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Friday, December 20, 2013

ALMOST HUMAN Fighting An "Arrhythmia"

Article first published as ALMOST HUMAN Fighting An "Arrhythmia" on TheTVKing.

Only six episodes into the first year, FOX's Almost Human takes their winter break after this week's "Arrhythmia." A thriving black market sells ailing people artificial organs under the table, then extorts more money from the patients in order to keep the transplant working. Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) are joined in their investigation of the enterprise by another DRN (also Ealy) who no longer works in law enforcement after a tragic incident.

After a sextet of installments, I'm a bit disappointed in Almost Human. The first started out with such promise, setting up some long, serial arcs that could be explored in a very intriguing story. The next five, though, have been mostly stand-alone procedurals, with the lead characters solving cases-of-the-week, with virtually no movement beyond that central plot.

For some reason, networks like procedurals. As someone who watches a lot of TV, I find them boring and dumb and quickly grow bored. But there is an (unfortunately large) segment of the viewing populace who craves the no-thinking, fluff entertainment, which is why the airwaves are clogged with the stuff. Fans of that genre have plenty of choices, so why force something clever and fresh to conform to the old standards?

It's very likely Almost Human won't remain in this format forever. Fringe, Dollhouse, and others have played the game at the start, delivering half a dozen or so rote episodes before kicking off exciting stories. Apparently, the hope is that the initial batch will hook in some of those lazy or very casual viewers, even after the series grows into something must-see. I don't know that that theory works all that well, but that's what we're stuck with for now, muddling through mediocre junk until the writers are given the freedom to get to the good stuff.

Make no mistake about it, I think Almost Human is going to have plenty of good stuff. The bits in the pilot that are sure to be revisited are interesting, the futuristic setting is cool, we've been introduced to much new technology that will definitely come into play again, and the characters are well developed. The cast, which includes Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Michael Irby, and Mackenzie Crook, are quite good. The raw ingredients for a great science fiction series are present, if only it would be allowed to rise in the oven to what it's supposed to be.

Take this recent episode, "Arrhythmia," for instance. The relationship between Kennex and Dorian, the best element so far, is usually only explored in small chunks to better serve the pacing of the episodes. But here, we get a more extended view of Dorian and his model of android. By bringing in another DRN, we get to compare and contrast Dorian to his brethren. Dorian is also shown to be a developed individual, different than this other robot, and capable of making compassionate decisions. It's a really good Dorian story, and Ealy does an admirable job in the dual role.

The parts of the installment that deal with the organs are intriguing, too. There are real issues raised, and some of these are not resolved by the end of the hour. Almost Human could spend much time re-examining and debating whether it's right or not to resell these organs, and what sort of regulation should be in place. Yes, that's not going to be the bones of a long-term arc, but it could be something brought up again on multiple occasions.

More of this is what I'm looking for. We get that there is still crime in the future and that cop shows sell. However, exploring the implications of technological advancement, a blurring of lines in what life is, and questions of morality is way neater in a TV program. Ditch the standard fare and deliver a series that geeks will find worth watching, and they'll be something to praise. At the moment, Almost Human is a very good procedural, enjoyable even, but that's all that it is. It's time for the next step in the series' evolution.

Almost Human will return in a few weeks on FOX.

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