Accompanying every episode of FOX’s Almost Human is an elongated intro that rehashes what we already know: it’s 2048, Judge Dredd has ditched his mask but not his grimace, and the narrator claims cops aren’t ready, and must have an android partner.
Yet, when it comes to John Kennex, he’s the lead, he does whatever he wants, and in this future, cops don’t have any sort of laws or procedure to uphold. Or if so, Kennex has carte blanche to ignore them. That’s why he’s so cool.
So far, Almost Human has been a mostly cliché sci-fi cocktail, buoyed by Karl Urban and Michael Ealy’s sterling rapport, and by Ealy’s deadpan performance. There’s room to grow, especially since this is a Bad Robot production from J.J. Abrams and Fringe‘s J.H. Wyman. This week, there is no growth to be found.
Who had four episodes in for the J.J. Abrams patented “24 Hours Earlier” move? We open on Rudy’s pale, angular, rail thin face, heavy bags under his bloodshot eyes. So, a normal day, you say? Not so fast: voices are audible in the background, and Rudy is close to panic, his eyes flitting over the lab he’s in. The voices wonder why someone isn’t picking up the phone…”it’s not like him,”…are they talking about Rudy? Are they watching him from an air duct? Is Rudy a schizophrenic with voices in his head and is this episode a huge drug trip?
It’s none of these things, unfortunately. But Rudy, sensing danger, releases some gas (he makes the lab fart) and makes a run for it. A bullet grazes his arm, as big bad dangerous men follow him. And you know the drill from there: now you have to wait nearly the entire episode to find out what happens next. Mostly, it feels like that: waiting, or sitting through a bundle of TV tropes until we can get to the point where Rudy is center stage again, because Mackenzie Crook needs his own TV show. A world where the lanky Office star can be a leading man on an American network show is the world I want to live in.
Hot on the heels of a sexbot episode and a hostage episode, Almost Human sets its sights on another staple of sci-fi fiction: the patented futuristic drug storyline. You wouldn’t be the only one noticing that the show is mirroring Dredd’s storyline. Thus, “The Bends,” which is actually the drug’s name – it’s green and powerful, like Ooze from TMNT without the awesome side effects. Like any potent narcotic, teenagers are hapless against its allure of a quick OD, and it’s up to John and Dorian to prevent everyone from getting decompression sickness, or Radiohead’s second album. Or really drunk and dizzy right before bed. “The Bends” must refer to one of these things (it doesn’t). Next Week: “The Squirts” or “The Runs” (it won’t be).
24 hours before Rudy’s bullet wound sitch, Kennex is shoveling noodles down his gullet, hammering home the Blade Runner references with caloric impunity. Dorian’s unimpressed, and finds his gluttony rude, especially since they have somewhere to be. If Dorian’s gonna get snippy whenever John eats, this is going to be a long show. Or, an awesome one, as Dorian baits John into eating a live, glowing CGI snail, notoriously more fattening than stop-motion creatures.
After that scene of cutesy one-upmanship, a man we later find out to be named Cooper, is in his car in the pouring rain, talking to his wife on his “hand” phone (a projected holographic image in his palm, the world’s best and clearest backdrop). Even with “better” technology, people are still destined to make unsafe phone calls while in the car. He hangs up on his wife, and then goes for some criminal activity, meeting up with his cook to set up a deal in a Shady Warehouse™. Cooper asks to meet The Bishop, and for a fleeting moment, I thought this show was going to get its Fringe spin-off on, with Walter Bishop sauntering into the room in his underwear, licorice or doughnut in hand.
Alas, we get what looks like an Observer instead, some bald heavy who does everything gruffly. J.H. Wyman has been keeping bald men employed since 2009, and that trend has continued on Almost Human. All androids are either bald, or have conspicuous police helmets (WHAT’S UNDER THE HELMET?). Potential Observers are everywhere, including with The Bishop; his android companion (everyone gets one!) samples Cooper and his cook’s drugs, finding it 78% pure. Within moments, The Bishop has shot the so-not-Heisenberg cook and murdered Cooper, who was wearing a subcutaneous wire (awesome). Cooper was an undercover cop. Now, he’s a dead one.
In the future, we don’t need tape. Kennex and Dorian arrive at the scene, and walk through the holographic yellow crime scene “tape.” Oh, the future. We find out that Cooper wasn’t authorized to be undercover, and that (but of course) John knew Cooper. This “relationship” starts as some sort of casual “I know the guy” crap, until it balloons into Kennex comforting Cooper’s wife, the two of them best buddies at the academy (“he was the only one with a better shot.” Cue vomit), and being the only one who thinks that Cooper wasn’t dirty, despite not seeing the dude for 7 years. But Kennex is only sort of friends with stand up men and women, you see.
Side rant: Why must every show have a character who’s purely around to be a dick? Detective Paul (Michael Irby) is that guy, going out of his way to insult John, Dorian, and Cooper. His first name is even Richard. Because who needs interesting multi-faceted characters?
To prove Cooper’s innocence and to prevent The Bends from spreading like wildfire among the disenchanted youths of Robot City, Kennex and the PD need to find a new cook, one who can get in deep with The Bishop and take him down. Someone literally asks, “Where are we gonna find a guy so perfect?” To which Kennex grumbles, “I know a guy.” Ugh.
He, of course, is referring to Rudy, who’s psyched to get some field work (does he even work for the police, or is he just an autonomous taxidermist equivalent for robots?), even coming up with a snazzy look for his alter ego, complete with douchey hat. It’s like when Rudy’s coach finally sent Rudy into play a down at Notre Dame, except not at all: Maldonado is sending Rudy off to (maybe) die, and Mackenzie Crook’s Rudy wasn’t begging to play.
While Detective Paul “preps” Rudy for a life threatening mission that he’s entirely not prepared for (something that reminds me of every episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), John and Dorian shake down Ms. Pillsbury’s almost-husband and former P.E. Teacher from Glee (guest star Patrick Gallagher), who’s a drug dealer in the future. John offers the scumbag a deal for his lady friend (who was recently arrested), without proper authorization of course, if the dude will set up a meeting. And so he does.
After 12 minutes of training, John and company throw Rudy to the wolves and The Bishop (“is Bishop a chess thing?” Rudy asks). As John stomps away, he growls: “He better not die.” Because, by saying that, he removes himself from all guilt.
The mission becomes an unmitigated disaster in moments; Rudy says his real name and blows his cover, he farts for real this time, and John sends in Dorian, without his cop tags. If it was that easy, why didn’t they do it from the start? Also: why doesn’t the Bishop use his android to make The Bends, seeing as the guy can swallow the green ooze and deliver purity statistics? When Rudy’s sent in, they follow him with “undetectable” robot cockroaches that videotape the proceedings. Couldn’t they have just used these without putting Rudy’s life on the line? Oh well.
This show has some more casual prejudice and racism toward robots. When Rudy screws up an experiment in trying to create the Bends, he blows a hole through an MX’s eye, and no one even shrugs. We need more of this flippant attitude, provided there’s some hint of backlash, since right now it just feels wrong. It’s easy to see the show going in a direction where Dorian becomes the champion of the disenfranchised robots, and the leader of the robotic House Elves of this world. I’d watch that show. I’m not too excited to watch this show.
When Cooper’s dead body is first found, his boss at the precinct stops by to talk with Captain Maldonado, and urges to be kept in the loop of the investigation. He expresses his confidence that Cooper was a stand-up guy, even if he was operating out of his jurisdiction and left his wife and kids without a husband and father. It doesn’t take an android-like intelligence to know that he’s involved in the messy business… and when he turns out to be the Bishop, I think I merely groaned.
Not as much as when Rudy was stolen from the meeting place to meet him, around the same time John and the cops came to kill Bishop’s henchman. The Bishop must’ve left so quickly that he didn’t realize it… since this didn’t send out any alarms in his head. Eventually, Bishop realizes that Rudy isn’t who he says he was (YOU THINK?) and hey, that’s when Rudy makes a break for it and gets shot, losing a tremendous amount of blood. Soon, Dorian takes on Bishop’s android, and we get some fun bot and bot action, while Kennex blows Bishop’s head off, law enforcement be damned. He killed his friend after all.
That night, it’s off to McQuaid’s for a beer for John, Dorian and Rudy, as everything is hunky dory (and Irish bars will never cease to be a good business decision), paperwork and responsibilities a thing of the past. To which casual viewers will gather that the message in this episode is that murder solves everything and that cops in the future can do whatever they freakin’ want.