Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Almost Human, season 1 (2013-2014) ****

TV-14, 13 45-min. episodes
Creator: J.H. Wyman

Directors: Brad Anderson, Michael Offer, Larry Teng, Kenneth Fink, Omar Madha, Jeff T. Thomas, Jeannot Szwarc, Sam Hill, Jeffrey Hunt, Mimi Leder, Thomas Yatsko, Fred Toye

Writers: J.H. Wyman, Cheo Hodari Coker, Justin Doble, Daniel Grindlinger, Cole Maliska, Alison Schapker, Naren Shankar, Graham Roland, Sarah Goldfinger, Chris Downey, Joe Henderson

Starring: Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook, Michael Irby, Lili Taylor

Guest starring: Joe Smith (MX voice), Anthony Konechy, Darren E. Scott, Garfield Wilson, Todd Mann, Brad Mann, Hiro Kanagawa, Tim Kelleher, Mekia Cox, Ella Thomas, Jos Viramontes, Damon Harriman, Emily Rios, Benito Martinez, Josh Blacker, Patrick Gallagher, Megan Ferguson, Alex Miller, Graham Miller, Kavan Smith, Jonathan Holmes, David Dastmalchian, Alessandro Juliani, Crystal Lowe, Annie Monroe, Gina Carano, John Larroquette, Iain Belcher, Anna Galvin, Suleka Matthew, Reece Thompson, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Laine MacNeil, Tony Cox, Michael Eklund, Jesse Hutch, John Diehl, Shaun Smyth, Christie Burke, William ‘Bigsleeps’ Stewart

I tend toward the shows that have slightly flashier concepts to them. “Almost Human” is certainly a concept show, but one thing that I really like about it is how it has a sort of classic television approach to it. It’s episodic, not relying so much on the mythology as most concept shows (although the mythology is certainly there in the background). It’s not confusing. It doesn’t get swamped in its own mystery, like say a “Lost”. And it isn’t heavy. It’s a cop drama, but it has a great deal of humor in it as well.

It’s part of the new breed of hybrid shows that blends the police procedural with a sci-fi fantasy concept, along the same lines of the successful shows “Grimm” and “Sleepy Hollow”. “Almost Human” takes place in the future when technology has surpassed the human capabilities to police them. In order to compensate, the police force require each human police officer to partner with an android officer. The hero is a Dirty Harry type who doesn’t exactly tow the department line. After destroying several of the standard issue androids, he’s assigned a decommissioned model that was replaced because their programming that allowed them to feel human emotions also tended to drive them crazy.

The show’s producers, who include J.J. Abrams among them, have done a wonderful job with the futuristic production design. It isn’t overdone, and more importantly it isn’t underdone, which is often a problem on a television budget for a show that takes place in the not too distant future. They were certainly influenced a great deal by the movie “Blade Runner”. In fact, several references to that film can be found throughout the series. Actually, referencing 80s sci-fi and cop shows seem to be a bit of a challenge put forth to all the writers on the show.

The show is incredibly well cast. Abrams pulled the lead from the new “Star Trek” film franchise. Karl Urban, who plays Dr. McCoy in the “Star Trek” films, is perfect for the hardnosed, old-fashioned Detective Kennex. Michael Ealy plays his android partner to perfection. It’s a tough assignment to put across the notion that he’s not human yet has the ability to feel emotions like a human. The rest of the small supporting cast is also excellently used and portrayed.

Unlike so many of today’s shows, the finale didn’t end with some series-changing cliffhanger. That was a refreshing change. It too often seems series’ are just trying to push it too hard on a season’s final episode to force the audience to demand more. It seemed to me, the show runners are confident in their material and don’t feel they need some sort of gimmick to keep their audience hooked.

Fox has yet to renew the show for a second season. I don’t see how they couldn’t, however, with the show’s ratings. It’s consistently one of the networks highest rated shows. It doesn’t do quite as well as “Sleepy Hollow” did, which was renewed before its finale, but it averages above the network viewership average consistently. I do hope it returns next season, even if for only another 13 episodes.

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