The Future Is Bleak

‘Almost Human’ Review: A Dystopian Future That We’ve Seen Before

Despite the lovable human and robot crime-fighting duo, Fox’s Almost Human fails to deliver any revolutionary science fiction.

In 2048, Los Angeles has been flooded with unknown weapons and drugs. Crime has risen 400 percent. The LAPD can’t keep up with the rate at which science and technology evolve—the cops are outnumbered and overwhelmed. But there is a solution: Every officer is partnered with a MX-43, which is “an advanced, combat-model android.”

This is the storyline of Almost Human, Fox and J.J. Abrams's odd-couple police drama. The network has had a hard time launching sci-fi television series. Alcatraz and Terra Nova did not live past 13 episodes and Fringe had to fight to make to it to five seasons. This fall, the network launched two: Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human. The former has surprised viewers and critics alike by how well it’s doing. If you can get past the feeling that Almost Human is a rehash of sci-fi stories from TV and movies, this show may actually have a future.

In this dystopian future we’re not subjected to gratuitous amounts of exposition and terrible “as you know” lines since this is all explained with on-screen text read by a robotic female voice. When the pilot begins, we find LAPD Detective John Kennex (Star Trek’s Karl Urban) and his squad ambushed by a criminal organization called “The Syndicate.” The show’s writers waste no time showing us that Kennex hates the MX-43s and violates protocol quite regularly. While attempting to save a wounded squad mate, the Syndicate detonates a grenade, killing one officer, and leaving Kennex missing a leg and in a coma.

Seventeen months later, a recently awoken Kennex is obsessed with figuring out how The Syndicate planned the ambush. He’s also suffering from guilt over the deaths of his squad, causing his body to reject his synthetic leg. (That’s where the title’s from!)

Upon his return to the force, bionic Kennex isn’t pleased with the new MX-43 policy. Kennex pushes his first android out of a moving car and opts for an outdated android model called a DRN, whose name is Dorian (Common Law’s Michael Ealy). DRNs are more human than the MX-43s not only in appearance, but in psychology as they have been equipped with a “Synthetic Soul.” This, obviously, allows them to experience human emotions. Unfortunately, they were decommissioned when it was shown that, like humans, the DRNs have a bit of a breaking point.

Once Kennex and Dorian are paired, the pilot spends the rest of the time trying to sell us this odd couple as a duo. And it works. Ealy is the perfect comedic foil to Urban’s gruff cynicism, and at times distracts us from how bleak it is in the year 2048.

As is to be expected, Dorian and Kennex initially bump heads as Dorian takes issue with how he and other androids are referred to as “Synthetics.” Part of the episode, then, is spent distinguishing Dorian from the emotionless and useless MX-43s for not only Kennex, but for the viewer as well. Throughout the episode, the MX-43s make deductive errors and are easily taken out by a single bullet (or whatever they have in 2048). Whereas, Dorian pretty much holds his own in the final gunfight in the police station until Kennex gets the shot he needs to incapacitate the criminal.

The show also provides several moments for Dorian to prove his usefulness to Kennex. For example, Dorian’s human emotions allow him to make sense of the raw data collected from a broken MX-43, which helps Kennex figure out what The Syndicate is after. Furthermore, Dorian is present when Kennex realizes how the Syndicate planned their ambush: Kennex’s girlfriend was working with them.

Unfortunately, this first twist was telegraphed within the first five minutes—and any chance really—of the pilot. Every time Kennex has a flashback about the ambush, his memory is interrupted with flashes of his ex-girlfriend who disappeared while he was in a coma.

Even with all of the sci-fi trappings, Almost Human, unfortunately, does not feel like anything new. One can’t help but think of Will Smith in I, Robot or any other dystopian future stories. Moreover, while futuristic technology has the potential to elicited both shock and awe, here it unfortunately does not. None of Almost Human’s weapons and tech are cool enough to make them standout from things we have seen before. Or what we’re seeing now on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The supporting characters are the typical kind you would find in a cop drama these days. There are Kennex’s two easily forgettable squad mates played by Minka Kelly and Michael Irby, and there’s the weird British technology guy who works in the basement played by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Mackenzie Crook. Lili Taylor, who plays Captain Maldonado, is the only one who really stands out.

Viewers who were turned off by the serialized nature of Fox’s previous attempts at sci-fi genre television, may be drawn to the familiarity of Almost Human. The episode’s final twist may provide just enough incentive to tune in again. Well, at least until the show attempts it’s inevitable robot uprising storyline.