‘Almost Human’, Fox’s solid new future cops show, has a synthetic elephant in the room that Alex Yarde has to address.
Fox’s Almost Human is a futuristic crime procedural that stars Karl Urban as John Kennex, a surly, washed up, chemically dependent cop, who is the only survivor of an ambush on his squad by a crime syndicate. Kennex is asked to come back to work after waking up from a 17- month coma but now all cops must work with an android (I do wonder how the American economy—with the crime rate at 400%—can afford one super android per human police officer, but I will go with it). Michael Ealy stars as Kennex’s re-commissioned, empathetic, DRN android partner, Dorian.
The conflict between the main characters is very interesting. Kennex, who lost one of his legs and is now outfitted with an advanced prosthetic leg, resents the mechanical leg almost as much as the Robocop he is forced to work with. Dorian, re-activated after four years, finds he is obsolete. He’s disarmingly friendly but not as compliant or willing to be disrespected by Kennex. His need to redeem himself mirrors his flesh and blood partners.
In addition, Dorian is not like other androids. DRN (Dorian) model was decommissioned because their behavior mirrored humans too closely and were deemed unpredictable and glitchy. Turns out this weakness is his strength as a crime fighter. Dorian is analogous to an LP Album in a world of MP3’s. He’s not as “perfect”, but captures the “warm” essence of humanity in a way his higher fidelity more advanced “cool” MX replacements can never duplicate. This empathetic trait is explained, as Dorian’s “soul” program (yes, he’s African American and it does make it a wee cringe-worthy). Through squad car chit chat and large action set pieces the two outsiders forge an unlikely respect for each other.
In the pilot episode, Kennex is forced to confront the shattering realization that he may be the reason his entire squad was gunned down and a very personal betrayal. His character shows much more depth and growth over the course of the single episode than I’ve seen in seven episodes of Marvel’s Agent of SHIELD. It’s a testament to the excellent writing and production of JJ Abraham’s Bad Robot and the great acting of Mr. Ealy and Mr. Urban. Lily Taylor as Kennex’s Captain is solid too. A mentor to Officer Kennex, it was her call to pair the unlikely duo, (after a frustrated Kennex shoves is first MX Android partner post reinstatement out a moving vehicle). Having a female in a nonromantic, leadership role is a respectable thing. So, for me the pilot works. The writing is solid and characters are promising. This show has a lot going for it.
That being said, the premise of the show is still a little unsettling to me. A black actor given a nuanced co-starring role in a Sci-Fi show is a great thing. Historically, black people were invisible on television in general and Sci-Fi in particular. But the role in this case is to portray an “almost human” African American android trying to navigate human relationships. It is hard not to feel that there is some perpetuation of Dred Scott (Africans being valued at 3/5ths of a human being) going on. I am hoping that the show can prove to be intelligent enough to demonstrate some cultural sensitivity around this, but it is going to be tough to successfully thread that needle. What do you think? Feel free to post a comment below.