|Kennex and Dorian ponder a case.|
I’m a huge fan of actor Karl Urban (LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR TREK), and I confess I was inclined to like Fox Television’s new SF police thriller Almost Human simply because he was in it. Urban’s prickly appeal and dry delivery, so at home in the character of Leonard “Bones” McCoy, fits the wounded hero of Detective John Kennex equally well. Thanks to Urban, Kennex is complex and instantly engaging, drawing us into this world of the future, so similar, yet subtly different from our own.
The year is 2048, and, according to the show’s opening intro, the expansion of technology can no longer be regulated. The bad guys, it seems, are quicker on the uptake than the slow-moving bureaucracy, and crime is proliferating. Law enforcement’s response is the development of robot police officers to pair up with the human ones, enhancing both their physical and their technological (through computer interface) abilities to fight the good fight.
All well and good, except in Kennex’s case. Nearly two years ago, the officer was caught in an ambush, one of the worst attacks on the police in the history of the department. His partner was killed, and Kennex lost a leg in the explosion that also put him in a coma for 17 months. Every morning now he gets up and attaches a state-of-the art bionic leg that makes him fully functional, but he resents both the technology and the trauma that made it necessary. He bears both guilt and anger over the ambush that took his partner’s life, and suspects someone inside the police department may have tipped off the gang that carried it out.
So Kennex is not happy when he’s assigned a robot partner. In fact, he pushes the ’bot out of the police cruiser doing 80 on the highway about 15 minutes into the first episode. That’s when this story gets really good, with the addition of Michael Ealy (Common Law; BARBERSHOP) as Dorian. Since the department insists on a robot partner, Kennex taps his not-quite-legit genius friend Rudy (MacKenzie Crook, Pirates of the Caribbean) for something manageable. Rudy gives him a model that has been “discontinued” because it has proven unstable—one of the DRN series, designed to incorporate human emotions into the matrix of its thinking patterns.
Dorian is perfect for Kennex. He is a robot that is partly human. Kennex is a human that is partly a robot. Kennex growls. Dorian stays infuriatingly calm. Dorian worries. Kennex shrugs it off. They argue over music in the car. Dorian gets impatient when Kennex stops to eat (because, of course, he never gets hungry). But, little by little, they begin to rely on each other, as partners do. A few episodes in, and we can begin to see the relationship developing, despite John Kennex’s formidable walls and Dorian’s lack of experience in human relations.
This wouldn’t work if Urban and Ealy weren’t the actors they are. The chemistry here is terrific. It doesn’t hurt that the production and writing team is top notch: Creator/producer J.H. Wyman (Fringe), Executive Producer J.J. Abrams and the Bad Robot gang, among others. The supporting cast is stellar, too: Minka Kelly (Friday Night Lights); Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under); Michael Irby (The Unit).
Usually by this point I would be apologizing for the SF aspects of the show, arguing that the relational aspects made up for them. But, surprise!, I don’t have to in this case. There have been some very cool pieces of tech highlighted in various episodes, without making a big deal of them. They are either part of the background or something used by a character in the course of the story. In other words, the tech is integral to the show, as it should be, not an add-on, as it so often is.
For example, in one early episode, criminals breaking into a corporate headquarters sprayed something onto their faces to obscure their images from any cameras. Assassins dropped a little “DNA bomb” in a room to scramble any evidence that may have been left at the scene of a murder. Another recent episode had someone swallowing a substance that made his whole body a transponder. No wires. No “bug” to be detected by the bad guys. How? Who knows? It was cool!
So, cheer up, SF fans. We may not have a lot of shows to pick from in the new crop, but at least we have one good one. Let us pray to the Nielson gods that Almost Human survives the seemingly-constant culling process that is television nowadays and we can enjoy it into the future.
Pippa, you have certainly had a spectacularly productive and affirmative year. Here’s wishing you another just like it in 2014!
And to my co-bloggers and all our loyal readers and friends out there—
ALL THE VERY BEST FOR A HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON
AND A JOYOUS NEW YEAR!