Over the next few weeks, we here at TVRage will be filling you in on this fall's upcoming slate of new network shows. We'll be giving you our opinions on the pilot episodes of these new series so that you can go ahead and start planning your TV-watching calendars.Today, we're starting off with Almost Human, the new sci-fi series from Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman and executive producer J.J. Abrams.
What it's about: In a crime-ridden, not-quite-dystopic future, L.A.P.D. detectives are required to have android partners, called "Synthetics." After narrowly surviving a botched mission that left him with a cybernetic leg, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) is paired with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an obselete android who has some "bugs" --namely, his emotions are programmed so well that he can become unpredictable. Despite his dislike of "Synthetics," Kennex begrudgingly agrees to work with Dorian to help track down the mysterious crime organization the Syndicate.
The verdict: The problem with most network sci-fi series -- or, hell, sci-fi shows in general -- is that they prioritize plot over characters. That's why most of these shows fail -- they can weave intricate stories, but they can't get the audiences to care about the characters.
Almost Human, thankfully, doesn't have this problem at all -- though there is an overarching mythology being set up, it's the characters that are the focus here. Karl Urban (Star Trek Into Darkness, Judge Dredd 3D) is his typical, surly self here as the damaged Kennex, an L.A.P.D. cop who blames androids for the death of his partner (and the loss of his leg). His grouchiness is offset by the perfectly-cast Michael Ealy, whose fresh-faced Dorian is undoubtedly the reason for viewers to keep tuning in. The character is the sweethearted foil to Kennex's darkness, and the dynamic between the two is undoubtedly the best part of the show.
(Also fantastic is Mackenzie Crook -- now playing Orell on Game of Thrones -- as the L.A.P.D.'s tech guy Rudy Lom. Though the rest of the supporting cast remains underdeveloped, as is per usual in pilot episodes, I left the episode wanting to see more of him.)
The mythology, on the other hand, isn't nearly as riveting yet. The Syndicate, the antagonistic crime organization, aren't nearly as threatening (or interesting) as they could be, and not even too-soon revelations about Kennex's connection with them can make them more compelling yet. (But then again, what shows do have a solid mythology at the outset?)
The show itself contains more than an echo of Fringe: fans of that series will pick up on plenty of homages (or are they recycled story traits?) in the episode. Memory-jogging medical experiments, flash-melting bioterrorism, disembodied android heads. . . They're all here. At times, Almost Human feels like it's flirting with the idea of simply becoming Fringe 2: Electric Boogaloo.
But it's the Blade Runner-esque elements that truly set this show apart. There are plenty of similarities between Kennex and Blade Runner's Deckard, and the show is aesthetically quite inspired by that brilliant sci-fi film -- there are plenty of rainy nights and flashing neon signs to be found. If the series becomes too expensive to produce, they can always sell ad space and it won't feel out of place.
The only real question of whether Almost Human has staying power, though, is whether or not it'll be willing to really delve into the philosophical questions that make Blade Runner so prescient: what makes us human? Can humanity be simulated? It's a question that, hopefully, the series will explore in-depth.
If the show's promising pilot is any indication, that's the direction in which Almost Human is going. And with the pedigree that it has (J.H. Wyman is one of the best sci-fi writers on TV), I know that I'll be following it to see just how it answers those questions.
Should you watch? Yes.
Almost Human premieres in the fall on FOX.