By Cate K. (Cate hails from DiC’s early days and it’s so great to have her paying us a visit as a guest contributor again.)
Amidst the excitement of last night’s Oscar ceremony, there’s something you should keep in mind today – and it isn’t the post-Oscar frock-analysis (though Brittani’s rundown is very good indeed). A fascinating new FOX show is having its season finale, and there’s a scary chance it could be the last (as in very last) one.
I’m talking about Almost Human, a show that debuted with much fanfare last fall. Like buddy-cop shows of yore (i.e. Starsky and Hutch), it’s a two-good-guys-getting-bad-guys show, with a PTSD-suffering cop (Karl Urban) being paired by his no-nonsense boss (Lili Taylor) with a touchy-feely robot (Michael Ealy). Taking place in 2048, the program has familiar contemporary elements, what with its tap-swipe-pinch technologies and real science storylines. It also has bonafide sci-fi cred, what with Lost creator/Star Trek rebooter J.J. Abrams and writer/producer Joel Wyman behind production.
However, there’s no reason to switch off if you don’t know the work of Abrams or Wyman; Almost Human is a smart, entertaining mix of high-tech crime and low-tech humanity, and you certainly don’t have to be a hardcore sci-fi fan to enjoy it. Urban’s Kennex is angry and deeply damaged, inside and out; Ealy’s Dorian is curious and childlike. They’re a beguiling pair. Because FOX has mysteriously aired the episodes out of order, there have been some inconsistencies in terms of character and story development, but this hasn’t detracted from our interest in the pair or in how their relationship will develop. With shades of Bladerunner, Frankenstein, and even The Odd Couple, Almost Human is a program whose episodes can (and should) be watched and re-watched; you’ll always find something new to contemplate, especially when it comes to mulling the relationship between Kennex and Dorian.
True, there have been complaints that Almost Human possesses, at times, the mentality of an after-school special, with the tin-eared dialogue to match (“This is gonna be good!”) –but consider, if you will, its broader appeal. My (senior) mother, for instance, loves the show as much as an eighteen-year-old. This isn’t a show that’s being solely written for teenaged technophiles – it’s being written for a wide demographic who understand and appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of human relationships. There is a humanity at work in Almost Human, along with some wry truths about the nature of relating. That silly dialogue (which my mother characterized as “a young guy being really exciting about his work – what’s wrong with that?”) is balanced by the more nuanced work between its leads, with much of it being improvised. (If you’ve ever wondered if robots have genitals… hmmm.) The bond between the damaged cop Kennex and his fascinating almost-human partner is at once mysterious, hilarious, testy and touching. Sometimes we see ourselves in the cynicism and hurt of the man, sometimes in the wonder and wide-eyed naivete of the machine – but always there is that magic kernel of hope that manifests itself so beautifully through the chemistry Urban and Ealy share.
It doesn’t hurt that the leads of Almost Human are also nice to look at, but that isn’t to say universal appeal gets left in the cold. After I’d introduced a friend of mine to Almost Human last month, he echoed something I’ve read across various websites, that Karl Urban is a guy’s-guy, that he isn’t the smooth-young-pretty-boy that gets pushed out and madly promoted in pop culture, that he “plays the kinds of guys I know.” (His macho-leaning acting CV doesn’t hurt either.) Michael Ealy is an equally beautiful man; I feel like he should’ve been in Wings Of Desire, so heavenly is he. The actor has a wonderfully gentle bearing, and he’s so childlike at times, it comes as a shock when his Dorian is pointing a gun at someone, even if it’s the bad guys. The two actors are keenly aware of of each others’ tics, and excel at balancing exposition with emotion. It’s rare to find that combination on regular-cable television.
Another reason Almost Human rocks: Lili Taylor. Far from being a tiny-voiced bimbo in a low-cut shirt, flipping hair and batting eyelashes, her Maldonado is a no-bullshit woman with soft spots for damaged people and moral quandaries. It’s nice to see a female in such a position of power on television, and to be presented as smart, savvy, relatable, conflicted… you know, human.
The one complaint I have about Almost Human is its budding quasi-romance between Urban’s character and that of Minka Kelly‘s. Aside from Urban and Kelly having gallingly little onscreen chemistry, the supposed connection between their characters feels contrived. Kelly’s character, Valerie –a so-called “chrome” who is genetically modified –is flat and wholly unengaging, a thinly-written pretty-girl part. Even in recent episodes (in which her past is hinted at), it’s hard to muster anything beyond indifference. Kelly’s is the conventional-female-TV-role to Taylor’s unconventional one, and her scenes with Urban’s Kennex are totally lacking the frisson they so desperately need if we’re to buy them getting it on at some stage.
That is to imply there will be a “some stage,” because frankly, there may not. That would be a terrible pity, because Almost Human is just coming into its own now, at the end of its first season, pregnant with references to a mysterious Wall, half-remembered tragedies, over-ambitious scientists, and a vast criminal subculture, all elements that would add meaty dimension to its zesty, mostly-solid base. I’ve already blogged about its feminist subtext, and I’d like to see that teased out too. I’ll enjoy tonight’s finale, keeping fingers and toes we see Almost Human back in the autumn.
The Almost Human season finale airs tonight at 8pm ET on FOX.