TV REVIEW: Almost Human, Season 1, Episodes 1.01 “Pilot” and 1.02 “Skin”

I’ve been waiting patiently for Almost Human for a while now and I freely admit to being a total Karl Urban fangirl, ever since his Xena days. Cupid – not Caesar! So it is safe to say that I might be a little biased towards this show from the get go. I’m not sure that Fox’s decision to delay the pilot and air episodes 01 and 02 two nights in a row was the best one, because watching two episodes one right after the other often really highlights the differences between the pilot and the first true episode – they never *quite* have the same feel.

Let’s hope the lead-in from American football was enough to bring in some viewers who wouldn’t have otherwise tuned in. I mean, this show is on Fox after all (*cough, cough*), so will need some strong viewing numbers to keep going.

Episode 01.01 “Pilot”

The episode starts with an opening scroll, which is kinda nice – it’s a quick and easy way to bring everyone up to speed without overwhelming them with info. Which, given the premise of the show, is badly needed – you have to have some sort of lead-in to clue people in as to what is going on. We learn that we’re in the future, and crime levels are ridiculously high. Because of this, the human members of the police force have been paired with combat model androids (aka “cannon fodder”).

The opening shot is a nice one – very FPS, video-game style – from our lead, John Kennex’s point of view. We’re getting hit with the action sequences right off of the bat though the only thing about starting with an action sequence is that you can totally tell this is going to be a traumatic event for someone. ‘Cause they never start a show off with something that ends well (See every procedural on the air today).

Kennex and his partner are under heavy fire. Deadpan – “It can always get worse.” “It just got worse.” Oh dear. Please, please tell me this isn’t a hint of the writing style to come? And of course, it *does* get worse – Kennex’s partner is shot and Kennex himself loses a leg and is knocked unconscious from the force of a grenade. Now we break out the obligatory softly lit dream sequence that happens when someone is close to death. And we cut back to real life – obviously some time later given that Kennex appears to be in reasonable health.

We learn that apparently Kennex was in a coma for almost two years and is now seeking medical services from a black market Doctor who he hopes can restore his lost memories (I guess the events of the shooting got a little bit fuzzy). Did Kennex just mention that the Doctor is from sub-Asia? That’s a quick little throw-away tidbit about the current political landscape. I definitely hope that gets explored a little more later on. It is being made clear that we have a character motivated by REVENGE (‘cause that hasn’t been done before).

This black market medical treatment is so that he can remember what happened the day he lost his leg and his partner was killed – so he can get his REVENGE. The dream sequence wasn’t right after his leg got blown off but rather is part of this memory recollection thing? Yeah, that’s some foreshadowing right there. Kennex leaves and we see him popping a bright red pill while sitting in his car. Oh dear, now a potential drug addiction is being throw into the mix? Any more stereotyped behavior that they want to throw in there? Well, I can’t say that there is a whole lot there in terms of opening credits. Wonder if that will change for later shows? Or are they going to stick with that opening scroll?

Cut to Kennex’s apartment – oh great, he’s waxing poetic about the old love interest from the dream sequence– can’t we have a show without stupid romantic plot-lines? What about people who are, you know, totally cool being single? Or who aren’t hung up on “the one that got away”? I gotta say, he’s got pretty nice digs for a cop. Did he still draw a salary for those two years that he was unconscious? ‘Cause seriously, who was paying his bills? Why do I always have to think about the logistics when I watch a show?

Kennex reluctantly gets called back into work – there has been a robbery that is likely tied to the Syndicate, the same folks who were responsible for the heist where he lost his leg. The show is establishing the “brilliant detective returning to work” story line – complete with doofus coworker jealousy. Sigh. Of *course* they have to set John up as the quirky outsider who is going to have to win the respect and admiration of his coworkers once again. We’ve *never* seen that before. He argues with Captain Maldonado – making it clear that he doesn’t want to have a synthetic assigned to him.

She basically tells him to suck it up and proceeds to give him the details about the heist. It always amuses me how, when they show security video on a show, it just happens to be nicely edited together to show the best possible angles. Because it *totally* gets recorded like that. Kennex and his new synthetic partner (MX model) head to the scene of the crime.

Cue some interaction with one of the secondary members of the cast and clear love interest –  Minka Kelly is not as annoying as I expected. I’ve never found her to be the greatest actress around, but I’m finding her rather endearing at the moment. Too many actors in sci-fi come off as too stilted given the material that they’re working with, but she’s owning it so far. Kennex heads back to the precinct, clearly not gelling with his new partner. Well, problem solved – pushing his partner out of the door of the moving vehicle and into traffic was a pretty badass move!

John now needs a new partner which leads to a bit of an unlikely setup. He gets one of the “crazy” models – DRN or Dorian, an older style synthetic who had some issues with emotional subroutines – in effect, becoming a little *too* human. This “he’s the only one we have left around” excuse is pretty thin reasoning but I guess they had to set it up somehow. Up until now, Kennex has been very anti AI, and yet now he’s suddenly interested in sticking around and getting his new partner up and running? A moment ago he was adamantly against having a synthetic partner, and now he’s seemingly resigned himself to the fact? That was a bit of a quick turnaround.

But seriously, Michael Ealy is 40? Whatever fountain of youth he uses, I want it. He could bottle that stuff up and make a mint. Well, they’re clearly establishing how “different” Dorian is right from the get-go. Cars don’t look a hell of a lot different in the future. And the “No Parking” and cross walk signs still look exactly the same. It is an interesting visual choice as to how the newer AI models definitely look very AI like. Although is there really a need to have different “models” of AI? Why differentiate visually if they are all essentially the same?

We see a cop getting kidnapped and a suspect is taken prisoner. Kennex and Dorian do some interrogating – and everyone in the precinct is totally OK with Kennex just drawing the blinds in the interrogation room? Because that *always* means that everything is proceeding by the book. We learn that the prisoner shot himself in the leg so that he would get captured, in an attempt to get away from his employers – they’d straight up kill him if he tried to leave.

The prisoner has to be transferred and is being escorted by two cops? Yeah, that won’t end well. And now the prisoner is throwing up in the bathroom. That doesn’t look kosher and it’s not – he’s upchucking a transmitter. Shooting himself in the leg was a ploy to get himself into the police station, and not as a way to escape those he’s working for. Nicely done. They’re essentially sending a SWAT team to bring back the cop who was kidnapped – but are stymied by what looks like a giant bomb.

Of *course* one of the MX-AIs doesn’t advise getting close to the machine – bloody rule followers. Seriously, how can anyone think AIs are the way to go for partners? At this point, they pretty much just appear to be mobile information recorders and meat shields. Dorian ignores the MX’s orders and ouch, that is a crazy trap that the cop is in. Unfortunately, the trap is triggered and the cop pretty much has his face melt off. Ouch – that is NOT a nice way to go!

Kennex needs a sample analyzed and asks for a lab box to transport it. But Dorian doesn’t need a lab box – he just injects the sample straight into his neck and transmits the data remotely back to the lab. Apparently the older AI’s have more powers than the newer models.  We learn that the bad guys are targeting cops, by developing a virus that attacks the specific cocktail of inoculations received by all cops. This just got serious. Karl has on his “serious” face. Which is pretty much like his “less-serious” face, his “studious” face, and his “pondering” face. At this point, I’m beginning to wonder if Karl is just channeling Dredd. Though, seriously, cops can’t be the only ones getting these inoculations, right? I mean, if they protect against a wide range of illnesses, shouldn’t a lot more people be getting them?

Kennex heads back to the black market Doctor – he needs to get those memories back to see if they lend any clues to the current situation. The show has already established that Kennex has been struggling to get his memory back for a while, and now he’s gonna get it all back in this episode rather than space it out? This could have been a plot point that would have played out nicely over a few episodes, but getting it all in one go seems rather rushed. The blurry faces that threw the grenade that almost killed him come into focus – his ex tried to kill him? Now we know why she was no longer around when he woke up from his coma.

Future umbrellas look cool. I want one. Kennex is finally coming to the realization that Dorian isn’t like the MX models? Smart criminals – they used their cleverly planted transmitter to disable all the MXs at the precinct, who are now dropping like flies – what are the paltry little humans to do? Is this a “we rely too much on technology” moment? But of course Dorian isn’t affected by the outage. “Sometimes newer technology isn’t better” – preach it brother.

We get a close up of one of the bad guy’s necks – that bar code looking tattoo that they’ve shown a few times now clearly means something. Seriously, they’ve been talking about the Syndicate all episode and there has been no information as to who or what the group is and what they’re looking to accomplish other than steal some stuff that can be used to make very bad things. Or did I miss something? The episode ends with John and Dorian in the car. “Call me John” – oh look, the bonding begins.

 

Episode 01.02 “Skin”

This episode starts with a new opening instead of a title card – little bit of overkill and information overload this time (using previously unseen footage)– I hope they don’t go with this opening every week. The voice-over declares that the cops and AI’s work together to “take on the battle to watch over us all”. I can feel the cheese oozing from my TV at the moment.

We open on robot strippers; classy. Yeah, I know that they haven’t said that she’s a robot yet but given the premise of the show, it’s pretty obvious at this point. I mean, come on – in the future, we’re *totally* going to have sex-bots. That’s like, the *first* thing that people are going to use robots for. Well, except maybe in this case, where creepy dude seems more intrigued with running some tests. But creepy dude doesn’t get to finish his tests, and gets shot instead? What’s going on here? Ah, a teensy contamination bomb! That’s kinda cool. Smart criminals.

Kennex and Dorian get 70’s porn music to bring them into the episode? Bow chicka bow wow! We see the duo interacting with some small children and Dorian is actually handling himself quite well. John tries to impress them by – stabbing himself in the leg.  It is an amusing moment since Dorian comes off as the more human of the two.

We learn that sex bots are licensed – nice. Apparently we are slightly more liberal in the future. Though this particular one isn’t – foreshadowing something funny is going on because why would you not register something that is totally legal? We see a kid left in a car after his mom is kidnapped and said child is brought to the precinct for questioning where Kennex gets the opportunity to demonstrate that he actually *can* interact with children. He breaks the ice by showing the kid a toy giraffe that moves. That giraffe toy is AWESOME! I WANT ONE! But seriously, a nice way to incorporate some fairly subtle CGI.

I’ve noticed that Dorian gets some sparkly blue facial effects now – especially when he’s “thinking” about something. Where were those in the pilot? Was there a conscious decision with this episode to make him appear more synthetic? Kennex and Dorian bond some more and talk about the existential and life after death – this show is getting a little heady already. Are we venturing into “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep” territory? Kennex doesn’t think there is life after death but Dorian emphasizes that it is important to be remembered.

We learn that the sex-bot from before actually left traces of human DNA but incorporating human DNA into robots is totally illegal. Yeah, at this point, it doesn’t look like it is going to end well for the kidnapped lady. Though, is this foreshadowing for something later? Maybe there are some more sophisticated robots out there than anyone realizes?

Kennex and Dorian head to a sex shop run by the dead guy’s former partner to see if they can find some information – but there are only two male sex-bots in the place? I feel gypped. Though it is nice that the one “client” appears to be a woman. Kennex is turned on by the sexy robots – who wouldn’t be? C’mon, look at them! They learn that the shop used to have some very lucrative clients, until they stopped ordering, which implies that these former clients are now in business for themselves.

They locate the sex-bot  – “dead” and skinned, which is super creepy looking – blech. Kudos to the effects team. The DNA is used to synthesize skin for a more realistic experience – I get it now. ‘Cause realistic sex-bots aren’t creepy at all. Seriously, if you really think about it, the underlying themes that this show is playing with are pretty weighty.

Dorian is talking to Kennex about scanning his balls? OMG, the show went there – I laughed so hard through this! I am not really sure I need to hear Kennex say “testicles” ever again. Dorian really thinks Kennex needs a date and has set up an online profile for him, which is a gag that is playing well throughout the episode.  John likes “women that are smarter than me”. “That won’t be hard.” Oh yeah, I could see that setup coming a mile away!

Apparently, the sex-bots are running on some old chips that used to be in older AI’s, which were scrapped because they gave off a GPS signal. Of *course* they did. How convenient! They use the chip in the live skin-sex-bot that they’ve acquired to locate where she was first activated. They find the skin lab saving the victims it held. But they can’t let the skin-sex-bot roam about – she’s not supposed to exist. Dorian wants to be there for her deactivation and she asks “Where am I going?”. They’re venturing into the “Do AI’s have a soul?” territory already. The fact that the light literally fades from an AI’s eyes when they are turned off is a nice touch.

All this gets Kennex to do what he should’ve done 2 years ago (if he weren’t in a coma that is); he heads off to see his dead partner’s family. Just please, PLEASE don’t bring up some sort of romantic attachment to the widow. Dammit, we don’t get to end with Kennex’s date? I feel cheated!

Overall, the two episodes were quite enjoyable. The pilot was a little underwhelming, but I found “Skin” to be a fairly strong episode. Some plot points you could see coming a mile away, though others didn’t play out quite the way you expected them to. There was a lot more humour in the second episode, so I really hope that they stick with this tone as the series progresses. It will be very easy to make this a “buddy cop” type situation, as I think making this show too dark and serious would get really old, really fast. It was nice to have two different focal points for the episodes – the pilot was focused on more of an overall conspiracy, while the second could easily have played out as a CSI episode.

Though, at this point we really need some more female characters – we only have Detective Stahl and Captain Maldonado – neither of which were given much to do. And what happened to that apparent pill problem that was developing in Episode 1? Are they just dropping that story-line, or will that be coming up again?

I would really like to get a better sense for the political landscape currently – it is clear the Syndicate is up to no good, but we still don’t have any information as to their motivations. What *is* the government like currently? Is the Syndicate fighting the system? If they’re going to be the long-term big bad, I really think that the show needs to establish them and set them up more.

I’m definitely going to be sticking with this show for a while. It is nice to see something truly sci-fi on network television.

Rating: Ep 1 – 3/5 & Ep 2 – 4/5
Reviewer: Aurra

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