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Ian O'Rourke
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Almost Human, Almost Great
Keywords: TV.

Almost Human was a show I wasn’t aware of at all. I had no idea it was in development. The first I heard of it was when people started commenting on the pilot episode on Twitter. A near future cop show in the mould of late eighties and early nineties fair like Robocop and Total Recall? The cop show crucible in a world where technology has gone out of control? Throw in the almost human android as a partner and it sounded like a great concept.

I’ve been binging on it lately, watching all eight episodes that have been aired, and it’s a show that is almost great.

Karl Urban, as the troubled Detective Kennex, and Michael Ealy, as the almost human android, are nothing short of brilliant. As far as casting goes the show has pulled a complete blinder. They work really well together as a partnership. The ‘cop buddy show’ element works really well. Karl Urban manages to be the curmudgeon cop while still being amazingly likeable. Michael Ealy does a great job of actually being the more empathic character despite being the android, which is a dynamic they should play up more as it is core to the series. If the characters have any faults it’s in the writing as their issues and the themes that surround them just aren’t pushed aggressively enough. We’ll come back to that.

The show looks fantastic. Like any TV show they have to economise over the course of the season and they do this by keeping things very near future. At times the setting isn’t that different in terms of the streets and buildings. They just do enough to maintain a compelling illusion. The technology interactions are great. The use of fancy screens and holographic displays work really well. The virtual crime scene tape works every time they use it. The crimes and the new technology behind them also work (over time it’ll throw in a lot of the concepts often given over to whole films). The vehicles are given enough cosmetic dressing (their police evokes Robocop). It feels near future. It feels like films it gets its influence from but with technology that doesn’t feel anachronistic. It feels authentic, which is a great achievement. The shows production across the board is very well delivered.

At the moment the show is falling into a crime of the week structure. There is zero on-going story. No heavy serialisation. This is quite refreshing due to the heavily serialised nature of quality TV these days. I have no problem with episodic shows as they have numerous advantages as they can explore different types of stories, deliver great, self-contained narratives and mix up mood and style occasionally. In truth, Almost Human doesn’t do this, it has a very set delivery like many cop shows we’ve seen over time. The episodes have mostly been focused on technology crimes: androids for sex, clones, designer drugs, blackmail through the Internet of Things, etc. They work well, but they need to introduce some serial elements in terms of consequences. We’ll come back to that.

Despite all the great individual elements you are left with a feeling Almost Human is satisfied with being reliable, good and almost great instead of being fantastic. It feels like it is coasting. Very good coasting, but coasting nonetheless.

The show fails to push the issues of the characters and the themes of the show aggressively enough. They are present, but they are very lightweight. Themes come up in the crime of the week but not really in a way that really matters. This isn’t good enough. Why isn’t the show exploring the issue of being ‘almost human’ more deeply and with bigger fall out? The grey areas around this concept explored through the personalities of Kennex and Dorian. Neither does it push the relationship between Kennex and Dorian especially in the area of how everyone else sees Dorian? Why isn’t the fact that Kennex himself part ‘android’ explored more? What about background issue of Kennex and how this could fit into the ‘almost human’ question? In short, the characters need to stop coasting from interesting case to case and start having to face hard questions, consequences and issues based on their choices and the theme of the show.

Until the show does this it will continually sit on the edge of greatness, failing to deliver something bigger than the sum of its awesome parts. I hope it kicks these areas into gear. If it does, Almost Human could be a veritable classic.

Permalink | Comments(0) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 26/01/2014 Bookmark and Share
 
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