Written by Scott Clifford
I had two reactions to seeing Almost Human start its heavy advertising campaign a few months ago. At first I was excited to see a new sci-fi show on broadcast television. Then I was nervous because many expensive shows that have this much marketing months ahead of its release date aren’t very good. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Almost Human. However, it is plagued with a big handicap — despite having an interesting setting and side characters it is held back by a boring, unlikeable protagonist.
Almost Human takes place in 2048. Science and technology evolve at an uncontrollable pace. Drugs and weapons flood society, causing society to crumble under the weight of powerful gangs (called the Syndicate). To combat this, law enforcements require police officers to be partnered with advanced androids in order to help stop crime. Enter John Kennex (Karl Urban), a disgraced cop who is suffering from PTSD due to his partner being killed by a gang ambush. Android units refused to help him save his partner due to the statistical improbability of defeating the Syndicate ambush. So John now hates androids. He even throws his original android partner out a car window when he asks to many questions. This is where Dorian (Michael Ealy) saves the show. Dorian is a part of a class of mechs that were decommissioned for being too “emotional.” He can make the connections that logic-based androids cannot. Think the Odd Couple if it was a cop show in the world of Blade Runner.
The pilot provides an interesting vehicle to introduce these world-building elements into the show. John is let back into the force only because he is the only one that Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor) knows is not on the Syndicate payroll. Dorian may be too emotional but that’s exactly what John needs in order to not be such a stick in the mud all the time. Dorian’s desire to speak his mind and not listen to his fellow mechs enables allows John to do his own thing and save the police headquarters from a gang heist for an item in the evidence room by the end of the episode. Fellow detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) is smart enough, and cute enough to be an interesting romantic foil for John as the show continues. The production value is fantastic and the soundtrack is solid as well.
This brings us back to the elephant in the room. John Kennex isn’t very likeable. He is driven by the death of his partner and the betrayal of his girlfriend working for the Syndicate. Karl Urban does his best to bring charisma to a guy who only has “pissed off” in his emotional range but it’s not enough. Dorian is playful, cocky, and funny. John is just mad, upset, and mad again. There is hope though. John finally calls Dorian “man” instead of “synthetic” by the end of the episode and previews of the next episode show them joking around. Maybe it shows that the creators of the show have learned an old rule in storytelling. A leading male character can be a jerk that doesn’t follow the rules IF they are funny, show a vulnerable side, like puppies or all of the above. Otherwise that character will remind us of people we have to deal with on a regular basis. People don’t find that entertaining, they’ll just change the channel