Monday, February 10, 2014

Five Great Things About Almost Human and Five Kinda Sucky Things

I actually really like this show; it's cool, it's usually fun, it's smart enough to be interesting, and it's got Karl Urban who could probably star as a broom--an angry, snarky broom--in a show about people not sweeping, and still be good. But it's also got issues. Here's my take on the show right now:

Five Great Things:
1. Super cool tech
The tech really is cool. And it's everywhere. And it's layered over the actual physical world of wherever they film this show (Vancouver? Everything genre is filmed in Vancouver.) the way it would be in reality, as if it built up naturally in the years between then and now. And it's totally not-bashful about it, either. We've gotten four different kinds of androids, Runaway-style ID-seeking bullets, fancy new drugs, clones, EMPs, holograms, bionics, mental enhancement that makes you psychic, all sorts of neat visuals. It's like Blade Runner and RoboCop had a baby with less rain and more daylight.

2. Androids that don't much care about Azimov's Rules and are still cool
Up until now, almost all Androids we've seen had those laws-- Don't Harm Humans, Don't Let Humans Be Harmed, Don't Put Yourself Before Humans--but these guys don't have that. MXs are to protect humans who are deemed good, but don't seem to have much trouble blowing away the baddies; DRNs are, apparently, more human that the humans they work with, at least part of the time (see #3); XNs are batshit crazy terrorists; Sexbots are programmed to be super-into whoever they're with. None of them have even dropped a line about Azimov, and that opens up so many different stories.

3. RoBroMance
The sort-of-predictable set up of the loopy but extra-human android being matched with the cold and closed-off, almost-inhuman human is done really well here. Dorian is just awkward enough to believe that he's somehow not human, and Kennex is hard and mean and almost cruel, but contrasted perfectly with grudging respect for Dorian and that adorable crush he has on his lady-friend. And watching the two of them interact with the world and each other and learn to trust each other is something beautiful. Whatever else these writers have against them, no one can say they don't know how to build characters!

4. Trying to tackle the Big Questions
Starting with "What Does It Mean To Be Human?" and going on from there. They get points for being Big Question SciFi, which we sort of don't see a lot of on TV these days. They're just sort of...not going far enough for their answers. See below for more on that.

5. Rudy
Everything about Rudy. He's played by a staple of another geek franchise, he's nerdy and awkward but wants in on the action and holds his own, he's fanboyish and therefor can stand in for the viewer, he's adorable, he's smart, he's apparently the only scientist they have (Abby Sciuto Syndrome*), and he's proven many times in these few episodes we've gotten that he's just generally a great character.

And Five Not So Great Things:
1. Problematic race
Not as problematic as some, but still on the problematic side--they've got a pretty diverse cast of droids and people at the office, but the main guy is still white, the Captain is still white, and there's this sneaky thing where they keep killing off criminals who are not white without any character development for them. And they keep doing stuff like that sexbot who had cloned skin that was way, way lighter than the skin of the girl they cloned it from. I mean, if crime has gone up 400%, are we supposed to believe that it's only minorities who are to blame for it, most of the time? I can see that they're trying to show a multi-racial future, but they're still falling back on annoying tropes that make it more obvious rather than making it seem more normal by treating everyone the same.

2. Problematic women
They get points for casting a woman to fill the role of the Captain, especially since they had written her as a male character originally, and they get more points for keeping her tough and awesome after casting a tiny lady to fill the role. But there's only one other woman on the regular cast, and I can never remember her name. And every sexbot who has had a line or a part in the show has been an overly-sexualized female with no one really protesting that (Dorian protests that she's an android like him, not that she's a woman who's being treated badly, which is good but also falls into the category of treating women weirdly). Kennex's deep-undercover and possibly-awesome ex is literally never on screen in realtime. The killer bot that they took on recently went right to the sexiest of the bodies in the robo-morgue without even blinking at the others**...

It's just annoying that we're in the future, everyone is supposedly pulling together, and we are still seeing these half-done things with women and minorities.

3. Kennex really needs to stop inflicting the exact same damage on all MXs
Every time he gets mad, he shoots an MX in the head right through the eye, and we've seen it about five times in only a few more episodes than that. Jeeze, K, find some other way to express yourself. Or at least shoot the guys a different way.

4. Patchy world building
If weapons-grade EMPs are available and they take out the MXs, why isn't every single criminal out there carrying around the things, rendering half the police force useless against them? If there's some big wall that keeps the bad element out of the city, why didn't we hear about it before last week? Do sexbots get to have breakdowns the way DRNs and killbots do? If they have the capacity for android law enforcement, why not work on that, develop better iterations of the thinking bots, and not put any human cops in danger at all?

We're still in early days, so a lot of this might get cleared up later, but does it really take that much time up to drop one line about why this or that isn't being done all the time? Or to set things up for future episodes? There isn't an episode that goes by where something awesome happens that immediately brings up the question of where was this last week / why isn't everyone doing this / how come we've never heard of this before? And it's annoying.

5. No villain
This one might have been fixed by John Laroquette's guest appearance, and as Dorian's maker-dad it might be fixed well, but there has been no indication previous to this that there's all that much organization to the 400% crime increase or that there's anyone out there on the other side doing anything about it. There's a sort of nebulous idea that Kennex's ex is involved in some criminal paramilitary thing, but there's no face to put on it, no leader making public announcements or taunting the cops; we find out that there's this wall, that we've never heard of, and all these easy-to-access places where mad scientists can go, but there's no faces there. We need at least one face for the criminal element, someone to hold all the random, faceless thugs together, someone to be the brains behind all that brawn--someone with a plan better than just this week's single crime.

Better yet, I'd love to see a dozen of them, all different, and all with their own plans. There's A LOT of crime in this world, so there should be a lot of criminal masterminds behind it--blackmailers, drug lords who don't get shot at the end of the episode, gun runners and black market people, corrupt businessmen and politicians, more corrupt cops who also don't die at the end of the episode, mad scientists, doctors who lost their licences and are not involved in shady dealings, gang leaders looking to branch out or looking to take over other gangs. There should be alliances and wars going on between them.

And the goodies should have a similar set up--not just the cops against the world, but a whole cast of support, military and political, local and business and community, thieves and snitches and informants and spies and inventors and so on, who help them keep up with the demands of the criminal world.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that this show is a police procedural, but the feel and the set up is more like a retro-80s future adventure, and those always have villains and conspiracies, and it would pull together a lot of the randomness. Think of the Pattern in Fringe. Think of the escaped baddies trying to change time in Continuum. Think of the conspiracies in X-Files, but with more consistency and actual payoff. Hell, even Castle and Bones and NCIS have Faces, enemies that pull strings and tie storylines together!

What do you like most and least about Almost Human? Share in the comments!

* Like in NCIS. Abby is their biologist, DNA and fingerprints specialist, computer specialist and hacker, evidence-analysis specialist...basically, the only sciency-thing she doesn't do is the medical examining, because that's Ducky's job. It's easier for a show to have one science person than a whole team of them (unless it's Bones and it's about the team), especially if there are lots of other characters around, but it gets a little ridiculous when you start looking closely and listing their skills.
** The argument can be made, and has been, that the sexbots and the killbots run off the same OS as Dorian and each other, so if she's looking for a new body, one with the right OS would be best; but that is not even hinted at in the show. Also, none of those deactivated bodies need to be in sexy clothes and laid out as if they're a buffet, and yet they are; it would have made more logical sense to have them all changed into prison jumpsuits and their original clothes in evidence bags, which means the sexbot was being shorthanded--oversexualization is all we need to know about her, and the killbot doesn't need to even look at other bodies to find the right one. Lazy.
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