I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve had a few Nerd Mentors in my life. Most people can’t say they had a guide through the forest moon of Endor or the path that stretches across Middle Earth, but I was lucky enough to have a few assigned to me in childhood. One of the people to help me obtain my Avatar-esque wielding of popular culture is Adam Montano, a former youth minister and current entrepreneur and marketing guru, who at times will check in with me to see how I’m doing. In reality, it’s most likely because he has no one to talk to about deep nerd stuff. At times I feel like I’m the Heisenberg of geek culture for him, cultivating a purer form of crystallized nerd whenever he wants to get his fix and go deeper into a subject.
He posed an interesting question that I wanted to address in a public forum, and thus posted it to our Facebook page. He wanted to know what my thoughts were on the impending cancellation of Fox’s sci-fi series Almost Human. Well, get your pipe ready. (I literally had to Google ways that people ingest drugs. My browser history is going to need bleach and some sort of alibi now.)
The problem with the show’s reception stems from the Powers-That-Be at Fox going the “safe route” for a sci-fi show. This has been apparent in a few different ways, the first of which is the conflicting ideals of atmosphere versus procedure and payoff. Essentially, we are less focused on the futuristic aspects that are surrounding the characters, and more focused on solving a problem that needs to be fixed. The backdrop can be treated as new and fresh, but the core of the show can be seen in many other “procedural cop” shows; if I wanted to watch Law and Order: SVU or Stargate, I would refer to my Netflix subscription, but we’re really tuning in to see a combination of the two. Instead, viewers experience two detectives solving a murder/theft/whatever that just happens to have something vaguely futuristic involved. In essence, viewers came to see some law-enforcing Philip K. Dick, but was rudely greeted by some almost-22nd-Century Dick Wolf.
For being so definitive on how character personalities were going to unfold, the people in charge of Almost Human never chose a concrete direction for the show as well, skirting along a plethora of ideals that viewers wanted to see addressed. Many people tuned in to watch some semblance of tone unfold: whether we were hoping for a dark and gritty Blade Runner-esque epic, or a change in dour standings with a romp akin to Meet the Robinsons, we wanted something that we could depend on every Monday night. Unfortunately, we got a confusing mix of the two extremes: at points Kennex and Dorian are playing childish future-pranks on each other, and in the next scene we’re dealing with framed/corrupt drug cops and people unsure about how to handle being a woman and a superior officer in a male-dominated profession. It’s jarring, to say the least.
With all of this said, I enjoy the dynamic between the two main characters, detective John Kennex and his android partner Dorian. Kennex has a dark past, a sad backstory, and gigantic chip on his shoulder, all the while displaying the vulnerabilities that a gruff exterior tries to constantly suppress. The general population has fallen in love with this anti-hero type over the last decade and a half, so viewers were ready to accept a hardened cop with nothing to lose. It’s the reception of Dorian that sends me into a ranting state.
Some viewers’ problems with Dorian is in the vein of what readers felt about Superman pre-New 52; people don’t find them interesting or compelling because they have a “boy scout” mentality to their actions and choices, always doing what is right. I have ranted about this before, and this will not be the last time, but I’ve never understood how people think making the right choice is the easy choice. It’s easy for Kennex to be cool and edgy because he’s the futuristic Riggs people were waiting for. This automatically places Dorian in the Murtaugh mentality, and even then he feels like more of a sidekick and a foil than an actual contributing member to the story. It’s a simple case of Nice Robots Finish Last, I guess.
With all of the problems that Almost Human has to overcome, I find it an enjoyable experience that has the fixings for building a rich sci-fi following. If the showrunners can conquer their fears of formulas, show direction, and character balance, they have a great chance of keeping on for a few more seasons to weave a cohesive narrative. At best, Almost Human can highlight the morals behind artificial intelligence, the concept of a soul in the machine, and a constantly budding fear of morality and ever-morphing social and cultural norms. At worst? Well, at least it will be more creative than my illicit drug references.