Pilot Review: Almost Human

Detective Kennex (Karl Urban) had a bad day at work that left his team dead, him missing a leg and in a coma for 17 months. Now he’s going back to work with a ‘synthetic’ leg, an abundance of psychological issues and almost no friends. Fortunately his only two friends are his boss and the tech guru so when he’s forced to have a synthetic partner (i.e. a robot) they find him one that actually has a personality, albeit one that’s renowned for driving the model insane. It’s the start of a beautiful friendship.

This was one of the shows that really caught my eye when it was announced. For a start, it’s science fiction and that’s in pretty short supply these days. For a second it’s science fiction plus a buddy detective show, which I’m an absolute sucker for. The miss-matched partners trope is extremely well covered in television, but that’s partly because it really does make compelling tv. The conflicts drive character moments, the moments of connection give satisfying emotional milestones and, if handled correctly, the contrasts can easily drive stories and arcs over multiple season. Finally, the name Karl Urban is a big draw, most recently familiar for being Dr McCoy on the new Star Trek, but a genre favourite since being Eomer in Lord of the Rings, his movie credentials show he’s capable of the action hero stuff, but he’s also able to bring a dry wit to things that I’m always a fan of. Michael Ealy as his partner I didn’t know but had a great reputation and the supporting cast also had enough names to offer optimism (Lili Taylor, Six Feet Under; Minka Kelly, Friday Night Lights and Michael Irby, The Unit; Mackenzie Crook, Pirates of the Caribbean).

So that’s what made me look forward to it. On the down side by the time it reached the UK, it had already been cancelled. Literally a week before it arrived on air, in the middle of Sky’s advertising drive, Fox announces it’s dead. That’s often enough to put me off a show altogether (best case scenario – it’s great and you’re angry) but given a general lack of sf things to watch with the house mates (who have rather specific requirements) we gave it a shot anyway.

The good news is, at least I’m not angry it was cancelled.

My house mate’s take on it was “how can so many great components combine to make something so bad?” which is an excellent question. All the promise was actually there, plenty of sci fi, loads of expensive looking technology and shininess, a complex universe to become familiar with, light and dark moments between the partners, some running and shooting and shouting… and yet overall, it was just poor.

The biggest problem is that there’s very little delicacy with anything, and a lot of that I’m afraid lies with Karl Urban who alternately lays everything on way too thick and yet also phones it in. Now that could be the script’s fault which is pretty lacking in subtlety, but Michael Ealy’s performance was a lot more nuanced. I wonder if the director told Urban that he should play up that he is not dealing with his real human emotions as well as his robotic partner is dealing with his simulated ones, maybe the director really wanted to make sure that a non-sf familiar audience Got It, but it felt patronising.

The other frustration was that within just a few minutes my house mates and I were picking holes in the plot and the technology, logic was compromised too often just to drive the plot along. Now if the rest of the show is pulling you in, that sort of nit-picking doesn’t happen, but because the writer/director was taking so much time to hammer things home, there was more than enough time to ponder why the robot needs a graphical interface to assimilate data, how people don’t walk into the transparent panel in the middle of the office and just how a robot analyses blood by injecting it in their neck.

I suspect we will probable watch the rest of the series anyway to be honest. Firstly, there’s not much else on we watch together, secondly it’s only a dozen or so episodes, and thirdly it is just about possible that after the initial stress of the pilot, everyone will calm down a bit and it will get better. I won’t hold my breath though.

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  1. May 13th, 2014
    Trackback from : Narrative Devices
  2. May 13th, 2014
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