If you’re a fan of sci-fi, police procedurals, world building, or stories in the vein of Isaac Asimov or Phillip K. Dick, then you’re in for a real treat! There are various visual and storytelling nods to well known stories and their movie adaptations. A lot of the times, it’s not quite obvious in the *nudgenudge*winkwink* way as a few other shows, going more for a blink and you’ll miss it Easter egg. Now, if that wasn’t enough to entice you, hopefully this review shall.
Hello and welcome, future Almost Humanites! After a frustrating two-week delay, Fox has finally premiered the much anticipated, and heavily promoted, sci-fi procedural fusion, set thirty-five years into the future, where police officers are required to have highly evolved androids as partners. How heavily promoted? Well if you happened to have caught the Niners vs Saints game before tonight’s airing, you would’ve seen some MX-43s sitting in the stands. It was amusing to see. Now, before we begin the first of many reviews to come on this star-studded show, I must admit, I’ve been anticipating seeing this version of the pilot ever since seeing the version that was aired during San Diego Comic-Con. So I come into this review, not with fresh eyes, but a slightly critical one. Doesn’t mean of course, I didn’t enjoy watching tonight without the same reverie and enthusiasm as the first time!
We begin like most sci-fi epics, with a narrator and a wall of text, giving the audience a hand into stepping into this futuristic world. It’s just enough information to make sense yet give mystery of what’s to come, along with setting the tone of the show. This isn’t your mother’s campy science fiction. But neither is it overly gritty, even if the gore factor is a little higher than what one’d expect. After the nearly calming voice of the narrator is finished, we’re thrown in to the heart of the action, John Kennex (Karl Urban) and his partner are quickly ambushed by a gang calling themselves the Insyndicate. His partner hurt, John argues with an MX-43 in trying to get his partner and himself to safety, and medical help, even though the MX-43 states that said partner is not going to make it and there are other officers with higher probabilities that he should protect instead. Sound familiar? Still, it’s a fantastic scene where John’s left to fend for himself and for his partner and that’s when it really hits the fan. Not only does he lose his leg in the ensuing firefight, but he loses his partner in a grenade that sent him into a 17 month long coma.
No, no flash forwards to the ‘present’, in fact, we were already in the present in the first place. It seems that a recovered John was visiting a ‘Recollectionist’ to try and rediscover his memories from that day, two years ago. We soon learn that he has yet return to the force, believing himself not ready. It’s only when he receives a call from his boss, Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor) that a current case might involve the same Insyndicate people that caused his coma and his partner’s death, that he gets him back into the fray. He thinks it’ll be business as usual, but since his coma, it’s now required for all human cops to have android partners, which he begrudgingly accepts. This leads to more tension between him and the synthetics, as MX-43s are all logic and rules based, with no wiggle room at all. They simply won’t forget something they learn and will obey procedure to a tee. We also get quick glimpses of Richard Paul (Michael Irby) and Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly) before we’re finally taken to the case that’s brought John Kennex back.
Now, overall, this airing of the pilot is mostly like the one I remember from July, some editing here and there. The case walk-through is straightforward with a lovely bit of John being triggered with another memory, something that both his MX and Valerie notice. It’s not until Valerie speaks in length about a previous case to John, that I noticed there’s been something added. That particular scene was new. In ways, it was great, as the original version didn’t have much of Minka Kelly’s character, however it did feel for me a little forced here. And made it seem obvious on what they’re trying to set up with the two.
After this scene, John has a problem with his MX which leads to a ‘software issue’ in which the MX ‘falls out’ of his moving car on the freeway and is destroyed. Here enters Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook), a synthetic technician, who’s also doubtful on why exactly John needed a replacement. Apparently MX-43s are in low availability, and so John gets assigned with a decommissioned model, a DRN. They’re believed to have gone crazy and malfunctioned, though Rudy believes they had simply become ‘too human’. It’s a bit expository, but we get to see more of John’s and Rudy’s personality through their conversation about the DRNs. Welcome Dorian (Michael Ealy), a synthetic that was made to feel, that are not quite bound to simple logic and rules.
Dorian doesn’t make it easier for John, having an actual personality and being able to make his own decisions with his human’s command or permission. One of the best scenes, showing how different and alike these two are, is in the interrogation scene of the sole gang member that the police were able to arrest. We see the cold brutality of John’s bad cop tactics and more of a warm sympathetic good cop coming from Dorian, questioning but not stopping the way John gets his answers.
Throughout the investigation of the case, we learn a cop has been taken, and finally get a lead to his possible whereabouts. It was more of a red herring, as Insyndicate have bigger plans set in store for the precinct. The action’s intense but not overdone and helps keep the pace going between the interactions of John and Dorian. It all comes to a head, when John finally learns how to best utilize his robotic partner, taking advantage of the fact that DRNs are more human in thinking, and they find out everything that’s Insyndicate has done from the first case of John coming back, the criminal being arrested, and the cop being captured, was so that the Insyndicate could raid the precinct. By the time John gets word back to Maldonado, it’s nearly too late, with the MXs brought down by a signal specific EMP machine, which doesn’t affect Dorian, and them infiltrating the building.
Another fire fight that was pretty well choreographed and in the end, Insyndicate doesn’t get what they want. All the team can gather is, that it’s something in the Evidence Locker Room, which seems more like a warehouse. By this point, Dorian’s earned a bit of John’s respect, but of course we wouldn’t have a show if it was that easy. The case isn’t neatly tied up, but nearly so, giving us some satisfaction and making us wonder what Insyndicate will do next. That’s not all of course, as John’s wondering what his Captain may know about Dorian, considering she requested that particular DRN model for him to be partnered up with.
The biggest change, however, and in nearly every iteration of this pilot, it’s been different, has been the end reveal. At Comic-Con, we didn’t see inside the evidence box, and the body that Insyndicate was working on was not female. In another, earlier version, what was shown in the box was different and John reveals a little more about his past in regards to it. So bravo, for going somewhere completely different, with the female ‘synthetic’ in the box and keeping us all in the dark but on the edge of our seats. It ends on a good note, just like at Comic-Con, with the begining of a beautiful partnership.
The visuals of the show were lovely, and for most of the technology that we’re shown, it all integrates pretty well. There were only a few parts where it was quite obvious that ‘this is cgi and fake’ but considering how much tinkering they’ve done with the pilot, I’m sure it’ll get more flawless as the episodes go on. And all the world-building with the tech and ‘throwaway’ lines about people coming over the wall and problems in certain districts were really nice. None of it was in your face and just helped elevate the show. What also helped? The scoring done by Crystal Method. Background music should as always, help enhance a scene and not distract it, and gotta say, the music playing when Dorian was reactivated was beautiful if not a bit chilling. They also seemed to know when to keep the music down, or MIA, like when we get the first car scene with John and Dorian.
I believe the cast is pretty perfect, and we can see the great chemistry with most of them, and simply loved the diversity from the main characters to the background characters and villains. Sure, it seemed like Karl Urban was getting his footing into being John Kennex, as some, like me, would say they could see hints of his previous characters, like McCoy or Dredd, but I’m positive we’ll see a fully formed character by the next episode. Already, we can see he’s a gruff, no sugar-coating kind of guy who’s quick to quip, as he deals with his PTSD. Michael Ealy was refreshing in how he owned Dorian, showing hints of that robotic self but being a more ‘advanced model’ in some ways, seeing the hints of humanity. The female characters were strong and independent and lovely, both Minka Kelly and Lili Taylor really bringing out with the time they had in this episode, and I can’t wait to see more from them, along with Michael Irby’s character we already love to hate, and Mackenzie Crook’s lovable geek.
It truly was a solid pilot, more natural as an episode than wooden and full of exposition like most pilots. If you’re ready for more, see below for a preview of what’s to come this season, and don’t forget to tune in tomorrow, Monday 8/7c on Fox for the second episode of, Almost Human!