When describing Fox’s new TV show Almost Human as cop buddy show with sci-fi trappings, it can cause eyes to roll. It sounds like your typical formulaic cop buddy show with a supposedly clever twist; this time one of the cops is an android. But that has been done before. Case in mind, there’s that moronic comedy Holmes & Yo-Yo with John Schuck as the bumbling android turned detective.
Almost Human, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. Of course, in the end it’s just another cop show in this TV wasteland littered with cop shows, and it does have elements of the too-common procedural motif. However, Almost Human is very inventive, the scripts are well written and most episodes are quite entertaining with a gritty and realistic tone. It’s never dull or routine and that is because the producers (including show creator J.H. Wyman and executive producer J.J. Abrams) run with the concept.
In the 2040s, crime is getting way out of control. Criminals are using more and more high tech to commit crimes. For example, in one episode criminals wore devices around their necks that blotted out their faces on TV cameras so they couldn’t be identified. In another one, this murderer used clones of himself to carry out his work. To combat this, the police force in an unnamed city use androids to supplement their numbers. In the pilot episode, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) was severely injured and lost a leg. After returning to work with a new bionic leg, he is forced by his commander (nicely played by Lily Taylor) to partner up with a standard android cop. But Kennex has an aversion to working with the emotionless automaton and decides to reactivate an older android model from a discontinued DRN series to help him on a case. Nicknamed Dorian (Michael Ealy), the android sports software that allows him to emulate emotions and as a result has a personality.
After they solve the case in the pilot, Kennex decides to keep Dorian as a partner, even though he finds the android irritating. Naturally as par for the course with these cop shows, Kennex softens his attitude towards Dorian. So the two of them cruise the dangerous streets of their city, solve crimes and get into heated debates about lots of topics. Those range from Kennex’s personal life (or lack of), crime solving techniques, the nature of humanity and whether or not Dorian is actually sentient.
It sounds very been-there-done-that, but as mentioned before, the stories and presentation elevate the show far beyond a standard cop show. This doesn’t mean Almost Human is perfect. Sometimes ethical and legal questions aren’t fully addressed. In one episode, it’s shown that witnesses to a murder trial can just give a testimony via holograms. Things get complicated when they are attacked at a safe house. The episode didn’t dwell on the issue of them being more endangered by being in the safe house rather than going to the courthouse. In another episode, Dorian meets another model from his line who is now used as a janitor. Dorian decides to bring him on a ride along with his partner, but nothing much comes of it, the other model doesn’t add anything to the story, nor does he do anything of importance. Another drawback is the way Kennex is written. Sometimes it’s like every bitter, loner cop cliché is used to define him, but what saves the day is Urban’s acting prowess.
In addition to the imaginative scripts, what makes Almost Human stand out are the acting from the major players like Urban. Ealy does a nice job of portraying the android Dorian and adds a balanced level of humanity to his role. The production values are excellent, the show gives the impression that it’s in the future with new technology like small drones that patrol the skies and holographic alarm clocks. It all looks real and the show almost looks as good as what is usually seen in theatrical films. The only gnawing thing is that the cell phones are hardly different from what we have today. The producers probably hit a brick wall in trying to extrapolate on communication technology. The crimes in the show more importantly seem futuristic; illegal activities range from cloning to farming kidnapped women for their skin (to be used on sex androids) and to extorting victims with illegal artificial organs that have timers.
In a littered TV landscape of mediocre cop and procedural shows, Almost Human stands out brightly. While it still has room to grow, it strikes a good balance between cop-buddy banter, interesting cases and a well-paced tone. The show also embraces its sci-fi trappings that add some needed oomph and enjoyment.