'Almost Human' review: This sci-fi show is almost perfect

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"Almost Human" does one of the hardest things on TV: make a futuristic, science-fiction world seem relevant and familiar to audiences. It helps that the show is, at its heart a buddy-cop story.

The fact that one of the buddies is a robot only serves to give "Almost Human" a new feel in a couple of old genres.

Things change but crime stays the same

In the future, police officers are partnered with androids, typically called "synthetics" in "Almost Human." The synthetics are incredibly useful in the field, combining fighting abilities with perfect data recording and direct links to computer networks.

They're also emotionless and bound entirely by logic.

For Detective John Kennix ( Karl Urban), the synthetics are nothing but a pain in his injured leg. Returning to the force after an extended medical leave, Kennix can't work well with a synthetic until he is partnered with Dorian ( Michael Ealy).

Dorian is different -- an older model of synthetic, he was programmed to have all of the emotions and opinions of a human.

It's a match made in buddy-cop heaven.

The perfect leads

Despite being science fiction, "Almost Human" is very much a character-driven show. It needs two protagonists who work in their respective roles, and this show may have hit the jackpot there.

Urban -- mainly known for playing Dr. McCoy in the "Star Trek" reboots -- may have been born to play a gruff-but-genius cop. He is a horribly damaged man and his distrust of synthetics mostly exists to mask his distrust of everyone else. Karl Urban displays this well, and his main challenge on the show will be to give Kennix some true human growth as he regains his trust.

As for Michael Ealy as Dorian, this is the stuff that "Why hasn't he been nominated for an Emmy?" campaigns are founded on. Playing an android with healthy emotions and a slightly sarcastic attitude is not for the timid. Ealy has to be both mechanical and somehow more human than the real thing. He does so in a way that makes Dorian instantly lovable.

The supporting cast -- mostly human police officers -- are not fully fleshed-out in the pilot, but there is promise. Lili Taylor's Captain Maldonado seems especially compelling in the trust she places in the damaged Kennix. The supporting police officers, Valerie Stahl ( Minka Kelly) and Richard Paul ( Michael Irby), don't get that much to do in the pilot. But they're certainly adequate to the small parts displayed thus far.

Mackenzie Crook, playing the robot-loving mad scientist type, Rudy Lom, is the only real supporting standout. This is probably because it's impossible to ignore Crook, ( "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the original British version of "The Office"). This crazy genius could easily be a scene stealer throughout the show.

One tiny flaw in the system

Much like its flawed heroes, "Almost Human" isn't exactly fully functional as it begins. The complicated plot and set-up of the pilot episode make it occasionally difficult to figure out exactly who is behind which crimes.

Of course, this doesn't really matter to the immediate enjoyment of the show. "Almost Human" rises and falls on its characters, so the crimes underlying the stories are easy to ignore if you have to. Thus, it's OK to not really understand what just happened when the pilot comes to a close.

The real issue is going to come if audiences always have trouble following the plot. No one likes to feel stupid, after all.

But forget about the flaws!

It almost seems silly to point out a design flaw when the overall machine runs so smoothly.

"Almost Human" really is one of the best science-fiction shows to hit television in recent memory. With J.H. Wyman ( "Fringe") and J.J. Abrams ( "Lost," "Fringe," "Alias," "Star Trek," etc.) serving as executive producers, there's a good chance that the promise of the pilot will pan out.

Sci-fi fans need a new passion right about now. And "Almost Human" may just provide it to them.


"Almost Human" premieres Sunday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. on FOX before moving to its regular timeslot of 8 p.m. Mondays on Nov. 18.

Photo/Video credit: FOX