The Good, The Bad & The Buggy: Almost Human (2013-14)
Despite J.J. Abrams being an executive producer on the show, Almost Human was not renewed for a second season by Fox because it lost a ratings war in the time slot. That being said, the myopic politics of Hollywood may not be the only reason for the show not taking off. There were too many writers on the show and as much as I love episodic television fiction (especially in the broader genre of fantasy) the trend is toward serial structure emphasizing cliffhangers and soap opera drama for the core relationships of characters. Almost Human did not follow this structure. The show had great promise and picked up a fan following, but it also had some critical weaknesses. This list like other Good, Bad & Buggy lists examine the best, worst and oddest parts of the series.
1. Who's on First - Kennex and Dorian
Each episode focuses on the detective partnership of neo-luddite, John Kennex and his android sidekick, DRN-class "Dorian". Dorian helps Kennex overcome his personal prejudices against artificial intelligence by revealing his genuine personality that is conscientious and kind. Kennex appreciates that although Dorian may have no soul per se, he has a heart that is true and can even be broken. Kennex and Dorian are an odd couple and Kennex remains resistant to opening up to the android, but each episodes establishes how Kennex is warming to Dorian. A lot of that amiability is achieved through witty repartee and friendly teasing between the pair. This also makes their relationship endearing and amusing for the spectator.
2. Staying Punctual - Kennex Intolerance
In the series opener, Kennex reveals that he is absolutely no-nonsense and a bit of a rogue detective in the department when he tosses his standard issue android partner out of his car and watches it tumble across the highway and get crushed by a speeding bus. The act is quite impromptu and aptly sets up Kennex's personal woes and sensitivities with great pomp and punctuality.
3. Folie a Deux - Kennex and Dorian Rogue Status
Dorian is a DRN android, a class decommissioned because their "soul" microprocessor was known to produce erratic behaviour which at times was uncontrollable (namely, they were too human). The MX androids replaced the DRN, so Dorian's assignment as Kennex's partner is rife with adversity in the police department. On the other hand, Kennex is a headstrong detective prone to going rogue and breaking the rules. The juxtaposition of ostracism for a machine and for a man generates great dramatic tension in the series.
4. Tech Amnesia - SciFi Visualization
Almost Human does an excellent job of visualizing future technology. Many of the new inventions and innovations in the conceptualized world of 2048 are intuitive, but the show finds ways to apply some creative twists. In addition, the art director didn't sterilize the world too much. The urban landscape still has green and is familiar to the present moment.
5. I am the Egghead - Rudy Lom
Mackenzie Crook is best remembered through his performance as Garreth in the UK series, The Office. In Almost Human, he plays the role of the tech polymath, Rudy. His character is versatile in skill and profound in knowledge, but also has eccentric quirks and an inherent bravery and sense of adventure that renders his character flexible in portrayal. Rudy Lom was a character that could have continued stepping up in importance had the series continued.
1. Jettison the Mediocre - Enemies Part #1
One of the major issues with the series was that the enemies were completely generic for almost all of the episodes. The XRN psychopathic android was a saving grace in this regard, but the series needed to have more epic villains to keep FOX confident that the show had legs. In the end, Almost Human felt too much like a CSI-style series juxtaposed a few decades into the future. It should have been more intent on emulating Star Trek or X-Files which always focused on unique and compelling threats.
2. Service Industry - Enemies Part #2
The lack of epic villains was a major problem for the series, however, it also had the side effect of putting too much emphasis on the depiction of future technology. The weapons and gadgets at the fore refute the impact underlying the logic of the contemporary proverb, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people". The villains are in effect castrated, yet the futuristic weaponry is not potent enough on its own to induce fear or excitement.
1. Just a Ford - Vehicles
The technology depicted for 2048 is extremely advanced compared to the present moment. However, cars and other vehicles have virtually no noticeable significant advancements.
2. Non Sequitur - Crime Drama
Crime dramas almost always aspire to depict a world of crime and justice that is realistic at the procedural level. Bank heists are not successfully pulled off by two people, but require intricate plans and perhaps a dozen guns. When police call for back-up, response time as screentime is based on real research from policing statistics. In Almost Human, there are too many contrived moments that break from this aforementioned tradition. One occasion is when two witnesses in witness protection are housed in the same hotel room with a single human guard on the inside and a single MX android posted outside. The assassin disposes of them quickly.
3. Loose Ends - Poor Characters
What separates good screenwriters from great ones is the ability to craft compelling central and peripheral characters. Almost Human had a writing team that developed a wonderful set of relationships between the primary characters (Kennex, Dorian, Rudy...), however, the secondary characters were often poorly realized and suffered from under-talented actors playing the roles. Those actors did not have the ability to fill out the characters and so performances appear very stilted. This reminds us that bad acting is almost always a combination of low talent and poor screenwriting. One example of this occurs in the eighth episode when the target of an assassin comments about Dorian's odd behaviour after an attempted attack, by saying, "what's wrong with him?" Well, I don't know... maybe it's the high-velocity, high-caliber, guided missile bullet that went through him to save your dumb ass. The line was filler and just comes off as ridiculous. The rule in screenwriting matches that of life - if you don't have something important to say, then shut up.