April 7, 2014
Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto
Executive Producers: J. H. Wyman, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Created by: J. H. Wyman
Produced by: Frequency Films, Bad Robot, Warner Brothers Television
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High
Key Cast Members:
- Detective John Kennex: Karl Urban
- DRN-0167, aka “Dorian”: Michael Ealy
- Detective Valerie Stah: Minka Kelly
- Rudy Lom: Mackenzie Crook
- Detective Richard Paul:Michael Irby
- Captain Sandra Maldonado: Lili Taylor
Overview: Almost missed out on Almost Human, Fox TV’s latest attempt at a cyberpunk/sci-fi show. Really didn’t know about this until mid-Febuary, and then it was almost too late. Mostly because of a similar sounding show on SyFy called Being Human which was more supernatural than sci-fi. Now I need to catch up with the reruns, or try video on demand (even if I have to purchase), or wait until the DVD, or maybe Pirate Bay… only as a last resort (Amazon already has season one for download). But based on what I have seen from the pilot and season finale, this may be one that’s going to stay for a while… but it has some serious past history to overcome, more later.
At first glance, Almost Human sounds like your typical police-buddy drama with a cyberpunk twist. That might be true, but there’s more to it. Check this:
The Story: The year 2048 sees rapid advances in science and technology; Too rapid for legal and government systems to control. The crime rate has jumped 400%, fueled by organized crime groups quick to exploit the lag. The most successful organization is the Insyndicate group. Desperate to combat these groups, police departments implement a new strategy: Pair human officers with an MX series advanced combat android.
Detective John Kennex (Urban) leads a raid on an Insyndicate warehouse, only to have his team wiped out in an ambush. Refusing to leave a critically injured partner, he is abandoned by his MX android. While trying to evacuate the scene with his partner, an explosive device goes off, amputating Kennex’s leg and killing his partner.
Two years later, Kennex is left with a prosthetic leg, damaged memories, psychological problems, and a girlfriend who abandoned him (possibly joining Insyndicate). While seeing an unlicensed “recollectionist” (a doctor who helps people recover lost memories), Kennex is called back to duty when Insyndicate robs an armored transport carrying synthetic, programmable DNA. Unhappy with his MX android partner wanting to report his behavior, and still stinging from the last one abandoning him, Kennex decides to gently “dismiss” his partner:
With no more MX androids available, Kennex is assigned an older android: DRN-0167 (Ealy) who prefers to be called “Dorian”. DRN androids were programmed to have human emotions, but many became “unstable” and were decommissioned and replaced with the highly-logical MX series. Dorian had been “offline” for three years before being reawakened to be Kennex’s partner. Despite their differences, they will need to work together to bring down Insyndicate and stop a mole in the police ranks.
The Lighter Side of Cyberpunk? If the above screenshot looks too similar to Blade Runner, that was intended. Creator J.H. Wyman claimed that he “deliberately wanted to create a ‘hopeful’ interpretation of the future” as opposed to the darker visions of cyberpunk we’re accustomed to. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to detract from the overall cyberpunk-ness of the series, especially since it’s really about Kennex and Dorian, and their growing “ro-bromance” (The leading term for this budding human-android relationship). Such buddy-ships are often keys to a good cop film or series, and Almost Human takes it to a new level with the emerging android technology. Like any relationship, there are bound to be good times, there are bound to be bad times,…
… and there are bound to be times that will totally rustle your jimmes.
History Never Repeats… We Hope. Sounds like Almost Human has what it takes to be a hit series. Unfortunately, the ratings says no and now it looks like the program’s only chance of being renewed is for a bunch of other Fox shows to crap out (Hey, it worked for Family Guy). The problem isn’t due to the show itself; It’s actually quite good… at least it’s better than CBS’s less-than-watchable Intelligence. But the show does have three major strikes against it:
First strike: Fox itself. The network’s track record with cyberpunk shows has been quite underwhelming. Remember early efforts like Harsh Realm and VR.5? VR.5 did last long enough to see a season… or series… finale; Harsh Realm wasn’t so lucky. More recent shows Dark Angel and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles saw a second season, though some say Connor lasted one season too long. It seems that sci-fi shows I like last only two seasons before they pull the plug. I’m expecting Almost Human to follow suit.
Strike two: The human-android-cop-buddy concept isn’t exactly original. It’s been tried before… several times, with none lasting beyond season one. Search IMDB for the shows Mann and Machine, Future Cop, Holmes and Yo-Yo, and Total Recall 2070. The syndicated Total Recall 2070 fared the best, lasting 22 episodes before having its plug pulled, but ultimately none lasted beyond season one. I put the blame on the screwball Holmes and Yo-Yo (#33 in TV Guide’s 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time) for poisoning the interest of the human-android-buddy-cops concept. There is humor in Almost Human, but it’s more of a dry, almost British sort laced with dark sarcasm (example: see GIF above).
Then again, the concept of robots/androids living and working among humans remains a touchy subject to most outside of Japan. Even now, that concept still generates friction amongst the meaty who still have visions of Skynet and robot takeovers burned into their BIOSs. Even with today’s advances, Almost Human may still give some cause for alarm with “robots intent on removing humanity and taking over the world, starting by taking over human jobs.”
Regardless of why the prior shows failed, Almost Human hopefully learned from their mistakes.
Strike three: Have you seen what’s on US TV schedules lately? Shoehorned between the reality (lack of) talent shows, the American airwaves are virtually choking on “procedural dramas.” Not that the format is new or unpopular, but it seems that such shows have been on the air since the original Law and Order debuted in 1990, and shows no sign of abating anytime soon. This glut is one reason why I haven’t been watching TV lately. The last thing we need… or I need… is yet another CSI-NCIS-SVU-SUV-DDT-TNT-ACDC-KMFDM-NRBQ-R2D2-C3P0-TMZ-DMZ-DVD-VCR-DVR-USB-ISA-SCSI-SATA-IDE-KKK-XXX-RSVP-LOL-ROFLMAO-ZOMG-WTF-BBQ clogging the networks. Then again, they don’t have futuristic technologies and sarcastic androids, so that may be an advantage.
Conclusion: No word yet on on the fate of Almost Human which may or may not be good news. Hopefully FOX will renew, but it looks more likely that it will be picked up on cable. Hope you have been watching, or at least recording to watch. This is one show that needs to be watched, especially by cyberpunk fans. Only once in a great while does a show come along that has such cyberpunk goodness. Do watch this show, by any means necessary. Then pester FOX until they renew it. And if FOX doesn’t renew…
… Then pester the cable networks to pick it up.