Almost Human is a sci-fi cop drama set in a future where human cops are partnered up with androids in an effort to compete with a growing crime rate due to rapidly advancing technology. Almost Human is almost perfect and here is why:
A Tribute to Blade Runner
When I first saw the commercials for Almost Human, I immediately thought of Blade Runner. While Almost Human envisions the future in a clean and shiny style instead of the dark and gritty film noir style that makes Blade Runner a modern classic, this series draws on some of the film’s strengths. It has the best tropes of a cop drama. It addresses social issues through futuristic satire. It has excellent acting and clever writing.
Almost Human has all the elements of a cop drama. Detective John Kennex, like Rick Deckard in Blade Runner, is an everyman – an extremely relatable character. He is relatable to the audience because he has a moral compass demonstrated in his willingness to sacrifice his well being and the rules for the greater good of others. Kennex is a renegade cop who tests the limits, is abrasive to his colleagues, and suffers from the guilt of losing his partner while struggling to adjust to a new one. While it borders on cliché, these tropes are rather a tribute to the classic cop dramas that preceded it. After all, what makes a cop drama successful (or any drama for that matter) is a character with an internal conflict and a tainted back story.
Both Blade Runner and Almost Human are satires that address an issue first brought up in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In this gothic classic, Frankenstein ignores moral codes in the name of scientific progress when he creates the monster. Throughout the novel, the reader contemplates the humanity of the monster as well as the morality of his creation. Roy in Blade Runner is definitely derivative of the creature. Like Blade Runner, Almost Human raises the question of what it means to be human. But instead of having a sympathetic antagonist who challenges this conception, Almost Human gives us a sympathetic partner searching for significance.
The new cop who doesn’t fit in (another trope) in this case is not only an android but a model of android that has been discontinued. Dorian is an android programmed to draw inferences, think independently, have free will, and even feel. The audience always relates to the new cop who strives to prove his worth, combining this with the sympathy of an outcast and one sees that Dorian is very similar to Frankenstein’s monster even though he’s a protagonist.
I find it extremely intriguing that Michael Ealy, an African American actor, is cast as Dorian. I wonder if Almost Human is intentionally drawing upon issues of race. In episode one, Dorian takes offense at Kennex using “that word.” The word he refers to is “synthetic” – a word that is obviously intended to emphasize the lack of humanity and the inferiority of the androids. This seems an obvious reference to the “n word.” Dorian challenges Kennex’s perceptions of his worth and Kennex ultimately ends up seeing Dorian as an equal.
In episode two, the perception of androids as inferior is seen through their use as sex bots. Like Dorian, these androids are more human than most in that they can empathize with their customers. At one point an officer we are certainly meant to detest calls them “bang bots.” This episode highlights the perception of women as inferior and as sexual objects. It also challenges our perception of prostitutes as the lowest of women who deserve mistreatment because of their choice to sully themselves instead of as victims. Yet again, the android we most sympathize with is also African American.
I would challenge that Harrison Ford’s role as Deckard is one of his best. Karl Urban is one of my favorites. He was superb as Eomer in Lord of the Rings and brilliantly portrays my favorite Star Fleet officer. Urban is fun to watch as Kennex. He’s both brash and noble. He’s witty and foolish. He’s a tough guy with a sensitive side.
Michael Ealy is charming as Dorian. He finds the balance between being robotic and bringing humanity to the character. Ealy gives Dorian just the right amount of facial expression and inflection to walk that line between android and human. His awkwardness, polite demeanor, childlike curiosity, and blunt expressions make Dorian very robotic. His empathy, introspection, and keen insight, make Dorian incredibly human. Dorian reminds me of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation except he smiles. I hope that Dorian starts to experience a greater range of emotions – otherwise his character will be just as boring (sorry Trekkies).
While Ealy and Urban are solid actors, I was most pleased to see Mackenzie Crook as Rudy Lom the likably socially awkward forensic scientist (another trope). He was great in the British version of The Office and in the Pirates of the Carribean movies. My favorite moment of his thus far is his awkward attempt to be polite to the sex bot only to fumble into even more provocative innuendos.
Along with good acting, there must be good writing – just ask Natalie Portman about the difference between her roles in Star Wars and Black Swan. I’ve already illustrated how Almost Human is a successful satire, but it’s also clever in its futuristic portrayal of technology. Along with futuristic guns and grenades, we have DNA grenades that contaminate crime scenes, flash masks that hide your identity on cameras, and license plate scramblers. It’s interesting that the best technologies seem to be used primarily by the criminals. Not only is Almost Human successful as a satire, but it has witty repartee. My favorite dialogue thus far is as follows:
DORIAN: I ran a bioscan and it looked like your testicles were at full capacity.
KENNEX: You scanned my balls!
DORIAN: I didn’t enjoy it. I just…couldn’t help but notice…you’re backed up.
KENNEX: What is the matter with you?
KENNEX: Don’t scan my testicles. (Beat.) Ever again.
DORIAN: Copy that.
So what makes Almost Human almost perfect? I guess I just prefer the gritty noir future of Blade Runner to the slick Star Trek one and I need more assurances that Dorian is going to continue to develop as a character.
Thus far, I give Almost Human four out of five Nerdskulls.
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