This year’s TV series Almost Human had the potential to be a big hit, with movie star Karl Urban as one of the two lead actors, and a classic sci-fi plot that looked like it would mix RoboCop, Alien Nation, Blade Runner, and Total Recall. After a fun but uncertain pilot episode, it has managed to deliver each week the kind of science fiction stories that are stuff of classic TV. Almost Human isn’t just sci-fi, it’s a full-blown police procedural drama, and a good old-fashioned buddy cop show to boot.
The series centers on megastar-film actor Karl Urban’s future cop, Detective John Kennex. Kennex is a grumpy guy with baggage, a past encounter gone bad resulted in the death of his partner and the need for a cybernetic leg. Early detractors of the series likened his Kennex too much to his similarly gruff Doctor McCoy from the new Star Trek movies. It’s a fair comparison. But we don’t care. They are both great characterizations and the miserable, tough guy routine is separable and fun to watch, especially Kennex’s banter with co-star Michael Ealy as almost human robot cop Dorian, an android of a decommissioned type who has become Kennex’s partner. In fact, the buddy cop routine will make you think of your favorite buddy cop shows, in the league of Alien Nation, Adam-12, Life on Mars, Hot Fuzz, Dragnet, Life, White Collar, and Starsky and Hutch.
This week’s episode was emblematic of why the series is destined to continue as long as the network will let it. The writers basically took the plot from a classic episode of Law and Order about pacemakers being refurbished and placed in new people. Here, that concept is blended with a current political item: what happens if there is no Affordable Care Act in the future, and a current element of technology some people use every day: the prepaid cell phone. So how did the writers put it all together?
Citizens in the future who can’t afford organ replacements because their insurance doesn’t cover them are left to die. Enter an opportunist who takes advantage of legislation which requires all replacement organ technology to be destroyed upon death. He cremates the dead, certifying the destruction of the cybernetic organs, but instead sells them to a doctor who surgically implants them in desperate patients. The criminal twist is the added timing device in each organ–which will cause organ failure if not re-charged, killing the unfortunate patient. This pay-as-you-go cell phone model adapted to health care is a fascinating vision of business and medicine gone horribly awry. Kennex and Dorian must figure out what happened and try to save hundreds of victims from the extortionists.
On top of that, Dorian encounters another like model of RoboCop who was decommissioned years ago when replaced by the better models. TV special effects that were so well done in this year’s Orphan Black are utilized here equally smoothly, and you forget that Ealy is playing both parts in the same screen frame. Add a rousing futuristic soundtrack, awesome tech like DNA bombs and digital masks that change your face, and plenty of action, and we have the makings for a new classic genre series.
Look for Almost Human to return with Episode 7 on Monday night, January 6, 2014 on the Fox Network.