TV review: ALMOST HUMAN with Karl Urban

almosthuman1__131115072956ALMOST HUMAN is a hybrid police procedural and sci-fi series, and it ran for a single season between November 2013 and March 2014. Produced by Bad Robot Studios, it was broadcast on Fox.

The basic premise is familiar enough: John Kennex is a washed out cop, recovering from a botched police operation that resulted in the death of his partner and the loss of his leg. Kennex recovers from a long coma, and is given a synthetic leg. On his reluctant return to work, Kennex finds himself partnered with an android – a “DRN”, also known as Dorian.

The structure of the show is fairly typical; each 45-minute episode encapsulates a single plot (although by the end of the series, the producers are clearly looking to extend this template by teasing a longer story arc), usually involving the leads investigating a crime linked to a particular technological advancement. Set in 2048, the relationship between man and technology is a central theme to the series. On the micro level, the relationship between Kennex and Dorian is integral. On the macro, every episode involves the team examining the impact of technology on every day life.

Although ALMOST HUMAN plays to many SF tropes, it’s an intelligent drama series. It poses many of the same central questions as BLADE RUNNER, albeit dealing with them in a very different way. Kennex is less than human as a result of his synthetic leg, and often portrayed as cold and grumpy. Meanwhile, in many senses Dorian – beneficiary of the “synthetic soul” programme which was intended to make androids as close as possible to humans – is the more human of the two: showing warmth to other living things, asking questions that Kennex refuses to consider, and demonstrating sympathetic reactions.

The future world of ALMOST HUMAN reflects a cleaner BLADE RUNNER, but the scripting also echoes many other classic sci-fi works. There is a touching scene in the pilot episode, where Dorian tells Kennex that he dislikes the term “synthetic”: I was anxiously waiting to see whether he would say that he preferred the term artificial person. There are several little nods to the wider genre, but these are not derivative and don’t smother the show.

Karl Urban gives an exemplary performance as burnt-out cop John Kennex. Although he’s still a cop, he plays the role very differently to his performance in DREDD. Indeed, the cast through HUMAN is pretty impressive. Despite the wider themes of technology, it’s the relationship between Dorian and Kennex that really drives the show. It’s both convincing and great fun to watch; and their banter is well-scripted and entertaining, with some genuinely funny exchanges.

(Interesting aside: Karl Urban is one of my top picks for Captain Conrad Harris, of THE LAZARUS WAR series. He has just that right balance of light and dark; he really carried DREDD, and he really knows his SF roles.)

ALMOST HUMAN sadly joins a long list of SF shows cancelled too soon. There was definite mileage in continuation of the show; I’d really haver been interested to see where the producers took it. Although I couldn’t find the series on Bluray or DVD, it’s available now on iTunes and Google Play.

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