Saturday, March 8, 2014

Almost Human: Too far, too close

He's a curmudgeonly cop with a tragic backstory; his partner is a young gun from a despised minority, itching to make the world--and his partner--better; the chief has her eye out on the curmudgeon, helping to nudge him along towards health; the cute tech has an eye on the curmudgeon--but will they or won't they?; the weird tech is good comic relief; and the other cop at the precinct is kind of a jerk; and every week, some strange new murder or crime comes up that they have to solve--and some of these crimes are ripped from the headlines.

Does that sound like every cop/procedural show in existence? Probably. But I'm talking about Almost Human, the science fiction cop show where the curmudgeon goes to a "recollectionist" to recover his lost memories about an ambush that nearly killed him; and the young cop is actually a recently re-activated robot of a model that was de-activated for mental health reasons.

And the crimes they deal with every week (with spoilers):

  1. evil Syndicate that ambushed the old cop tries to break into police headquarters
  2. people are being skinned to use their skin on super-real sexbots
  3. the cops face a hostage situation that is really a cover for a heist
  4. the cops have to clear the good name of an undercover cop by tracing a new drug to its source--within the police department!
  5. witness needs protection from brilliant philanthropist-killer--whose associates are all his clones! (Bonus: the witness underwent some brain-enhancing surgery which has turned her into a psychic who can talk with the dead. No, that doesn't really work)
  6. black-market synthetic organs are leading to deaths
  7. to get the equivalent of YouTube hits, a bomb specialist straps bombs and cameras to people and makes them do things
  8. the cops track down "smart bullets" that can hit people anywhere (and that use the surveillance network)
  9. a killer robot is on the loose!
  10. genetically-engineered perfect kids ("chromes") die of drug overdose, connected to a normal who died of the same (because she felt too much pressure to keep up with the perfects)
  11. after a smart house kills a kid (shades of Trayvon Martin), some hacker takes revenge by turning the smart houses against the people
  12. an ugly man is murdering people to steal parts of their faces with nano-technology
  13. --haven't seen this one yet--
So let's break it down:
  • doesn't need to be science fiction at all (5): 1 (break-in), 3 (hostages), 4 (drugs and corrupt cops), 6 (botched black market surgery), 7 (thrill kill camera version of Speed), 
  • doesn't really need to be science fiction (1): 9 (super-trained soldier works instead of combat robot), 
  • too stupid to take seriously (3): ~5 (psychics?), 11 (tries to rip from the headlines, but ends in this ridiculous hacker-vs.-hacker story), 12 (why not just get regular plastic surgery? why do the nanobots really have to kill the people?)
  • interesting use of future technology used to discuss contemporary issues (4): 2 (exploitation of women?), ~5 (cloning), 8 (surveillance), 10 (genetic alteration, haves vs. have-nots).
So out of 13 episodes (12 that I saw), roughly half don't really take advantage of the science fiction world; and only about a third do so in an interesting way.

And that's one of my big problems with this show so far. I like all the characters fine--I like all the actors more actually--but the whole show just feels too close to an ordinary buddy-cop show. It's Castle without the sexual tension or witty banter or fun secondary character tensions. I can definitely see this as a purposeful idea: rather than scare away people with weird s.f. trappings (says the producer, in my fantasy), let's keep things grounded in what they know.

But the result isn't a show that's relatable, but a show that's a little bland. Despite my newfound love for Karl Urban and Michael Ealy.

What do you think?

(For an alternative take, I think Lauren Davis makes some excellent points in this io9 post, especially about the strangely consequence-free world they seem to be living in.)

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