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TV Review | Urban, Ealy shine in ‘Almost Human’

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 09:12

“Almost Human,” FOX’s new show starring Karl Urban and Michael Ealy, is an intriguing mix between science fiction and procedural  crime drama. In the year 2048, detectives are paired with robots with human appearances, known as androids, to combat increased criminal threat. Urban plays the damaged John Kennex, a detective with a dark past. Kennex’s new partner is the android Dorian, who is different from the standard model of robot because he was designed to have emotions and empathize.

“Almost Human” was created by J.H. Wyman, the executive producer of “Fringe” (2008-2013), and is produced by J.J. Abrams of “Lost” (2004-2010) and “Star Trek” fame. 

The show therefore comes with high expectations — both of these men are experts in the field of well-written science fiction entertainment. But in this latest endeavor, it is clear that Wyman and Abrams are struggling to establish “Almost Human” as fundamentally different from other shows on television. 

They are successful to an extent: The show is good, but it ultimately tries too hard. Unfortunately, by striving to be simultaneously mainstream and unique, the show lacks the edgy, genuine feel of some of their previous successes, like “Fringe.”

The series — which essentially follows a standard crime show narrative — attempts to distinguish itself with nifty gadgets and interesting special effects. The procedural elements of the show are definitely entertaining. 

Criminals spray masks on their faces to hide from security cameras and drop bombs filled with the DNA of different people over a crime scene to cover any evidence they may have left behind. While these gimmicks make the conflicts more visually engaging, it is the dynamic between the main characters that really carries the show.

Kennex’s character is basically a mash-up of every tough cop trope used in television. However, Karl Urban — perhaps best known for playing Bones in the “Star Trek” films — is committed to the role and brings a sense of comedic awareness to what could very easily be a dull part.

Instead of lazily playing yet another emotionally damaged detective, Urban seems determined to make Kennex memorable. It is an admirable effort, and he especially succeeds in scenes with Michael Ealy’s Dorian. However, it is Ealy who is the real star of the show, adding depth and emotion to every scene. As Dorian wrestles with the nature of life and death, the viewer begins to do the same. Can artificial intelligence ever be considered human? It is Dorian who elevates “Almost Human” into more than just another standard crime show.

The performances of the other actors in the show are solid, but not nearly at the level of the two leads. Mackenzie Crook gives the best portrayal of all the supporting characters as android technician Rudy. 

Though Rudy lacks substance, Crook brings nuanced tics and expressions to the role, making him more compelling. Lili Taylor is entertaining enough as the no-nonsense police chief, but her character has yet to rise above the archetype. 

Minka Kelly gives a bland, if pretty, performance as Detective Valerie Stahl. While the viewer is assured often that Stahl is competent and intelligent, she has little purpose other than to walk around the police station and look good in loose T-shirts. 

Stahl very well may become a future love interest for Kennex, but, right now, it seems as if the writers have no idea what to do with her. Hopefully, they’ll realize that a pretty female character can have more than just a romantic role and develop her role in the future.

Regardless of minor character arcs, it is clearly Kennex and Dorian’s show. Urban and Ealy have chemistry and easy rapport, making the relationship between Kennex and Dorian believable and easy to watch. Their scenes of one-on-one banter are the highlight of every episode.

If the writers can forget about trying to please the viewer with fancy special effects and focus instead on the complexities of each character and plotline, it could be a great show. Right now, it’s merely a good one. If “Almost Human” is to remain relevant, it needs to show more substance.

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