And Not A Single Lens Flare, Anywhere!

Almost Human, a science-fiction detective series on Global, premiered last week with a two-day event. Last night saw the third episode air, and at this point it feels safe to draw a certain number of conclusions. Pilots can be rocky, but a couple of episodes should give you a good idea of at least the bones of a series, especially one as relatively straight-forward as a buddy cop action/drama piece. Shows can get better, of course, or collapse mid-season, but usually they begin as they mean to go on, until the studio declares they're not allowed to go on any longer.

And I am happy to say that Almost Human has begun almost perfectly.

Well, that's a slight exaggeration; the pilot was a bit rocky, honestly. It was enjoyable, but as much for what it suggested was to come as for what it actually provided. The second and third episodes, however, have really shown some surprising growth, letting the viewer enjoy what's actually happening, and not just hints of what may, in the future.  This show came together very quickly, much faster than certain other freshmen series I could name (*coughAgentsofSHIELDcough*).

Almost Human is set in 2048, with Det. John Kennex (Karl Urban) returning to service with the LAPD after a traumatic injury. While he's been out of commission, an edict has come down from on high, requiring all humans to be paired with an MX, an android that doesn't quite fall into the uncanny valley, but certainly comes close. The MX' are completely logical, can record an officer's every move, and are programmed to sacrifice themselves for their human partners; really, from the government's perspective, there's no reason not to mandate their use.  The fewer dead cops, the happier politicians and voters alike will be.  Who cares if some robot buys the farm, instead?  This is particularly important because, while LA isn't Robocop's Detroit, it's a city with some seriously well armed criminal elements running rampant in it; it's not war in the streets, exactly, but anything that will cut down on what must be a significant body count in the beginning would be eagerly embraced.

Kennex, however, has a pretty valid character reason for being resentful of these devices, and bristles at being forcibly partnered with an MX.  After some early friction (which is actually sort of heinous in hindsight) Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) matches him up with Dorian (Micheal Ealy), a decommissioned model from a line that has, at some point in the not too distant past, been subject to certain 'issues'. More human than the MX's, Dorian's DRN line was meant to mimic human behaviours to put humans at their ease, though if there's one thing you can count on in a two-cop series, it's that nobody is going to be too at ease for too long; these sorts of shows run entirely on the friction between the two leads as they try to work together for the good of the city. Good cop/good cop doesn't really get you anywhere, dramatically speaking.

Happily, Urban and Ealy have excellent chemistry with one another. Things start out rocky, for the same reason they always do (Kennex is a no-nonsense maverick and Dorian is a stickler for going by the book!), but the show very quickly grows both characters beyond just being purely bound within their starting characteristics. It's also not afraid to paint Kennex, and humanity in general, in a slightly less than flattering light; Kennex beats up a suspect in interrogation, and treats Dorian like an appliance early on, and humans don't seem to be all that interested in developing true AI and recognizing androids as sentient beings. There's a hint that this is going to be a theme, with the idea being heavily played up in the second issue and referenced again in the third, and hopefully that pays off; John and Dorian are great buddies already, but it would be uncomfortable if Dorian remained the legal property of the LAPD indefinitely. Especially because, y'know, Micheal Ealy just happens to be a black man.

I don't know if that was coincidental or not, but it definitely adds a certain amount of real-world gravitas to the fictionalized issue.

The series isn't doing anything groundbreaking; episode three is basically Die Hard. But it has consistently demonstrated the ability to take fairly standard tropes and plots and really hit them out of the park, managing to infuse them with tension, pathos and even a little bit of tragedy and transcendence, at times. Fans of near-future science-fiction will be quite familiar with a lot of the tropes (and occasionally disappointed that a network television series isn't allowed to go further with them), but all but the most jaded should find more than a little to enjoy, from the fix Dorian prescribes for Kennex' artificial limb to the way Kennex patches Dorian up when he gets shot, in the way they play around with things.

While the series is undeniably about Kennex and Dorian's relationship, and, y'know, them fighting crime, there are some good secondary characters. Lili Taylor's Captain Maldonado is solid; she doesn't have a lot to do, but Taylor strives to make her character a believable one, imbuing her with a nice edge without making her a cliche shouting boss, and letting her express concern for the slightly damaged Kennex without mothering him. Mackenzie Crook's Rudy Lom, the department's requisite tech guy, gets some neat little idiosyncrasies, and is a comic relief character who thankfully never overstays his welcome. And Michael Irby's Richard Paul is a nice antagonistic cop, the guy who doesn't trust the maverick but isn't a complete monster or anything; he walks a fine line between being a jerk and being human, and he's careful to stay on the right side. The only real shame is Minka Kelly's Valerie Stahl, not because of any problem with the actress, but simply because the writers haven't really given her anything to do yet besides possibly be Kennex's future love interest. Hopefully they bring her character up a bit in future episodes, maybe give her a day in the limelight, as well.

For those in Canada, the first three episodes of Almost Human are available to stream from Global's website; I don't know if it works for people outside of Canada, but it's worth a shot.

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