeps referring to Dorian as a synthetic and basically talks down to him in the first episode. Dorian rallies and forces Kennex to stop seeing him as a piece of property and start seeing him as a fellow human being, or almost human being at any rate. The first three episodes all have such moments aplenty and they are what really sell me on the show.
The supporting cast of Minka Kelly as Detective Valerie Stahl, Mackenzie Crook as Technician Rudy Lom, Michael Irby as Detective Richard Paul and Lili Taylor as Captain Sandra Maldonado are all fantastic as well, particular Crook’s Lom and Taylor’s Maldonado. What I really like about the casting is that Kennex’s superior is a woman. The show doesn’t have any problems with sexism, aside from the bit of weirdness with the sex-bots that was there in the second episode, and putting a female character in such a position of power is a great move for the show. Sure, there is no perfect gender balance in the show, but then I’m not looking for that either. I’m looking for a diverse cast with a relational balance.
And Taylor’s Maldonado is always a joy to watch. She is a fantastic actor and she shows that again and again in this show, especially in the fifth episode Blood Brothers (more on that soon). Kelly’s Stahl is a bit too simplistic a character in these episodes, and I’m hoping that she improves significantly once the show returns next month after the holiday hiatus. Still, the show does well to balance her off against both Kennex and Dorian, so that’s something.
Crook’s Lom is amazing because this role really gives Crook the time to develop a character. I previously saw him in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies where his pirate was always there for humor value and got some great laughs out of it. This show however gives him a lot of leverage and room to work on his skills and it shows in all his scenes. I wish he was getting more screen-time (and he does in the fourth episode The Bends) because he might as well be one of the most fun minor characters on a show.
The first episode deals with a lot of action that is pretty much perfect and it helps establish the high stakes of the show, especially given the revelations about Insyndicate and its members in the final moments of the episode. The second episode is low on action and it deals with sex-boths, which is quite a bit weird at first, but it also balances that out by giving the viewer a really in-depth look into Dorian and how he perceives people around him, and the notion of death for a synthetic. The third episode is a hostage situation with a really good twist at the end, and it continues to offer a great balance between the action and the character drama, which is quickly becoming a hallmark of the show.
In closing, all I want to say is that its great to see a police procedural be executed so damn well. I’ve seen a fair few of them over the years, but none have been as interesting or immediately gripping with story and acting as Almost Human has been so far. Urban and Ealy have proven themselves to be excellent casting choices and I’m really hoping that the show is picked up soon for a full season and even a second. That would be fantastic.
Posted on December 25, 2013, in Almost Human, Review Central, TV Show Reviews and tagged Almost Human, Androids, Crime, Crime Drama, Detective John Kennex, Drama, Fox, J H Wyman, J J Abrams, Karl Urban, Lili Taylor, Mackenzie Crook, Michael Ealy, Michael Irby, Minka Kelly, Near Future, Police Procedural, Review, Review CentralT, Science Fiction, SF Thriller, Thriller, TV Show, TV Show Review. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.