Home > TV and anime > Almost Human: Season 1, episode 1. Pilot (2013)

Almost Human: Season 1, episode 1. Pilot (2013)

Almost-Human2

Back in the days when the boys at Lascaux were just getting their superhero cave art going, we used to sit around the camp fires telling stories about our local law enforcement personnel — we had all sorts of trouble with those neanderthals who lived in the sink estate on the other side of the mountain pass. The best stories were always about the seasoned veteran and the rookie who didn’t know one end of a flint axe from the other, but every now and then, we would get one of those odd couple story lines going. The thing our grandparents called the Cagney & Lacey effect before women were allowed to do anything other than kill dinosaurs in self-defence. So now our culture has matured and we have near-future science fiction, we can rerun these old tropes in new settings and hope no-one notices how tired they have become.

Almost Human (2013) has us in 2048. In this brief blink of an eye, we’ve moved forward from that cute little humanoid robot developed by Toyota, to fully functional androids for policing (and, presumably, other) purposes. The newest range are tough chippies who are driven by logic — they are the Spocks of this new policing culture, but without the human side to make them anything other than unimaginative, two-dimensional characters. The older models they replaced were the emoticons of policing, always there with a smile or a snarl of frustration if any of their human support team called them synthetic or mechanical.

Karl Urban and Michael Ealy: which is the mandroid?

Karl Urban and Michael Ealy: which is the mandroid?

So the set-up is not auspicious. In this future world, crime is big business with active gangs running neighbourhoods and ubergangs running the serious shit. One of this latter breed has infiltrated the city police force and used this connection to lure one police squad into a trap. The two humans did not come out well. One was irrecoverably terminated and returned to his Maker in a box. The other was seriously damaged and had to be repaired with spare parts from the Six Million Dollar Man kit available from all good toy stores near you. After lying in a coma for months, he’s been depressed. The technical term is post-traumatic synthetic disorder having been abandoned by his androids when they thought there was no chance of saving him. He’s been trying to get someone to remember what happened to him wholesale, but the man’s a foreign dickhead and barely knows what paranoid science fiction is when replicants are involved. In society at large, only a little progress in technology has been made when our cyber-enhanced human returns to duty.

This is after two years of absence, but he’s immediately pitched into an investigation involving the same ubergang that attacked his team. Because of his absence, he’s the only one the captain can trust until the mole is discovered. Our hero wants to be a loner but it’s now mandatory to have a robotic partner. His first falls out of the car being driven by our hero so the techie wunderkind digs out an old model from storage. It was going to be sent out into space to retile old space shuttles. Now it’s back into battle on the streets with a humourless human as sidekick. Life’s tough when you’re an advanced android with emotion oozing out of every orifice. So to show it’s made of the right stuff, the robot saves the grouchy human who rewards it by insisting it now call him John and sends him letters when it’s leaving.

From this you’ll understand why the show is called Almost Human. We have a rebuilt human who’s not quite one of the Borg, and a full android who’s more human than the real thing. What a team — a bit like Rick Deckard meeting up with Rachel for the first time! The ubergang has been keeping a low profile since our surviving human was taken out of circulation, but just happens to burst back into life when he’s up to continuing the fight. Now they are attacking an armored truck, kidnapping one of this city’s finest, and then mounting a full assault on precinct 13.5 to get their head back. That’s a busy day even for an ubergang. Why will I watch another episode? Because the chemistry between Karl Urban who’s from from New Zealand via Bones in Star Trek and the robotic Dredd (bit of typecasting there) and Michael Ealy works. Even though they are being given silly things to do, they manage to make it seem reasonably credible (insofar as science fiction ever can be credible). The acid test is going to be whether the series will now actively consider what to do about the vulnerability of the new androids and build on the story arcs rather than producing essentially standalone episodes. I’m in wait-and-see mode.

For a review of another episode, see
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 2. Skin (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 3. Are You Receiving? (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 4. The Bends (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 5. Blood Brothers (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 6. Arrhythmia (2013)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 7. Simon Says (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 8. You Are Here (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 9. Unbound (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 10. Perception (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 11. Disrupt (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 12. Beholder (2014)
Almost Human: Season 1, episode 13. Straw Man (2014).

  1. December 12, 2013 at 1:59 am

    And there you nailed it: the character chemistry. Sure the setup is the love-child of Bladerunner and Alien Nation or Will Smith’s I, Robot and Any 80’s Cop-Buddy Show, but the production values are top-notch, putting you in the year 2048, the dialogue is snappy and the stories aren’t stupid, and it’s actually teasing us with the kinds of What If? questions that science-fiction is supposed to posit.

    Of course it is a bit heavy-handed here and there. Androids are the new slaves in 2048–but since most of them are not self-aware, like the Spock-Cops, they don’t care. But then you’ve got Dorian, who was designed to be as “human” as synthetically possible. So he’s a slave who knows what he is. And he’s black. Um.

    I’ll watch it as long as it continues to be well-written (and especially well-acted), but I’ve got to say, I’m not sure where it’s going. Bladerunner’s replicants were obviously people being exploited because their origins were artificial, but Almost Human’s synthetics are, mostly, true robots–not self-willed or motivated by normal “human” drives. Dorian’s model was obviously discontinued because the designers found out that when you make a synthetic that mirrors the human psyche as closely as possible, you get a self-aware, self-willed… human. Who might object to his status. But since Dorian is virtually unique (so far, anyway), the whole humans vs. synthetics thing just doesn’t work as a social parable.

    And then there’s the episode where an apparently authentic psychic (who speaks to the dead!) claims that Dorian has an “aura.” Oh yes, she did. I’m religious and believe in the human soul. I’m also a futurist who believes that, if we ever do manage to create true artificial intelligence, true self-awareness, the AI will ipso facto share in the divine nature. “I think, therefor I Am.” But I never expected a TV show to go there.

    • December 12, 2013 at 2:16 am

      One of the more interesting “slave” books is Sibs by F Paul Wilson which has a formal legal thread running through it. As to robots, humans make smaller humans through sexual reproduction. I’m therefore assuming in the same way that it’s morally acceptable to make self-aware machines. Through the socialisation process, we aim to program our children to work for word peace and, having saved the planet, to hang around and look after us when we are in our dotage. I’m not sure this manipulation of their desires and building in guilt to our own benefit is morally unsound. In the same way, why would it morally wrong to program inorganic beings to want to be helpful to humans and always to do good? I’m not sure where we would draw the line to say we had infringed on their autonomy as beings and so infringed their rights. I suppose it all comes down to the degree to which the programming is hardwired, i.e. so that the robots are not acting out of their own volition when they decide to avoid evil and only do good. It’s endlessly fascinating to think about. I’ll be waiting for the aura to manifest itself. Is that those flashing lights under its skin?

      • December 12, 2013 at 2:27 am

        The lights are just a clever shorthand showing when a synthetic is “online” or doing something interesting like trace analysis. And no, I don’t think programming robots to serve us is immoral. I’m not sure the show does, either. But I think one of the things it’s working up to is the question of when does a creature stop being a thing and become a person? Where is the line? The Spock-cops obviously aren’t people. Dorian obviously is. Later you’ll meet a Bang Bot that is as un-self-aware as a Spock-cop, but who presents a discomfiting hint of emotional drive at one point.

      • December 12, 2013 at 2:40 am

        I thought the Spock cops decision to abandon John in the opening sequence completely understandable and quite human. Their own instincts for self-preservation meant they ditched the weak human and ran for the hills. Had they stayed behind to assist the legless one, all would probably have been terminated. I’m not sure a DRN’s decision would be any different in that situation. But I am in complete agreement that it’s always worth thinking about what constitutes a person. Having the DRN played by an African American does rather telegraph the theme. Having a female boss elevates it to a higher level.

  2. December 12, 2013 at 2:54 am

    I’ve watched the pilot a couple of times, and actually there were more police than just Kennex and his partner involved; the Spock-Cops didn’t abandon his partner to save themselves–they abandoned his partner, who was beyond help, to try and help other cops. And I don’t think Dorian has more of a sense of self-preservation than they do. Again, it will all be interesting to watch; it has the potential to go very stupid very quickly, but it also has the potential to be very smart, too.

  3. December 12, 2013 at 7:39 am

    The stories are stupid — they are nothing besides the dullest dregs from police procedurals with some random technology thrown in…. And no, besides the main two characters everyone else is dull and boring.

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:16 am

      I’m going to watch the remaining episodes over the next three or four days so I’ll have a better overview soon. I’m not going to reach a decision based on one episode.

      • December 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

        Yeah, I’ve watched the all of the one’s they’ve released. I need something SF to watch so I’m watching — I hope they do something slightly more inventive than the run-of-the mill standard police procedural story lines. Hopefully they link some episodes and keep some villains — so far they are all the same….

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