TV review: Fox's 'Almost Human' poses a grave, humorless future


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Part "RoboCop," part "Blade Runner," Fox's "Almost Human" is as patched together and Frankenstein-like as its lead human character, John Kennex (Karl Urban, "Star Trek"). It is mostly humorless, grave sci-fi, but in the pilot the best moments are the most human.

"Almost Human"
When: 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Fox.
Starring: Michael Irby, Minka Kelly, Michael Ealy, Karl Urban, Lili Taylor and Mackenzie Crook.
 

Dark and dystopian, "Almost Human" (previews 8 p.m. Sunday; time slot premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, WPGH) is set 30 years in the future when crime levels have surged in America and all human police officers are paired with robot partners. Monday's pilot begins with Kennex caught in a firefight where a robotic officer urges him to leave a wounded human colleague behind.

"He will bleed to death before you get him out of here," the robot says. "Others have a better statistical chance."

Being the action hero that he is, Kennex dismisses the synthetic officer's cold, calculating logic and attempts to help his buddy, but a blast severs Kennex's leg below the knee and puts him in a coma for 17 months.

Flash forward to when he's up and about -- with the help of a bionic leg -- and Kennex struggles to remember who ambushed him. He visits an underground "recollectionist," a doctor who puts him in a machine that attempts to bring buried memories to the surface. In addition to blurry images of the altercation, Kennex also remembers his ex-girlfriend, who disappeared by the time he came out of his coma.

Kennex, suffering from PTSD, is not eager to return to work, but his boss, Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor, "Six Feet Under"), insists he come back. His first mission with an advanced, battle-ready robot partner, an MX-43, does not end well for the robot, leading Kennex to be paired with Dorian (Michael Ealy, "Sleeper Cell"), a discontinued android with more human, less computer-like responses to situations.

The DRN line of robots had "some difficulties with emotional issues," explains technician Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook, "Pirates of the Caribbean"), who sees the line as more human than its MX-43 replacements.

Kennex is wary of Dorian, whom he refers to as a synthetic.

"I'm not a fan of that term," Dorian huffs.

But in true prime-time network TV style, by the end of the pilot the pair has reached a better level of understanding. Yes, it's a little predictable and pat, but the Kennex-Dorian relationship is also the best part of "Almost Human." It's the most human heart of the story. In-fighting in the police squad -- Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby) doesn't welcome Kennex or Dorian into the fold, saying, "It's perfect: Two cops from the scrap heap. This is going to be more pathetic than I thought!" -- and the possibility of a mole inside the police force who's leaking information to the faceless crime mob, the Syndicate, has a stale, ho-hum, seen-it-before vibe.

It's completely unclear what actress Minka Kelly ("Friday Night Lights") is doing here as a fellow cop. Perhaps she'll be a future love interest for Kennex, but in the pilot she's a personality-free supporting player.

The show's futuristic production design, though familiar, looks expensive by TV standards and it's questionable how much future episodes will resemble the pilot. (Studios always spend more on the pilot, because it's partially a sales tool, than they do on subsequent episodes.)

"Almost Human" is almost OK but nothing more than that, at least in its first episode, which is all Fox made available at deadline.


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