The year is 2048. Technology is moving forward in a hurry and with it crime is rising at an incredibly fast rate. The law enforcement of this near future setting have decided to pair all human officers with an android to even the odds in this new world. This is the setup for the new sci-fi cop drama, Almost Human, from J.H. Wyman and starring Karl Urban and Michael Ealy. My love of Fringe is no secret, so with Wyman at the helm I was very excited to check this out and I’m happy to report that the pilot seems like a good start to a new series that could grow into something better as time goes on.
Almost Human opens with John Kennex (Karl Urban) leading a raid on the crime organization Insyndicate. Unfortunately things go awry and they are ambushed. A brief conversation with his dying (human) partner indicates that there might have been a mole of some kind. Someone had to have tipped the Insyndicate off to their arrival. Against the advice of his android partner, Kennex tries to get his partner out of harm’s way, but it ends in the partner dying and John losing his leg.
From here we flash forward two years. John has woken from a coma of 17 months. He’s taking some kind of futuristic therapy from a shady, back-alley doctor to try and remember what happened during the ambush. Oh and he now has a synthetic leg which makes him at least a little like the androids he hates, the ones he seems to be blame for losing his partner two years ago. His captain has finally convinced Kennex to return to the force. The motivation is an armed robbery related to programmable DNA and more importantly it might be tied to the Insyndicate.
It isn’t long before John throws his new MX android partner under the bus… almost literally, shoving him out of his moving car, sending him hurtling down the highway under incoming traffic. And this is where things really tick up. John is then partnered with an outdated android model, a DRN known as Dorian. Played by Michael Ealy, Dorian is a more human-like android. And now we have the partnership this show will be built around. Both Karl Urban’s hard-nosed, pill-popping, take no shit detective and Ealy’s robot with feelings are certainly a bit played out in both the crime and sci-fi genres that this show aims to blend. And yet, by the end of the episode, I saw the promise of this duo. Obviously Kennex takes a bit to warm to Dorian, but once he realizes that this is a different kind of robot, things change. Their buddying up at the end makes me excited to see more of them together in future episodes and maybe more of the fun banter and ribbing teased in this episode and shown in some of Almost Human’s promos.
So with Dorian in tow, John continues to investigate the armed robbery which is followed up by an abduction of fellow detective Pete Vogel also seemingly tied to Insyndicate. Apparently Insyndicate is after a piece of evidence from one of Vogel’s cases and the sequences that follow show maybe my favorite aspect of the pilot and where I think a lot of potential lies. Insyndicate operates in a very cool way here sending in one of their own men to help set the wheels of their complicated plan in motion, but what I loved most is some of the technology they employed. There was the masking gun they used when taking Vogel. There was the MX EMP of sorts they used when storming the police headquarters. And best of all there was the very messed up way in which they killed off Vogel. The bioweapon they created here as well as some of the other technology shown off throughout the episode is what most reminded me of the pure cool factor to Fringe’s brand of science-fiction. When I first saw the concept behind this show, I wasn’t sure a human-robot buddy cop show could be the kind of sci-fi that excites me. But the near-future time period and fascinating technology presented here is really where the strength will lie for this show’s sci-fi side I think.
The episode ends with John, Dorian and company thwarting Insyndicate’s attempt to steal away that piece of evidence they coveted. Some interesting seeds are planted here for future mythology elements. An android head is shown seeming to indicate it is what Insyndicate was after and ties back to the headless robot they were messing around with earlier in the episode. Towards the end of the episode, Kennex also remembers that he saw his ex-girlfriend as a part of the crime organization that cost him his partner. These big and little teases are hopefully the basis for an interesting backbone for the show to rest its more prominent procedural elements on.
I’ve only really touched on the two lead characters so far, but there was a sizable supporting cast. They ranged from very interesting (I rather enjoyed Lili Taylor’s Captain Maldonado character) to could be cool (MacKenzie Crook’s tech guy Rudy Lom) to well at least she is extremely good-looking (Minka Kelly’s probably-a-love-interest-for-Kennex Detective Stahl) to the I’m probably going to hate them (angry cop who doesn’t think Kennex should be on the force… I can’t even be bothered to remember this guy’s name). Not exactly the most original cast of characters, but much like Urban and Ealy’s characters seem to already, I imagine we can see them rise above that.
A few more things worth noting:
- I think the scene in the rain where John realizes his girlfriend was with Insyndicate was probably where I really started to see the potential of Kennex and Dorian as a fun team.
- Dorian walking terminator style towards that one dude since he didn’t realize he was an android was pretty great.
- It’s good to know despite all the advancements in technology, there will still be cops rolling around on segways for all of us to mock in the future.
- Good to see Brad Anderson directing. When you saw his name in the credits of a Fringe episode, you always knew you were in for some good stuff.
- The music was really good. Worked well with the setting.
- John and Dorian… John Dorian. I like to think I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stop hearing this likely unintentional Scrubs reference.
Overall the Almost Human pilot was really quite good though not amazing or anything like that. I see a lot of potential in the near-future setting and advanced technology shown throughout this first airing as well as the core relationship of Kennex and Dorian. There are definitely some questions to be asked going forward. For instance, the pilot looked fantastic. The visuals made for a great-looking world, but you wonder what kind of drop off you might have after this episode since it is part promotional tool and typically has a fairly larger budget. Also talk indicates the show will lean more procedural, but I’d love to see it have its mythology mixed into the formula well. The way it mixed case of the week and mythology so effortlessly (particularly in Seasons 2 and 3) is where Fringe went from show I loved to favorite ever, so I’d like to see that from this show too. Luckily we’ll be seeing another episode tonight (I’ll have a review for this tomorrow I hope) which should give us a better idea of what to expect going forward. With Wyman at the wheel of this new sci-fi vehicle and his previous success with both character relationships and fascinating glimpses into the future, Almost Human is in good hands and I hope we have another winner on TV for science-fiction fans.