TV Review: “Almost Human” S01 E01 “Pilot”

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  • Air Date: 11/4/2013
  • Written By: J.H. Wyman
  • Directed By: Brad Anderson
  • Starring: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook,
  • Guest Stars: Toby Levins, Hiro Kanagawa, Mekia Cox

TV Review: “Almost Human” S01 E01 “Pilot”

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35 years in the future, ALMOST HUMAN thrusts us knee-deep in a dystopian future where the crime rate has ballooned 400%, and the police force now requires every police officer be joined in the field by an android companion. After a disastrous ambush masterminded by a clandestine criminal organization, officer John Kennex is left near-death. Two years later, he’s back, and trying to take on the worst that a futuristic Los Angeles has to offer.

COMIC-CON is upon us, and that means the first night brings the 6th annual WB TV pilot night, which included not one, not two, but THREE CW shows, and the show I was most highly anticipating of the bunch, FOX’s ALMOST HUMAN. It’s J.H. Wyman’s follow up to FRINGE, it’s the next in a long line of J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot’s television endeavor (a group that includes/d LOST, FRINGE, PERSON OF INTEREST, REVOLUTION, ALCATRAZ and ALIAS) and it reunites Karl Urban (DREDD) with Abrams and company after STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. It’s got all the ingredients for success, but like FRINGE, it appears it may take a bit of time to find solid footing. But I definitely think that it will. Or maybe that’s just faith in the creative and on camera talent involved.

The action begins immediately, with Karl Urban’s John Kennex spraying bullets, trying to get to his fallen human partner. The android cops on scene won’t help him because they’re cold, calculating and there’s very little statistical probability that any of them would survive, let alone his dying comrade. Nevertheless, John goes forth, gets to his partner, and tries to drag him out of the storm of bullets. He gets about 7 feet and then the villains shrouded in smog and gunspray blow off half his leg. After a bomb explosion that somehow does no further damage to our hero, followed by a sunny daydream featuring ex-girlfriend Anna (Mekia Cox, radiant), John wakes up in a back alley doctor’s office. Apparently he’s trying to rebuild his memory from the accident, and he’s doing so illegally, and it appears, painfully. But then again, he likely (and rightfully) blames himself for the carnage that went down.

But enough feeling sorry for yourself: his boss Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) calls him back into the force, because apparently mediocre cops with bad attitudes, massive baggage and a gimp leg are hard to come by in the future. His leg has been replaced by a synthetic material, but he’s having trouble accepting it, and therefore, letting it completely sync to his body. He returns to work, meets a few staff members, like Valerie Stahl (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS’ Minka Kelly) and the quirky Rudy (THE OFFICE and GAME OF THRONES’ Mackenzie Crook), then goes on a mission that ends with him throwing his new android partner out of his vehicle and sending it to the scrap heap. Quick recap: John endangered his life, wasted BILLIONS of dollars spent on these state of the art androids, almost died/is permanently disabled, took 2 years off and has a laundry list of problems, returns, and throws his android partner out of his car for doing its job his first day. More money down the drain. If this was a functioning city and police force, that kind of wasteful spending would get someone in trouble. Hm, maybe this is the future.

Instead, he’s ushered back because he’s the only one that Maldonado can trust (my cliche alert had been buzzing earlier, but this one gets an awkward parenthetical), which means she spent two years looking over her shoulder. Also, the current case involves an armed robbery, by what looks to be the inSyndicate, the same criminal organization that was involved in Kennex’s ass-kicking in the opening credits. Apparently almost dying gives you the necessary credentials to continue pursuit.

The show completely turns and improves by tremendous leaps and bounds when the great and perennially underrated Michael Ealy (COMMON LAW, CALIFORNICATION, THE GOOD WIFE, FLASHFORWARD) arrives on screen, and is plugged in and turned on. Meet the DRN, or Dorian, a discontinued android that was made to be as human as possible, but because it succeeded, its emotional reactions were too unpredictable to work in the field. So you can add the “I wish I were a real boy” Pinocchio aesthetic to a classic sci-fi hodgepodge. This pilot is BLADE RUNNER meets buddy cop movie, with a dash of DREDD, a ROBOCOP garnish, and TOTAL RECALL jacked in, more or less to taste.

There’s a lot going on, with some cool sci-fi gadgets and glimpses of the futuristic yet decrepit walled city, and surely a promising premise, even if it all seems like some elaborate algebraic equation derivated from the above influences. But when Ealy’s Dorian joins John (John… Dorian… SCRUBS reference?!), and lightens things up, displaying chemistry even with the gruff one dimensional version of Karl Urban, the pilot improves considerably. Immediately, Dorian is the reason we’re watching this show (easily the breakout character of the SDCC Preview Night evening), and it’s clear the duo’s antics and teamwork will be the driving force of the narrative (and rightfully so). Hopefully that will be enough for viewers, even if this devolves into case of the week stuff, which it very likely could. At least until the J.J. Abrams/Wyman mindf*%$! begin in earnest. And that’s what I’m waiting for.

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