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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