November 18, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Almost Human”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on ALMOST HUMAN:  2 years ago in 2046, Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban) was ambushed with his partner by “the Syndicate,” a mysterious organization that controls all local high-tech crime.  Kennex’s partner was killed, and his own leg was blown off and replaced with a synthetic one.  After 18 months in a coma, Kennex is back on the force, his memories in pieces, and he’s unwillingly been assigned–per department regulations–a new partner:  android Dorian (Michael Ealy), who is at least specially designed to generate human-ish emotions.  That takes some getting used to, but there’s more:  Kennex’s long-lost ex-girlfriend was somehow involved with the Syndicate and the ambush.  On the plus side, his Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor) is sympathetic, and lovely Detective Stahl (Minka Kelly) appears likely to be even more than that.

Episode 2:  It’s not clear just how much time has passed between the pilot and Almost Human‘s second episode, but when we rejoin Kennex and Dorian, they’re as chummy as the partners on any TV cop show, all tension between them gone.  (There’s a B story where Dorian enrolls Kennex in an online dating service without telling him, which is as embarrassing when there’s an android involved as it would be with humans.)  Kennex’s leg is also relevant to the episode only for a quick sight gag.  There’s no continuation of the Syndicate storyline, or anything about the ex-girlfriend’s connection to the ambush.  Instead, the hour, written by Co-Executive Producer Cheo Hodari Coker and directed by Michael Offer, is a straightforward high-tech procedural, in which an Albanian mob is kidnapping human women and using their skin for a more humanoid line of robot hookers.  This leads to lots of blushing byplay about sex, including from the show’s designated eccentric, Medical Examiner Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook).  Aside from some education for Dorian into the nature of mortality, capped by his watching one of the sex-bots being disconnected, the episode was awfully close to being an hour of SVU with better special effects.

If this episode is an indication of where Almost Human intends to dwell creatively, it’s nowhere very interesting.  Urban and Ealy are both strong actors, and they have decent chemistry together, but there’s only so much mileage to be had from Dorrian not being able to comprehend human subtleties, when he’s not plugging devices into himself for quick on-the-scene analysis.  Taylor so far has had next to nothing to do (and even that’s more than the other series regular, Michael Irby, as a more uncouth member of the squad), while Kelly might as well be a fashion model with a badge.  (She’s noticeably more spiffed up in this episode than she was in the pilot.)   As expected, the production values are considerably more subdued than in the higher-budgeted pilot, which makes the show even less distinctive, although the episode did have a nice bit where Kennex charmed a young witness with a life-like synthetic mini-giraffe.

The Monday 8PM slot isn’t an easy one, with The Voice and How I Met Your Mother as competition, and Bones mustered little more than a 2 there, decent enough, but a notch below Sleepy Hollow‘s numbers at 9PM.  Almost Human is compatible with Sleepy (and will be with The Following, starting in January), but unless it gets more interesting, it doesn’t seem likely to hit their numbers.  A Bones-level return would probably be considered acceptable if unexciting, and that may be where Almost is headed.


PILOT + 1:  Not If It Can’t Do Better Than This



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."