Almost Human started off as one of my most anticipated new shows of the season. It looked to have some great effects, an interesting story, and Karl Urban, which doesn’t hurt at all. As the season began, I’m happy to report my expectations were met on the majority of those fronts. The main focus of the show is the relationship between Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) and his AI partner Dorian (Michael Ealy). Kennex is established up front as someone who distrusts the AI partners that all police offers are required to work with. It’s the reason he takes on Dorian in the first place. Dorian is what is known as a DRN model android, a model that had been discontinued due to their inability to process their advanced emotional programming. Kennex decides that if he must partner with an AI though, he’d rather have a DRN than the current MX models, who more resemble emotionless Ken dolls come to life. Kennex also deals with his dislike of AI more close to home, having an artificial leg. It’s a problem he cannot simply run away from. But the initially forced relationship between Kennex and Dorian becomes the central theme, and the resulting chemistry between Urban and Ealy is wonderful to watch. Their chemistry is better than any other duo on network television right now.
Urban and Ealy have a solid supporting cast as well. Minka Kelly, who plays Detective Valerie Stahl, and the occasional love interest of Kennex, delivers week in and week out. While there are some issues within the context of how her character is written, Kelly’s performance is completely on par. Lili Taylor also brings a great run of performances to the show as Captain Sandra Maldonado. She serves as a bit of a mentor and mother figure to Kennex, constantly looking out for him and going to the mat to defend him when it’s needed. Kennex being the rebel cop type that he is, this happens more often than not. For me though, the stand out supporting role is easily Mackenzie Crook, who plays the eccentric and quirky scientist Rudy Lom. Rudy is most often used as the comic relief of the show, but is given a more prominent role in episodes like “Arrhythmia”. Regardless of the size of his role within an episode, his presence on the show is always refreshing and fun, and Crook stands out as the only actor who is able to go toe to toe with Urban and Ealy.
Almost Human is set in the year 2048 (You’re reminded every time the show begins…). And while I very much doubt that in thirty-four years we’ll be dealing with AI cops, this is a science fiction show and those are issues we can easily be set aside. The futuristic setting of the show also means that a lot of effects, both practical and digital, are needed. Practical effects are used much more than I had anticipated, and to great effect. I keeps everything feeling more gritty and grounded, and it also prevents the thing I had initially feared most — bad network CG. Some digital effects are used of course, with varying degrees of success throughout the season, but with practical effects being so dominate, I find myself looking back and having trouble remembering anything I found too atrocious. Effects, even the practical ones, are also used sparingly, and in conjunction with the world in a way that allows them to do their most, with less. It’s extremely smart on the part of Fox, J.H. Wyman (creator and executive producer), and Jay Worth (Visual Effects Supervisor).
Where Almost Human struggles in its over-arching story. Story lines that seem to have bigger possibilities are teased and then disappear. Some of this is of course in anticipation of further seasons of the show, and so are understandable. But other story beats, like the relationship between Kennex and Stahl, are pushed hard up front, and then simmer as the season continues on, in a way that’s very noticeable. It’s not that these beats are completely abandoned, but the focus seems to shift. Several other story threads are brought to light and then never seen again, so we can only hope that these are explored more if later seasons, if later seasons become a reality. If they do not though, there is some finality to the show. The line is straddled well in the season finale. And without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that there is enough resolution that if we never see John and Dorian again, it will be an ending I can be happy with.Almost Human is a show that any fan of J.J. Abrams, J.H. Wyman, science fiction, or police procedurals should definitely check out. The performances are solid across the board, with some stand outs like Urban, Ealy, and Crook. Practical effects are used in some wonderful ways as well. Some cation is advised though, as the future of John and Dorian is uncertain to say the least, and if this season will be the one and only, there will be many unanswered questions.