First Watch: Almost Human: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

If there is one thing Tonight’s Watch knows by now, it’s police procedurals—and Almost Human is not a police procedural. A police procedural is the sitcom of the drama world: they’re a dime a dozen, require very little through line, and often require little imagination to create. I’m not saying Almost Human is the crown jewel of television, but it certainly has more thought behind it than an episode of CSI: Anything. Almost Human doesn’t pose a mystery, but only asks its viewers to follow the adventures of a detective and his robo-partner. Buddy-cop action sci-fi is possibly the most accurate genre you could apply to a series like this, and only J.J. Abrams could produce it. What does a show like that look like? Let’s take a look.

The opening looks like a commercial for a futuristic warfare video game: all explosions and gunfire, with a few futuristic gadgets sprinkled here and there. In the future, a voice informs us, the law can’t keep up with crime and fledging technology. Criminals have become bolder, firing on police without fear of repercussion. Charging into a volley of gunfire is our hero and hardened cop, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban). Unfortunately, bravery gets you killed or wounded in his line of work. Not only did the big mob boss get away, but Kennex lost a leg, and partner, because an android would not save them.

Seventeen months later, Kennex wakes up from his coma missing chunks of his memory, but seems to have gained a cybernetic leg. By now, astute viewers will notice a certain similarity to Will Smith’s bionic arm in I, Robot. Those viewers will most likely be taken care of by FOX—with extreme prejudice. Kennex is brought back on the force (without too much of a psych exam) and given an “MX”—the newest line of android—which he quickly destroys. Since MXs are expendable, but not entirely infinite, Kennex is given a DRN as a replacement. His name is Dorian (Michael Ealy) and he has a “synthetic soul”, making him—you guessed it—Almost Human.

Now that we’ve covered what makes this show unique, let’s cover the rest. The relationship between Kennex and Dorian isn’t the only love story we see: Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) is nosing around our Detective Kennex. What about the no-nonsense, forever-frowning captain? Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) fits the bill for us. All we need now is the nerdy tech guy, Rudy Low (Mackenzie Crook), to round out the cast.

I fully expect Almost Human to check off every item on the “Sci-fi To-Do” list: AI, Altered reality, Force Fields, Sex-Bots, Mutants, Genetic Altering, and so on. They’ve already borrowed from the classics. The set design is reminiscent of Blade Runner. The doctor specializing in memories is ripped out of the pages of Total Recall. I can go on, I’m sure, as the episodes pile on.

What does Almost Human have to offer? It’s an action-packed, buddy cop sci-fi, but it’s not very good at being any one of those genres. The show fits in well with FOX’s other genre-cop series Sleepy Hollow; the self-contained episodes often ending with a minute connection or clue to the overall plot. Almost Human doesn’t hold my attention—it doesn’t make me wonder what’s coming next—but it can entertain.

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