Almost Human: “Simon Says”
C+

Almost Human: “Simon Says”

C+

Almost Human

“Simon Says”

Season 1, Episode 7
C+

Almost Human

“Simon Says”

Season 1, Episode 7

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Almost Human is still working out the kinks. “Simon Says” is a largely uneven episode with a familiar kidnapping device—a bomb attached to a seemingly innocent victim forced to rob a bank or something to get a code to unlock the device—filtered through ham-fisted commentary on the viewer habits of the lowest common denominator of Internet commenters. The voice of the show comes across uniformly whenever Kennex and Dorian trade barbs or interact with Rudy, but case-by-case the show is uneven at best.

The car continues to be the most reliable comedic setup for the show. I can ignore the CGI car stuff and just focus on the already-stellar rapport between Ealy and Urban, because while Urban is playing a generic rough-around-the-edges tough guy, Ealy’s performance as a supremely odd android brings out the best in both of them. This week they’re arguing about Dorian getting his own place again, only this time Dorian suggests he move into Kennex’s spare room. Kennex’s story about keeping old football trophies from his glory days is funny for how wistful he gets. (Even though he’s a big time soccer fan and watches games with Valerie? The unnamed setting doesn’t help here.) I am not kidding in any way when I say that if this series stole the title from that Kevin Hart-Ice Cube movie Ride Along, and instead shifted to being just witty dialogue exchanged between Ealy and Urban, I would still be watching.

Ealy has been getting the more adventurous setups to play. The last episode of 2012 features two different DRN units, and this week a power outage and rolling blackouts (for no discernible reason other than there’s an energy crisis in the future) deplete the resources needed to keep the androids fully charged. Because RX’s are higher up in charging priority, Dorian is constantly worried about keeping a full charge necessary to stay in the game. And since his model was designed with the concept of a synthetic soul, it’s logical that the first systems to wear down with low power would be his personality. That leads to a bunch of funny interactions, mood swings to anger at Kennex and Rudy for being humans, and another memorable episode for Ealy. I can’t really think of an episode where he hasn’t been the standout performer, even when the best scene in an episode involved banter in Kennex’s car.

It is not a good sign that the most interesting female characters on Almost Human have been a clairvoyant witness and an illegal sex robot, both of who only had meaningful interactions with Dorian. Maldonado and Valerie both don’t have much characterization going for them, despite each having an episode ostensibly devoted to delivering backstory details. In response to the live Internet broadcasts by the villain tonight, it falls to the two women to deliver one of the most excruciating scenes in Almost Human’s short run.

They get the unfortunate dialogue explaining that the Internet is widely policed, except for the un-patrolled portion, clumsily referred to as the “darknet.” When watching the live broadcast of the bank employee and later the flower delivery woman, they marvel at the depraved, bloodthirsty comments better suited for the Coliseum in Gladiator than “polite society.” All of the Internet commenter hive mind stuff is so tone deaf and without nuance that it doesn’t feel like the future so much as explaining technobabble to the computer illiterate in order to gloss over the lack of substance. Its stilted, and adds an unnecessary metaphorical layer to the case that makes its point immediately and then continues to bash into everyone’s head with each shot of a comment boasting multiple exclamation points.

The bomber, a former police academy bomb squad trainee who got bounced after a bad psych evaluation, aims to get back at a system that never gave him a second chance. As played by David Dastmalchian (most recognizable from his role as the Joker’s henchman in The Dark Knight), he’s appropriately sheltered and awkward. And he can turn on the seething note when a woman reveals his poor social skills and he’s subject to Internet ridicule like his violently voyeuristic streaming video subjects. At no point was this guy truly threatening, since once Kennex was a target it was clear how the show would wrap everything up. The battery amount is a ticking clock for the entire episode, and the most tension possible (which isn’t much in the circumstances) would be for Dorian to barely neutralize the danger just as he shuts down.

But the episode tag, where Kennex figures out how to give Dorian the independence from the RX’s he wants while maintaining his own privacy is a nice way to cap the episode on a positive note. The selling point, which is rather unfortunately becoming the one real reason to watch the show at all, is the chemistry between Ealy and Urban. Moving Dorian in with Rudy presents more opportunities for comedy, and to develop Crooks’ character. The female characters need a lot of work, as do the cases each week. It doesn’t feel like too much to want Almost Human not only to come up with intriguing bits of technology, but to explore the possibilities with this world with something other than stock plays from the procedural handbook.

Stray observations:

  • “Sgt. Whiskers, I’m fully capable of doing what’s necessary.”
  • I knew I recognized the villain, but at first I thought it was the kid who plays Orin on Parks And Recreation.

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