Almost Human: “The Bends”
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Almost Human: “The Bends”

The best thing about Almost Human is that the three most prominent characters are all compelling, with entertaining actors giving good-to-great performances so far—in descending order, Michael Ealy, Mackenzie Crook, and Karl Urban. These guys are chilling out, cracking wise, having fun tossing barbs back and forth while waiting for the world to really jolt to life. But the biggest problem with Almost Human is that everything around those characters—and I find it problematic that all three are men—seems to just sit there, cold and unfeeling, not unlike the rest of the androids without a simulated soul.

After the human/android bonding over investigating the illegal sex robot trade and a hostage crisis, Kennex and Dorian now get to investigate the futuristic drug trade. A rogue undercover cop named Cooper gets shot while attempting to get in with a producer of The Bends, a potent neon green solution produced from algae. Essentially it’s meth-slime, highly addictive, but not widely available since the potential distributors are in need of a cook. Where is future revived android Heisenberg when you need him? (“We can rebuild him…”)

Kennex feels sympathetic toward Cooper’s widow, and vows to get to the bottom of the case, as everyone seems to think that the guy went off the deep end as a crooked cop mixed up in trying to make extra cash by squeezing drug dealers. That emotional consternation gives Karl Urban a chance to wax philosophical about his days at the academy, when only Cooper could best him. It’s not a great look, so utterly generic and flat, only livened up by Ealy prodding him with insults. In order to track down the drug manufacturers, and their leader The Bishop, Kennex and Dorian track down Patrick Gallagher (the football coach from the early episodes of Glee), who will set up an interview with Rudy, going undercover as a wunderkind drug chemist.

“The Bends” is Mackenzie Crook’s time to shine, showing that he’s an integral member of the cast and worthy of more regular screen time. And he earns that with fumbling dialogue and unintentionally funny line readings that make Rudy more endearing. And of course, even after all that preparation, Rudy still manages to cock it all up from the get-go, forgetting to use his fake name, drawing Dorian in as a late addition for protection, and mixing up his words while talking to the criminals.

The gadgetry this time around isn’t as intriguing, mostly just Dorian’s immediate data transmission ability and a serum that makes a person show up on a GPS. And the big twist is telegraphed from a mile away: Cooper’s captain in the narcotics division is actually the drug kingpin. Rudy’s training up through meeting the captain is probably the best part of the episode, and certainly the funniest, and it’s strange for a futuristic police drama to be leaning so heavily on the comedic sensibilities of its cast to carry the lagging dramatic progress. The one big question mark at the end of the case is how Kennex got away with killing the corrupt captain, or whether that gets brushed under the rug as something he does. It’s neither under scrutiny like Raylan’s penchant for shooting anybody on any case in Justified, nor grappled with by Kennex. It’s simply the easy way to close the loop, and that’s a weak way to end a story that could have had some connection to a larger plot.

I keep waiting for Almost Human to put forth something that shows me J.H. Wyman and his writers know what they’re going for, some organized quality that points to something other than repeated procedural tropes with some borrowed science fiction accouterments. But the fight scenes tonight had nothing but a modicum of compelling camerawork. Watching Dorian fight the drug lord’s robot thug and Kennex beating down the villainous captain didn’t have any gravity outside of the episodic case. A problem presents itself, Kennx/Dorian and the rest of the precinct fixes that problem, and then on to the next one.

Kennex’s past haunts him—and that nagging edited twist from the original pilot is still out there somewhere, probably to be used whenever John Larroquette shows up. Dorian ponders the complexities of growing to understand humans while being separated from them by nature. Rudy needs some better people skills. Not much in the first four episodes shapes any nuance to the rough sketches of the characters from the pilot. Instead of deepening, this extended introduction has provided a range of established crime tropes as a foundation.

But if I was to give someone one episode out of these first four to watch, I would be splitting hairs to rank one ahead of the rest. The clumsy pilot introduces everyone, and the other three give more time to the three most interesting characters. Lili Taylor and Minka Kelly are fading into the background—though we’re probably due for another ill-advised step on the Kennex/Stahl front soon—and it’s clear that the latent, underlying question of humanity that spans racial lines in casting doesn’t extend to both genders. I hope that either Taylor or Kelly have a more significant and filled-in role in the future, and that both actresses are up to the task.

As for the rest of it: I’m still invested, and each episode since the pilot has been a shade above the border for recommendation. I like the witty banter, find the gadgets cool to watch, and I’m willing to sit by while Urban, Ealy, and Crook go through the motions of standard police cases that have shown up in plenty of other procedurals, only with finding little places to insert helpful robot technology. The concept and actors are keeping me in here for the long haul (Almost Human isn’t lighting up the ratings but it’s holding enough to stick around for a bit), but right now the show has about as much to say as an unprompted android. That will have to change if it wants to be anything more than an empty diversion with a Blade Runner homage problem.

Stray observations:

  • Generic alternate show title of the week: Futurecops.
  • Best discovery from Patrick Gallagher’s IMDB page: He once guest starred on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Animorphs as “Yeerk #1.”
  • “You should buy a cabin John.” “Yeah, cute. Do you want to walk home?”

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