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Robot is Man's Best Friend
November 17, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment

The reversal in the upcoming Fox sci-fi series Almost Human, premiering Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, is that the robot, who is also a cop, is more laid-back, more sensitive and more in touch with his feelings than his loutish partner who punches and bashes his way through all his problems.

It's not a bad buddy-cop idea, and that's mostly because of Michael Ealy (top photo) of Sleeper Cell, who plays the android Dorian. (His name comes from his model type, the DRN.) He's an older, decommissioned model rebooted into action during a shortage, differing from the current no-nonsense police-bots with no sense of humor. He's been designed to emulate the human psyche – with all the unexpected emotions that go with it.

Dorian isn't simply a machine, and reminds his ham-handed partner, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban, right, of the current movie reboot of Star Trek) of that. Often.

Packed with tantalizing CGI effects, Almost Human (which, after its Sunday launch, returns Monday night at 8 p.m. ET in its regular weekly time slot) is co-produced by Bad Robot Productions, the J.J. Abrams company that now seems to have the monopoly on current science fiction. They recently finished Fringe (2008-13) and are now running Revolution and Person of Interest. In films, they are a similar 500-pound gorilla, having taken over the blockbuster franchises of Star Trek, Mission Impossible and, beginning in 2015, Star Wars.

Almost Human has the look and feel of a shinier Blade Runner, and is set in the near-future of 2048, with similar flourishes of that film's high-tech Chinatown, filled with outdoor noodle stalls and black-market tech for sale. The like-minded AH world is filled (at least in the pilot) with all kinds of tantalizing things, like laser-projected video screens, mini drones and, of course, the human-like androids that populate it.

It's also a world of digital cat-and-mouse between the cops and bad guys. The Almost Human premise is that technology is morphing so fast that new crime schemes are hatching faster than police can squelch them, and androids are deployed to boost the number of boots on the ground. They're also, of course, handy walking computers with all kinds of scanners and high-speed access to databases.

But unlike Fringe and its esoteric science fetishes, Almost Human is first and foremost a cop drama, and it's sometimes painted with broad, simplistic strokes. Kennex is a two-fisted detective recklessly going outside of the lines when he returns to the force after being seriously injured in a raid that went seriously haywire. Someone in the department, or close to him, tipped off the crooks, and everyone else on the bust was murdered.

When Kennex returns to the force, it's with a highly sophisticated prosthetic leg, replacing the one he lost in the firefight of the ambush. He's dismissive of, and even racist towards, androids, has no regard for authority, and suffers from depression and PTSD.

In other words, he's our latest TV anti-hero, and more than a bit of a prick.

The irony, of course, is that Dorian's a robot who's part human, Kennex is a human who's part robot, and clearly, the android has deeper feelings and more compassion.

The pilot episode is somewhat unremarkable in the way it establishes the characters and backstory, including Kennex's near-death in the ambush. It returns quickly to its own present day of 2048, where the long arc of finding out who has betrayed him begins. It could be someone inside the department, and Lili Taylor (Six Feet Under) is along for the ride here, cast against type as the department's Captain Maldonado, who, we assume, is what she appears to be – Kennex's advocate and honest superior.

But since Abrams and Bad Robot Productions are known for their sexy technological visions of the future (Star Trek exceeded most CGI that came before it), the hardware is the draw here.

Or at least a close second, after Ealy's rendition of what is a 21st-century Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz – a piece of hardware with an emotional, human core.
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Were you able to see more than the first episode? I ask because I still regret not watching Fringe, and I can't help but hope and wonder if this show has the potential do go there, too.
Nov 18, 2013   |  Reply
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