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Saturday, March 8, 2014

ALMOST HUMAN Almost Great

Article first published as ALMOST HUMAN Almost Great on TheTVKing.

When FOX's Almost Human premiered, I was skeptical. It had a very cool concept and setting, but seemed bogged down in case-of-the-week procedural crap. As the weeks passed, though, it did move into some far more interesting stories and developed its characters in ways I wanted to see continue. So it's with a heavy heart that I review "Straw Man," last night's season, quite possibly series, finale.

Almost Human is set in the not-so-distant future, though, from the tech shown, one would think it would be a further reach. The idea, though, that technology has gotten out of hand and law enforcement struggles to control it, is solid and an easy leap to make, given the rapid pace of advancement today.

While most of the show is, regrettably, confined to the crimes our heroes investigate, we do get glimpses of the larger world. We know Detective Stahl (Minka Kelly) is genetically engineered, as anyone can be for a price, and her kind live separately from the rest of society, usually considering themselves above "normal" humans. We know there's a wall keeping out the really low dregs of society, making for a pronounced class system. And we know some androids, like Dorian (Michael Ealy) were designed with feelings, so they act more human, but also less stable.

"Straw Man" has some fine movement on these fronts. Besides seeing the how the homeless live, we also see Dorian reviewed by the board that will decide if he will continue to serve as a cop, despite the rest of his line being decomissioned. What emerges is a clear understanding that, unlike the newer models more commonly used, Dorian's type are individuals, meaning some can handle the work and some cannot. Dorian's co-workers love him and he does well so he will continue in his current position. But while I do think they will activate other Dorians following his success, not all can handle this.

The moments where the human characters are shown talking to or about Dorian are very entertaining. Poor Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) bumbles through his part of the evaluation, but John Kennex (Karl Urban), who is so against Dorian at the start, has only glowing things to say, crediting Dorian for Kennex's own continued service to the badge. While Kennex downplays this when Dorian thanks him, it's too late; Dorian and the viewer know the truth. This is the ultimate buddy cop bond.

Ealy is absolutely terrific as the machine. He can mimic a standard robot beautifully when he thinks he's losing the review, and his interactions with John are so authentic that he feels believable, until the actor tosses in those little, detailed touches that prove he's something else. There's a hard balance to strike in playing a character like Dorian, and Ealy is great at hitting it.

The main plot of "Straw Man" involves Kennex solving the case that disgraced his father, Edward (John Diehl, Miami Vice), and got him killed. With a little help from Dorian and Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor), who gets some sealed files for him, Kennex clears his old man's name and brings the real killer to justice. It's a triumphant moment for Kennex, personally and professionally, and a high note to end the series on, should it not be renewed.

The problem is, it's all much too quick. As soon as we get any info about Edward at all, John has tied up everything neatly. This is likely because Almost Human isn't sure it's coming back so it didn't want to leave a cliffhanger. The hanging threads from other stories, including that of John's wife and Dorian's implanted memories, aren't mentioned, meaning there are still places for the show to go should it return, but it doesn't feel like it stops abruptly. "Straw Man" is a powerful, moving installment, one which will rank as a favorite among fans. Still, it's sad that such an important character element for the show's lead is treated so lightly, as it deserves much more weight.

The whole show deserves more exploration. While future episodes would involve more stand-alone cases, there are also a great many elements of the technology and society that viewers want to see. How did things develop as they did? What are the moral implications? How can this one department effect change on a grander scale? If it ran for seasons, these questions would be delved into more, making for a very engaging, intriguing show.

Almost Human is not without its weaknesses. The homeless man that Detective Paul (Michael Irby) takes pity on just happens to be the next victim moments later? Ridiculous coincidence. But the humor, heart, good writing, and excellent special effects tip the scales in its favor, not the perfect show, but a darn good one that will be missed when it goes.

Almost Human is currently awaiting news of its fate from FOX.

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