The cracks are really starting to show on Almost Human, and it’s a damn shame. I fear that I’m starting to sound like a broken record as I admonish the show for not living up to its considerable potential week after week. But the slow, steady decline of the show’s plots since about the second episode is impossible to ignore, and the failure to develop anything resembling real arcs for any of these characters is becoming unforgivable. At the outset, my only real complaint about Almost Human was a lack of a serious sense of originality, but I’ll gladly take the Blade Runner/RoboCop pastiche over a listless episode like “Simon Says.”
“Simon Says” begins with some promise, with the understanding that a recent solar flare has caused havoc with the power supplies for the police androids. MX models are given charging priority over DRMs, which means that Dorian is left underpowered. And when Dorian is underpowered, it messes with his emotions. The potential for comic relief is great, and we’re treated to some of it right out of the gate, and Michael Ealy is, as usual, fantastic. The problem with this scenario is…weren’t all of the police force’s DRM’s decommissioned? If Dorian is the only active DRM on the force, how is “prioritizing” all of the MXs over one DRM really going to make any difference, particularly when it means leaving one officer potentially exposed with a malfunctioning partner? It’s annoying.
Dorian is in the midst of his ongoing crisis where he doesn’t feel comfortable “living” with the MX units (and showering with them) and is looking for a place of his own. When Dorian suggests that he could move into Kennex’s spare room, it sets off one of their trademark bits of banter. Kennex boring the shit out of Dorian with his tales of high school football glory is good fun, and for the umpteenth time this season, we’re reminded that these two actors and these two characters are terrific. Of course, the hard part is then telling a good story with them, and that’s where things begin to go wrong.
Felix Gaeta…erm…I mean, Alessandro Juliani is always a welcome sight, even when all he’s got going on for the evening is the role of “certainly doomed first civilian on screen in a police procedural.” The cheerful, clean cut gent is driving his car when it’s stopped by a seemingly homeless person offering a spray-on “electro-wash” which recalls the dubious “glory days” of New York City and its fabled army of squeegee window washers, who would “wash” your windows (with filthy rags or newspapers) at every intersection, whether you wanted them to or not. It’s cute, but this reference is a little 1991, no?
Of course, the “electro wash” is actually a knock-out gas, and the poor fella in question (a loan officer at a bank, as it turns out) wakes up with an explosive collar, a host of miniature cameras mounted around his car and his person, and thousands of grim internet viewers waiting to see what happens next. You see, if this guy goes and robs the bank he works at, the criminal mastermind behind this will give him the code to unlock the bomb collar, and everything will be fine. Of course, that isn’t going to happen.
Once the bank is robbed, the police are on the case, and it’s up to Kennex and Dorian to catch the newly-minted viral video sensation and defuse the bomb. Now, while I was certain from the minute this guy showed up on the scene that he wasn’t gonna make it, I didn’t expect it to go down like this. As it dawns on Dorian that he won’t be able to defuse the bomb in time, Kennex makes an apology and a promise to catch the guy behind it all. It might not sound like much, but it was a powerful little moment. There’s some “authentic” commentary by the trolls who would tune in to watch people blow up, with comments like “cops = fail! fail!” and “die cop die!” which may as well have been lifted from any string of YouTube comments in history. Accuracy!
There’s more, of course. There are other victims planned, who fit a rather predictable pattern, as they’re targeted by an emo badguy who has scores to settle with folks who have “wronged” him in the social arena. So, just in case the “unwitting dupe with a bomb” isn’t familiar enough to anyone who’s ever watched a cop show for more than five episodes, now we’ve got the “creepy doofus taking his revenge via the internet” coming to the party. It’s really not very good. And yes, of course his next intended victim is a pretty girl who jilted him after an online date gone awry. Points for the use of The Hollies’ timeless “The Air That I Breathe” I suppose, but I still fail to see the significance. Oh…wait…I get it! It’s because that tune features virtually the exact same melody and chord progression as Radiohead’s “Creep” which I suppose would have been too on-the-nose even for this decidedly unsubtle episode, right?
The problems continue throughout the episode, but I’ll spare you the gory details. A rather clumsy and exposition-y attempt to tie this clown’s motives to the botched mission that cost Kennex his leg was a ham-handed (and failed) attempt to give some of the show’s backstory a little actual relevance in what was otherwise another recycled cop show plot. Even if the rest of “Simon Says” lived up to my expectations, this throwaway interaction with Captain Maldonado would have felt out of place and forced.
It’s going to take considerably more than this to keep Almost Human afloat. When you strip “Simon Says” of its more explicitly science fiction elements you’re left with something you’ve seen countless times before. It even lacked the sci-fi eye candy of earlier episodes, leaving me to wonder if the show’s budget was used up early on and now we’re stuck with whatever they’ve got left in the piggy bank. Almost Human isn’t going to survive as a thinly-disguised cop show. With a little work, there’s still some hope, but time is running out. It’s too bad. Urban and Ealy (and audiences) deserve more.