I’ve been a fan of Karl Urban since The Bourne Supremacy. His portrayal of Dr. McCoy in the new Star Trek franchise is practically perfect, he made Judge Dredd a bad ass again, and he was my pick for Batman before the character eventually got Afflecked. So, my expectations were perhaps a bit too high for his new FOX television show that is essentially an I-Robot spin-off/rip-off/remake/re-imagining. I’m sorry, that jibe was a little unfair. The similarities between I-Robot and Almost Human are numerous, but they aren’t exactly the same. I-Robot was murder mystery, while Almost Human is a cop drama. The major similarity they do share is that both are FLASHY while lacking a whole lot of substance.
Almost Human comes from JJ Abrams and Fringe collaborator J.H. Wyman. The show follows a tough as nails, cybernetically enhanced cop in the not-to-distant future solving crimes alongside an android partner. The aesthetic of the show is FLASHY, almost unsustainably expensive looking, and imaginative. However, all the pretty distractions and visual spectacle thrown at us may just be a smokescreen hiding the fact that the show is nothing more than another police procedural. Almost Human seems set up to examine the relationship between androids and humans and whether programmed emotions constitute an actual soul. An interesting subject that has been explored hundreds of times before, but always leaving room for more inventive analysis. Urban’s character has an ongoing mystery involving his past that will sometimes get in the way of that. A little part of me wishes the show would have went with a more Blade Runner feel instead of the colder Minority Report vibe. Though, audiences now a days are more captivated with shows driven by cool CGI effects than ones with creative cinematography and atmosphere.
On paper, Karl Urban is a great choice to play a hard nosed grumpy cop. Urban does good grumpy. His Dr. McCoy is funny grumpy, his Judge Dredd is intimidating grumpy, but his Almost Human character John Kennex is kind of just boring grumpy. From episode one to episode two, the writers seemed to remember Urban’s comedic chops and gave him some humorous material to play. I only hope they can round out his character a little more and give us something else compelling about him other than the stereotypical “closed off emotionally cop” schtick. Michael Ealy does just fine as Dorian, the android with feelings. (Little strange that the older model android seems newer than the newer model androids…but whatever.) His chemistry with Urban is very good at times and he knows just how much emotion to display. However, the rather heavy-handed allegory the show wants to make about race relations gave me a bit of pause in regards to his casting. Choosing a black actor to play an android who will make statements about mistreatment that draws comparisons to racial prejudice…a little on the nose. My thought is that if they are going to go there, go all the way with it. Although, it seems Almost Human is a bit too fluffy of a series to delve any deeper into that sort of subject matter.
Urban and Ealy’s clearly apparent chemistry is a relief because their supporting cast is marginal at best. The best being quirky forensics specialist Rudy Lom, played by Mackenzie Crook. Crook, better known for his character Ragetti in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, has the only interactions with the two leads that has any real life or resonance. Everyone else appears to just be cardboard exposition outlets that get the main characters from point A to point B. The worst being the forced romantic love interest Detective Stahl, played by Minka Kelly. Don’t get me wrong. Minka Kelly is a beautiful lady, but she is about as believable as a police detective as Denise Richards was as a rocket scientist. Unless there is some “big bad” on the horizon that’ll be played by someone who isn’t half asleep, Almost Human will be carried solely by Karl Urban and Michael Ealy’s relationship.
With a litany of lackluster to god awful new television shows this season, Almost Human falls in the unremarkable, yet, harmless part of the spectrum. My only hope is that its FLASH doesn’t distract from its direction so much, that it prevents us from getting good stories. Strap on your prosthetic super leg…make sure your android partner isn’t scanning your testicles(Yes, they do that on this show)…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.