Thursday, November 21, 2013

Quick Look: "Almost Human"

There are some really great things and some really awful things about Almost Human.

Discussing identity as it relates to one's position within the bigger cultural landscape is certainly on the global consciousness, particularly in North America.  The idea of the AI units as second class citizens, "Property," as they're so often referred to in the pilot opens the show to a certain kind of discussion and examination of something that continues to be a difficult and often overlooked part of history: that humans used to (and in some parts of the world still do) buy and sell other humans.  Ugh.  Lately it seems that creative minds are gathering to try to bring that discussion to the forefront of popular culture, but unfortunately-- in standard mainstream practice-- here this concept become heavy-handed and overplayed within minutes of the pilot's opening and it's partially due to the casting.

Yes it's stupid and obvious that the actor playing the, "almost human," android Damian is African-American.  That Michael Early does a fantastic job of making the character his own makes this something I'm willing to overlook as him simply being the best choice for the role, but it gets a little more difficult when you expand your focus to include the rest of the main cast.  By the very nature of having androids which are copies of one another there are two or three actors playing most of the standard androids to create a certain homogeneous feeling, and of the three units we've seen so far they happen to be of predominately non-white actors.  Again this isn't a problem until you look at the human officers that surround these "MX" units, who are (so far) almost all white.  It's an unnecessary  distinction that the casting department has either intentionally or unintentionally made and I sort of wonder if they think they were being clever.

Now, setting all that problematic stuff aside for a moment (since I have no solution or answer to the above noted concern), let's focus on the meat of the thing: the relationship between Karl Urban's Detective John Kennex and Michael Early's Damian.  While I sort of feel like the turnaround from Kennex from hating technology to being okay with his new partner was a little swift, the chemistry certainly works much better when Kennex and Damian are getting along.  Urban (predictably) plays the less naturally kind of the two men (he scares children in episode 2 even though as Damian points out he himself, "Didn't have a childhood and I know that would scare kids," but they get away with it because of a genuine (if a little awkward) chemistry onscreen.

Things I'd like to see from this series:
  1. More development of the history of Damian as a police officer, there's some sense that something happened to cause him to be decommissioned four years ago (he's re-awakened to be Kennex's new partner) and their boss  (Lilli Tomlin) may have something to do with that storyline.  If handled well (I vote for a constant but slow burn) it could have a GREAT payoff later in the series.
  2. More discovery of the history with Kennex's ex-girlfriend Anna.  Something in me thinks there will be a doomed lovers angle to this that I'll hate but if they go with more of the Irina Derevko angle this could be really engaging.
  3. More of the Blade Runner asthetic from the "mean streets" scenes and less of the shiney, myopic mega-city junk seen in stock shots.  All the character and lived in quality of the city goes away in those long shots and while it could be used to make a statement about class relations in this world, here it just ends up feeling like a bad fit visually.
  4. Less of Minka Kelly....SOOOOOO much less of Minka Kelly.  The sexy co-worker storyline is already old and it just started, plus: she's not a great actress and she and Urban have ZERO chemistry.
I'm giving it another couple episodes before I give up but you may want to check it out and see for yourself.  I can say that it's definitely the one pilot that actually delivered what was promised in the trailer.  There are other shows *cough* S.H.I.E..L.D. *cough* that couldn't even do that....

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