‘Are You Receiving?’
It’s a rather odd feeling watching a show that’s already doomed. Before the series reached UK shores, Almost Human had already been cancelled after its solitary first series. Drops in American ratings were fairly dramatic, so regardless of the quality onscreen, this was always somewhat of a foregone conclusion. What it does mean however is that with every episode now, rather than developing the story further, we’re simply getting closer to its end. Now onto episode three of the thirteen, this is really the ‘make-or-break’ week. Episode one established the premise, world and characters, and episode two established the format and what would be carried over week by week. This episode is where the show needed to break into its stride a bit.
This week we saw Kennex and Dorian infiltrate a hostage situation, where everything was not as it seemed. First of all, it turned out the hostage takers weren’t the anti-Western terrorists they appeared to be. Instead, they were wearing ‘face-makers’ – technology that allowed one to appear to be someone completely different – and they’re actually just small-time crooks creating a diversion for a metal heist next door. This is a fairly well worn concept, and brings to mind the most prominent old classic Die Hard; a basic heist disguised as something more meaningful. The episode also felt a bit like Karl Urban’s recent hit Dredd, with the two leads climbing floor by floor towards the antagonists at the top. You can understand how a police procedural/crime thriller has only so many plots to use, but even so, three episodes in, it’s a bit worrying that this is what emerges.
One major benefit of the episode’s endless floor combing meant we got to spend more time with Kennex and Dorian as a duo – easily one the show’s biggest assets. The chemistry between Urban and Michael Ealy is effortless, with the two ‘almost human’ characters playing off each other really well. You see Kennex’s confusion at Dorian putting on a Spanish female voice to sooth an emergency caller, and then Dorian’s bemusement at Kennex’s ‘ice-fishing story’. Frankly, the more time the show spends with these two, the better, as right now they don’t seem to be doing anything anywhere near as inventive with the ‘crime-of-the-week’.
Three episodes in then, and the show is somewhat of a mixed bag. There’s the aforementioned characterisation, which extends across most of the main cast; the always-reliable Mackenzie Crook’s Rudy providing good comic relief and support, while Lili Taylor’s police Captain Maldonado is more rounded than most comparative characters. Equally, the world of the show has already been shown to be excellently built. For a TV series, the production value has consistently upheld the vision of a futuristic American city. It isn’t just a nick of paint – everything from the police androids to the punchy electro soundtrack by The Crystal Method fits in well.
Beyond this, the shows police procedural nature shows through a bit too much. That particular genre makes for entertaining viewing on most counts like CSI, and Almost Human is entertaining regardless, but it feels like a bit of a waste of the premise just to churn out clichéd plots, with little development. It seems surprising that any network would spend so much on a show that’s so far just a more glamorous version of most procedurals. It’s also surprising that JJ Abrams, for all his faults, would attach himself to something without any overall drive. Perhaps these are signs that we should expect some improvement before the end.
In any case, this week represented an entertaining but ultimately derivative outing into the Almost Human world. With ten episodes remaining, hopefully the standard will improve.