Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2048, where crime is so out of control that every police officer is issued an android assistant (seemingly to prevent further loss of life on the force), Almost Human is a bargain-basement rehashing of various environments pilfered from a motley crew of science fiction forebears. The casting of Karl Urban as Detective John Kennex, the show’s main protagonist, only adds to the feeling of been-there-done-that-ness that prevents the series, created by Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman, from becoming something more than another trope-filled sci-fi action drama. Urban essentially plays a less robotic version of his character from Dredd, a film Almost Human appears to closely model its rundown locales after, and it’s only when he’s united with his synthetic colleague, Dorian (Michael Ealy), that the tightly wound Kennex—and to an extent, the series itself—begins to settle into a futuristic buddy-cop groove all its own.
Opening with a botched raid on a gang safe house (complete with first-person-shooter camera angles now routine for this type of fare) that leaves Kennex with a leg blown off and his short-term memory partially lost, Almost Human goes through the motions as it establishes Kennex’s disdain for the emotionless droids that populate his precinct. The MXes, as they’re called, are the newest make of felon-fighting bots to be put into production after the previous model, the DNR, was deemed too unstable. It’s revealed that the DNRs can feel and feed off of human emotion, which is apparently just the kind of partner the rough-around-the-edges Kennex needs. After abruptly pushing his assigned MX unit out of a moving squad car, a refreshing bit of black comedy in the midst of a stereotypical prologue, Kennex’s boss, Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor), teams him up with Dorian, a DNR that seems friendly enough, but is rumored to have been discontinued because of a prior incident when it suddenly went bonkers after being subject to an overload of sentimentality—or something like that. Despite this sketchy setup, Kennex and Dorian make for a rather decent pairing. Kennex’s bullish tactics in the interrogation room are balanced by Dorian’s analytical approach; it’s a bad-cop/good-cop symbiosis that surprisingly works because of Dorian’s computerized ability to find precisely the right moment to step in before Kennex beats a detainee to a bloody pulp.
Sadly, what little spark is created in the relationship between Kennex and Dorian is diminished by a revolving door of unconvincing sci-fi plotting that never ventures beyond mildly diverting. From a gang of leather-clad thugs who’ve discovered a way to break down active DNA, resulting in the disfigurement of a number of faces, to Kennex’s ill-advised attempts to slowly restore his remembrance of the day he lost a limb (his theory: betrayal by a former lover) with the help of a black-market scientist dubbed the Recollectionist (Hiro Kanagawa), Almost Human too often pushes the budding Kennex/Dorian rapport aside in favor of hackneyed premises that lead to dead ends. Coming from J.J. Abrams’s aptly-titled Bad Robot Productions, Almost Human certainly has the means to develop into something more innovative, but as it hardly makes an effort to differentiate from the material it habitually duplicates, it’s a series that repeatedly finds itself on the fritz.