Friday, April 25, 2014

TV Series Review: Almost Human

I've gotten so used to watching American tv shows that are 22 episodes long that I had forgotten that a lot of them actually start out shorter and more episodes are ordered part-way through the run (I think it's called a back-end 8 or something). So that's why I was a bit surprised when I was catching up with Almost Human and realized that the next episode was going to be the last for this season at least, I wonder if the writers were as surprised as I was! Actually, I was looking through wikipedia when writing this (to see if there was any news on a second season yet, there's not) and remembered that not only had this show started up weeks after it was supposed to (in late November of all times) but apparently one of the showrunner's left the series for creative differences and Fox actually aired the episodes in a different order than the remaining showrunner intended, that's never a good sign when a developing relationship between two of the characters is supposed to be at the heart of the show. Or when the show is heavily plot based so really, don't do that guys!

Almost Human

The year is 2048 and technology has changed at an unbelievable rate and the government can no longer regulate it. For some people this means great things but for the police it means more crimes and stranger ones at that. One city has decided to deal with this by pairing each of it's cops with an android for greater protection which surprises one Detective Kennx when he wakes up after a 17 month coma after an ambush. He's not happy about it but his boss thinks she's found one who he can work with, an older model that Dorian who often seems more human than Kennex himself.

The first episode of this show blew me away and it was well worth the additional wait. While the world wasn't very different from a lot of near-future sci-fi stories (I've only seen Blade Runner once but I trust the rest of the internet when they say that some shots were deliberate recreations of some shots there, the tone would fit well) I really appreciated how they decided to cast Dorian as a black man because then it also becomes an allegory for our current day problems and that's not easy to pull off. He was going to be the odd man out from the beginning, not fitting in with the other "synthetics" or with Kennex (who in turn doesn't fit in with all the cops) and so whenever an issue came up it became not only a question in the show but a question for the viewer themself and I thought it was handled great. The best example was where in one episode another black android was hauled in and we see how she doesn't respond to questions of "how were you made" but to ones like "where were you born", that scene was one of the highlights for the entire show for me. Once the two of them warm up then I enjoyed a lot of the quipping and banter, it still felt like they were a bit on edge with each other even by the end of the season but, since I don't know how much time had passed in-universe (and this reflects their personalities as well) but thankfully it only got really mean once or twice each episode.

Sadly, the rest of the show is rather average; it's an odd juxtaposition of the show saying "everything is different and dangerous now with technology!" and yet everything looking rather the same as the modern day. Well, except for that giant wall in whatever city this show is in, the fact that it's not actually specified in show does make me wonder if this is the last bastion of humanity or such, although whatever the case might be the show really needed to at least start hinting at what was going on. And then there were other parts of the show where it started hinting at an idea or plot point and then never followed up on it. There Kennex's gradual discoveries of what happened during the raid which caused him to lose a leg (that I can forgive the show for not revealing more of but it seemed like an after though each time it happened) and also the show almost states that there's something special about Dorian but never goes beyond a cryptic line and one scene. I'm almost convinced that his "synthetic soul" (the show's words, not mine) came from a real person, especially since I could have sworn I heard at one point that his full name was Dorian Gray but can't seem to find anything to back that up. And then there's the baffling about face by minor character Stahl who spends most of the show disliking Chroms (perfectly genetically engineered people, she's one and the first to become a cop which never made sense to me) and then after the show suddenly introduces the concept halfway through, has her dislike it the whole time, she starts dating one (and ,since it was the second to last episode, it's just not talked about again). The show makes several other real-world allegories which I thought were much more heavy handed (like a Travyon Martin-esque case and of course, Anonymous) and I'm also not sure why it keeps insisting people are still using BitCoins 30 years into the future but I might be overly cynical and skeptical there. 

At this point, would I watch a second season of AH? I think no, but my feelings aren't so set in stone that I couldn't be convinced to give it another chance. But as of right now, it promised an interesting, sci-fi story with a strong underlying mystery and never delivered on any of them. We still don't know much about what happened in the attack/betrayal on Kennex, despite his attempts every episode to learn more, they barely introduced Dorian's mystery, and I felt like they also only started to flesh out the prominent female side characters Maldonado and Stahl (and the show makes it clear that it would like to talk about them more). I believe that even in an episodic show you need regular payoff to keep the viewers invested (which SHIELD also had trouble with but Elementary does well) and by the end there just wasn't much to care about. If I'm going to watch something that's mostly a procedural cop show I'll choose Elementary over this, I'm still not a fan of the genre but I feel that show just makes it a bit more interesting than AH was.

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