The biggest problem that FOX’s new sci-fi cop procedural Almost Human will face in the coming weeks is the undue burden of expectation. Creator and showrunner J.H. Wyman previously helmed the late, lamented Fringe, while Almost Human‘s promos have heavily featured its geek triumvirate of executive-producers: Wyman, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk. Another unmistakably major draw is Almost Human‘s recognizable cast, led by Star Trek‘s Karl Urban and Sleeper Cell‘s Michael Ealy.
With many talented individuals working in front of and behind the camera, the heat was unmistakably on for Almost Human to arrive on Sunday as a bona fide television event, featuring awards-worthy performances, stellar special effects and a compelling storyline to complement its already high-concept hook. Does it check all of those boxes? No, of course it doesn’t.
It’s simply inane to expect a show (particularly one on a commercial broadcast network like FOX) to premiere to that level of confidence and quality. Instead, what we got with Almost Human last night was a thoroughly decent pilot that holds the promise of a much better show somewhere down the line. And in a television season that has seen anticipated shows flop one after the other, from CBS’ Hostages to ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, I’m pretty happy with Almost Human just not being terrible.
Set in 2048 Los Angeles, Almost Human opens on a technologically-advanced, crime-ridden future not unfamiliar to fans of I, Robot and (more recently) Dredd. Humanlike androids have become standard issue in the LAPD in an attempt to combat unprecedented amounts of criminal activity, though their cold efficiency removes the human component of law enforcement. This does not sit well with detective John Kennex (Urban), who lost a colleague and his leg during an ambush because of an unyielding bot. Returning to active duty after two years in recovery, Kennex is reluctantly partnered with an unusually compassionate android named Dorian (Ealy), whose kind had been previously retired after it was discovered that near-human levels of emotion interfered with their effectiveness in the field. Together, they work to discover the perpetrators of the ambush.
The show’s strongest asset, aside from its top-notch production qualities (which I expect will taper off in future episodes), is its great cast. Urban, so terrific in Dredd even with half his face obscured, is both a skilled character actor and a capable leading man. Playing a gruff, angry cop, Urban is believable but never cartoonish. There are definite, unexplored layers to his character that I hope Almost Human will flesh out in the next few episodes. Ealy is also very entertaining as Dorian, though his casual attitude and conversational manner of speech don’t exactly sit well with me if he’s meant to be bought as a robot. He does get the pilot’s coolest moment, however, when he injects a syringe of infected blood into his neck in order to immediately analyze its contents. The chemistry between Urban and Ealy is also, to my great relief, potent enough to support Almost Human‘s buddy-cop set-up.
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