Almost Human

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The Fox channel’s series Almost Human continues to be one of this year’s surprise delights, and remains a regular highlight of my week.

This buddy-cop procedural drama is set in a semi-dystopian near future where police detectives are paired with synthetic partners.  This idea is as old as Isaac Asimov’s superlative I, Robot, almost as old as science fiction itself.  This retread on an old story weaves its way through a minefield of missteps that have blown up many promising stories in the past.  The result is a thoroughly enjoyable bit of sci-fi.

There is dystopia to deal with, which is excellent because without serious problems there isn’t much for a buddy-cop procedural to tackle, and you get a character piece like Demolition Man, which only struggles through by performances instead of story.  Law enforcement continues is in a constant race to keep up with new technologies in crimes.  Almost Human is the technological foil to the mythological success Grimm.  The future has problems, but it does not roll around in them like Blade Runner‘s near-infinite inferior imitations.  The technology is visually appealing, clean, and crisp.  The color schemes revolve around transparent walls, chrome, and non-threatening blues.  Too many science fiction dystopias set out to punish the viewer’s eyes with set design instead of story.  The Crystal Method, one of my favorite millennial EDM bands provides excellent musical support.  In a time of deep political divides Almost Human takes the high road and does not go for political cheap shots or suppositions, be they progressive, conservative, green, or libertarian in nature, so there are no poison pills for viewers across the political spectrum.

The characters are well-realized.  Karl Urban’s performance of tough-guy Detective Kennex is a great male lead, proactive, wounded enough to show he is and can be hurt, and gruff in the tradition of noir detectives like Spencer.  He is driven by the injuries of a near-death experience and the lost memories about it, a detective with his own internal mystery to solve.  His partner, Dorian (Michael Ealy), is Pinocchio come of age, an android cop with a synthetic soul who faced a strong set of troubles.  Others of his model have been reassigned after they turned defective, sometimes killing people, so Dorian has self-doubts about what he might do if or when he breaks.  Dorian has to deal with prejudice and doubt, heightened by the casting of a black actor for the American public.  Both cops are seen as damaged, but together they overcome their mutual disadvantages and solve crimes, protect people, and grow towards personal victories as well.

The supporting cast is solid, with a lot of B actors giving an A game for great chemistry.  There are no static characters here.  The series guest-stars different character backgrounds to add depth and meaning to the precinct setting as time goes on.  The stories themselves touch on human elements instead of mere technological tricks, the make-or-break difference between a clever writing staff and a great one.  The series has a fair amount of action with nice breaks for human-interest episodes and psychological drama.  The banter is not forced or thick, but believable and pleasant.

I just finished the tenth episode, “Perception,” and despite a misstep or two in the first three episodes I am glad that I’ve stuck with the series so far.

Highly recommended.

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