Why Almost Human is a geek treat

Feature Duncan Bowles 6 May 2014 - 07:00

Starting tonight in the UK on Watch, JJ Abrams' Almost Human promises proper sci-fi, RoboCop-style violence, a strong cast and more...

For those of you who are yet to partake in Almost Human, there’s a sizeable sci-fi treat in store. While the title implies a gentle approach to an existential dilemma, what the show actually delivers is ‘Sexbots and Robocops’ (which is certainly what I would’ve called it) and I mean that in the very best way. It’s a real delight to see a show that revels in its influences and immediately sets about purveying explosive action and its own take on the moral complications of trying to synthesise human beings.

With Watch airing the first season in the UK from tonight, Tuesday 6th May at 9pm (on Sky 109 and Virgin 124), let’s take a look at a few of the many reasons Almost Human is a geek treat.

RoboCop levels of violence

From the opening of the pilot in which our gruff hero, John Kennex (played by the now much lauded geek hero Karl Urban, whose finest roles we recently looked at here) is placed under attack, the show wastes no time in showing us exactly what level of violence and gore it’s aiming for. I have to admit to finding the graphic depiction of blown off limbs somewhat of a surprise.

It wasn’t an unwelcome one though, as it immediately recalled the work of Paul Verhoeven, a director whose fantastic foray into science fiction resulted in some of the best and bloodiest the genre has ever seen. Indeed, there are many parallels between Almost Human and Verhoeven's RoboCop, with the visual palette, stylistic, gritty violence, a mutilated and cybernetically rejuvenated policeman and even several of the design choices seemingly paying homage to the director's work (the cop cars in particular).

 

An awesome buddy/cop dynamic via Blade Runner

For those of you who remember the film Alien Nation back in 1988 and its subsequent TV show, you’ll appreciate how much great material there is to mine from taking the traditional buddy/cop relationship and adding a sci-fi twist. While Alien Nation worked as more of a straight racial allegory, Almost Human concentrates more on the ethical issues surrounding the replication of human beings as closely as possible and then putting them in harm's way.

The main protagonist is Dorian (which I assume is a reference to The Picture Of Dorian Gray and the 1945 film version of which comes highly recommended), the android partner given over to Kennex after his last synthetic met with an ‘accidental’ end. As Dorian, Michael Ealy’s sublime and ethereal performance immediately makes us sympathise with his predicament, especially when Kennex is the much colder and distant of the two. Watching the pair spark off each other is enormous fun – there are so many cutting lines between the two of them that it’s possible to miss some of the finer moments if you don’t pay attention.

It’s also nice to see noodles playing a part, as it’s difficult not to envision poor Rick Deckard’s disrupted mealtime food of choice.

 

A great supporting cast

While Mr Urban has been a constant presence here at Den of Geek and Michael Ealy is sure to garner a lot of attention for his fine work in Almost Human, a show would be nothing without a great supporting cast and Almost Human has a fine and eclectic one, all of who seem to bring something unique to proceedings.

It’s great to see Mackenzie Crook back on super nerd form, as he brings an effortless likeability to his character Rudy Lom, the classic lab technician with more investment in tinkering with androids and gadgets than with human beings – without spoiling anything, his first foray into an undercover mission results in some particularly comical highlights.

Lili Taylor, who’s been great ever since I remember first seeing her in Mystic Pizza many years ago (yes I happen to love that movie, despite my own passion for cinematic bloodshed) plays Captain Sandra Maldonado, a character whose name you should never try and pronounce when drunk and one that has so much room for development, as is gleaned in the episode Blood Brothers.

The rather stunning Minka Kelly, as Detective Valerie Stahl, is no stranger to action after her stint on the recent Charlie’s Angels TV series, but after the few episodes I’ve seen hasn’t quite had enough focus as of yet, though the potential relationship between her and Kennex could yield some much needed warmth for his character, here’s hoping we’ll get to know more about her as the season progresses.

 

Star Wars references and one-liners

Like any great action movie, Almost Human features a constant barrage of pithy one-liners and witty retorts that constantly keep the show from becoming too pious and dull. The comedy elements in the show seem to be getting increasingly funny and as the rapport between Kennex and Dorian grows, so too does the enjoyment of watching them constantly have at each other as mentioned above.

There’s also a lot of fun to be had in spotting the one-liners that reference other movies and in one episode in particular I confess to shouting in glee when I heard Mr Urban use my favourite Han Solo line, though which particular one I won’t spoil for you here.

 

Sexbots

I think a quote from the episode in question would best work here – “Don’t scan my testicles.”

 

An alternate Fringe fix

From the plinky piano sounds of the theme tune, to the futuristic technology and overt ickiness of many of the special effects, there’s no mistaking the hand of showrunner J.H. Wyman and his executive producer J.J. Abrams over both Almost Human and Fringe, the latter of which I consider to be one of the finest, most complete and fulfilling TV stories of all time. It’s great to see two shows share similar stylistic elements, yet fulfil two entirely different needs within the sci-fi genre and excel in different ways.

 

It’s the closest thing we might get to a Dredd sequel

Karl Urban playing a grizzled, callous, futuristic cop who shoots first and ask questions later, while using high tech weapons and spitting out acerbic lines? Come on people, what are you waiting for?

Almost Human starts in the UK tonight, Tuesday the 6th of May at 9pm (on Sky 109 and Virgin 124) on Watch.

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You've omitted the fact the show just got cancelled after one season by Fox. A fact worth knowing before anyone invests too much in the show.

If you like this kind of show I highly recommend Real Humans. A reviewer once said that Real Humans is everything Almost Human tries to be but is not and I wholeheartedly agree. Someone else called it the best sci fi show in a long time and again I wholeheartedly agree. And as the cherry on the cake there's a second season of Real Humans coming out on DVD pretty soon.(also Real Humans also has sexbots in it)

I too was surprised at this omission. I wonder if it was on purpose to keep it positive and to get people reading, or just bad research.

I was really excited for this show, but as soon as I heard it was cancelled I lost all interest as I like watching shows with a future and are going somewhere.

I'm not particularly surprised at the cancellation. Having watched the first series, it throws out the over-arching plotline surrounding the initial scene, and subsequent investigation into Kennex's girlfriend etc, in favour of the, "Villain of the week," format which did nothing to advance the plot arc, or did so at a glacial pace. In it's favor, the production values were good and the cast was strong, but ultimately let down by poor plotting.

Ah, that would be on account of writing the article just over a week ago - I have to say I'm gutted as at the time of writing all signs were positive. I'm still hoping that someone else picks it up, especially with a few bigger arcs set up for future shows. Classic Fox. Still it's still worth a watch and if the UK audience tunes in, maybe that will help any future it might have.

Here's my take. "Once Upon A Time" is still airing on ABC. "Agents of SHIELD" is still airing. These shows, that I have watched a season and multiple episodes of both, are terrible. Fox still has "American Idol" which rating have dropped and dropped and dropped, to the point that singing it's bity spider is the only song that works for that show. They brought back "24" which it doesn't take me 24 seconds to know this plot is going to be so unrealistic I'm better off watching the Muppets star in a spy drama to save the world. "Almost Human" had a more intelligent fan base then all the shows above and you had Abrams involved. Have you heard of "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" the fan bases combined is a galaxy that stretches far far away. Honestly, at the end of the day it way foolish to cancel this show with way more potential then a multitude of shows out there,

I can understand that, but I always like to think that if the audience grows then there's still a chance it could come back. I'm still burnt by the Sarah Connor Chronicles cliff hanger, but Almost Human feels much more rounded as an entire season, (you'll see above that I wrote this over a week ago, before cancellation was announced).

Karl Urban has said that he will never return to TV after he apparently had some problems filming AH. He seemed to not like staying away from his family that much.

I don't think this show will ever get picked up by any entity - not even Netflix. I get the "fine, then I'm done with this TV adventure of mine"-vibe from Karl, and I don't think this will entice any producers

The episodes were aired out of order. :/

Den of Geek, please stop being so cruel in reminding us of AH's cancellation. :( All these ads and highlights are making my heart bleed. :(

Did you check into Agents of SHIELD after Winter Soldier? The show picked up considerable after that.

I enjoyed the movie very much. However, I stopped watching the show when an inflatable raft prevented someone from from falling out a plane and Nick Fury's make up looked like it was done at a carnival. I may go back and watch it but I'm pretty bitter about "Almost Human" being cancelled for now.

While I share your bitterness for Almost Human AND the absurd raft-scene, I can ensure you that Agents of SHIELD is definitly worth a new try beginning with the Winter Soldier tie-in. It's legitimately interesting and tense. :)

You can never count shows out. I thought "Futurama" was dead and gone but it came back. I was part of the petition for "Family Guy" and it came back also...both FOX shows. "Arrested Development" it came back on Netflix. I can't honestly say that "Almost Human" will be picked up and chances are it won't. Some shows just don't. I was hoping "Firefly" would come back and I got a crappy movie instead. I personally feel this day in age with so many media outputs you can't count any show resurrecting its self.

I tried watching this show and it sucked. Now, how's about a review of the latest Hannibal or Resurrection?

I was surprised fox cancelled this. I have never seen them invest so heavily in advertising a show. Literally every American football match on Fox between the start of the season and the premiere had an advert for AH at every commercial break (which everyone who's watched American football will tell you it's a lot of adverts), not to mention promos throughout. Production values were extremely high for a network show, perhaps it was wrong place, wrong time. I wonder if anyone of the executives at Fox has realised that if they cancel these shows every year, no one is going to tune in. Fox needs to take a chance on a second season for some of these shows.

Ahh, understood. Fox are just idiotic with this stuff. They run half the series out of order, put in random breaks, and then are surprised when it doesn't pick up viewers. It must be heartbreaking to be involved in creating these things only for a station to mess it up so badly.

Agreed. I think now that AH has not been renewed, Urban will be literally and figuratively moving on to other projects, and won't be looking for a return to TV any time soon. Except maybe for a Dredd TV show. He might suck up the 'I miss my family' pain to do that :-)

Watching the episodes in order really helps. It doesn't turn AH into Shakespeare, but it does eliminate some WTF? moments I had when watching it on Fox.

Though to be fair, Shakespeare itself is nothing more than the 1600's Family Guy.

edit: Maybe with a dash of Dawson's Creek.

It is a great show. It is gutting they cancelled it. It is good though that this series is not an arc formula, so that there is nothing left hanging that'll annoy you (like Alcatraz, or The Event, or FlashForward). This one is worth investing in. You can watch any episode and doesn't really make a difference if you've missed a few. It is also fun and funny. A good departure from the gritty grungey shows we normally get, where you are lost if you missed an ep.

Damn shame the dickheads at FOX cancelled it. So much potential. Maybe if they screened the episodes in the correct order it may have made a 2nd season. Why is it that the good shows get cancelled and the reality crap survives...

Good old Fox - up to their old trick of killing a show before it has a chance to get going. Why do they bother even investing in these shows in the first place if they're not going to give them a fair shot?

Yeah, I agree. Agents of SHIELD has definitely picked up! Mostly due to Bill Paxton's badassery ...

Sounds like an interesting show but you really should of said whether it works as a stand alone series seems it has been cancelled, I mean whats the point in investing the time if it ends with a cliff hanger or has unresolved threads that would of been tied up in later seasons?

To be honest I am suprised you never mentioned this, the fact that you didn't comes across suspiciously like advertising, a cheeky plug for the show. I hope this isn't true as I always thought this website to be above such shenanigans.

Yes the show was cancelled – but it still is fun to
watch. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy are
great together

I love the chit-chat scenes in the car. Apparently mostly ad-libbled by Urban and Ealy.

Season 1 initiates some topics and questions that were obviously going to be expanded upon later (What is The Wall?) but has no cliffhangers, no unresolved threads, no huge unanswered questions, so can be watched and enjoyed standalone.

I've set this to record, haven;t seen it yet but am disappointed by the cancellation. However, that doesn't mean it isn't worth watching... and as Jon points out below, maybe if the international reception is good, they might rethink...

Please see below - at the time I wrote it (over a week ago) there was hope for a second season, but it only went up yesterday. What that does show is bad timing on Fox's part, as you'd have thought they'd have waited at least until the pilot had aired in the UK before announcing it... very frustrating. Highgard is spot on though, it can still be viewed as a standalone, but if you love it as much as I do you'll be sad when you hit the last episode!

Apart from some interesting flings with sci-fi that don't get proper follow-up it is just your basic cop procedural with boring predictable villain of the week scripts

Many thanks Duncan and Highgard for the response, I think I may give it a go, i just dont want relive that feeling I had when I reached the end of Deadwood and felt like I had only heard half the tale.

It's definitely worth a look. I would just check that you're getting the episodes in the correct order though. If you're not, maybe wait until you've got everything in the PVR, then have a binge :-)

Just don't get the Fringe adulation. I finally stopped trying in the second series. On paper it sounded like everything I could want. Walt is a great character but everything else is just....dull lead characters and "been there done that". Like the worst episodes of X Files with two lead characters with absolutely nothing interesting about them or their portrayal. That seems to be the problem JJ has yet to surmount which is being something more than just another geek constantly referencing previous more original ideas. I would say Lost surmounted that if it weren't for the quick clusterf*ck it became.

The Firefly curse strikes again.

Quite enjoyed the first episode but I must have completely zoned out for the Han Solo line. What was it?

Right, so they cancelled it before it even aired in the UK. Well that just figures. . . it's a shame because having watched it already I can say it was shaping up to be truly awesome series. Time to get all Firefly on a certain media producers butt me thinks.

You haven't seen it yet. It's in the episode called 'Are You Receiving?', which is supposed to be episode 6, but aired on Fox as episode 3.

I'd like to think that a fan campaign or overseas success could force a rethink, but Urban isn't interested in coming back for more, so they'd have to recast or start over.

We watch TV shows to enjoy them. Enjoying one season of a show has nothing to do with 'investment'. If anything it just gives one more reason to be pissed at Fox.

Really? I like Karl Urban. I don't think much of him taking on a project that would clearly be filmed abroad and then moan about missing his family.
Whilst I liked the techie futuristic look of Almost Human, it was a bit po-faced. It reminded me a bit of that dreadful pilot, The Tomorrow Man, that has Julian Sands in it ...

Almost Human was his first lead TV role, so he probably completely underestimated what it would need. Sixteen hours a day for six days a week sounds pretty exhausting, especially when home and family is 7000 miles away.

Floptastic! I love Karl Urban, more than a man crush, but the writing was poor and the continuity was so bad they should have written stand alone episodes. Also, for me 'proper' sci-fi doesn't include being able to contact the dead. Thats not science, that's fantasy.

So true. I've tried twice to sit through Fringe and found it boring. Like you say - a poor man's X-files. Agree with you about JJ Abrams - his shows tend to be a lot of ideas thrown at the screen with not much thought. Alias was another show of his which started off good, then got progressively stupider as it went on.

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