Monday, November 18, 2013

Four Places 'Almost Human' Borrows From

Fox’s futuristic buddy cop drama AlmostHuman hit the air tonight, and I know this was only the pilot—and the first night of a two-night premiere—but I’m on board this train. Right out of the gate, the show has a ton going for it. Not only is the cast, headlined by Star Trek’s Karl Urban, top notch, but the creative team includes Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman and J.J. Abrams, who created shows like Lost and is directing Star Wars: Episode VII.

All in all, there’s some power behind this particular program. That said, Almost Human totally delivers. Set in 2048, the show partners Urban’s tough detective John Kennex with Dorian (Michael Ealy), a humanoid robot. Kennex resents the intrusion into his life, but this particular model, most of which have been mothballed or employed as manual laborers in space, were designed to be as human as possible, with their own quirks, personalities, and emotional baggage.

The two main characters have a fantastic chemistry together, and there’s a nice mix of humor, heart, and badass action. Overall the show is bursting with potential, but one of the things Almost Human does best is render the world. Sci-fi fans will notice a whole host of obvious aesthetic influences in every facet, taking bits and pieces from its various genre predecessors and building something new, and we thought we’d take a few moments to discuss this matter further.

Blade Runner

The most readily apparent influence on the look and feel of Almost Human is Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner. Wyman and Abrams have denied this as much as possible, but damn near every review, recap, and preview article has made note of this fact for good reason. This world is a cleaner, more sanitized version, but there are definite parallels, like the secretive, back alley medical services, robots being shipped off world when they become too disruptive, and even the apparent direction that cities and culture have evolved. If you need any further proof, just look at the scene where Kennex and Dorian sit down at the open-air food truck. That moment is lifted almost directly from Blade Runner.

Strange Days

Strange Days is chronically overlooked, despite the fact that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) directed the 1995 film, and James Cameron (Avatar) came up with the story. Itself influenced by Blade Runner—there aren’t many modern sci-fi movies that aren’t—the film explores a world where you can buy other people’s memories, downloaded directly from their cerebral cortex, on the black market, and live vicariously through their eyes. The scenes in Almost Human where Kennex plums his memory, and way that he habitually revisits that last message from an ex, mirror Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny Nero, and his unhealthy obsession with reliving his own past at the expense of his present.


Given that Wyman’s last gig was on Fringe, the fact that there is a connection between that supernatural police procedural and Almost Human should come as no surprise. The overall appearance of the two shows is similar, especially in regards to the alternate universe and the fifth season, when the Fringe team travels to the year 2036 to take on the bald, fedora-wearing Observers. Aside from hairless albinos, it’s easy to imagine that this future could easily give birth to the 2048 of Almost Human. And there’s the fact that both shows prominently feature a mad scientist. Walter Bishop (John Noble) is responsible for scientific experiments that tear at the very fabric of reality on Fringe. He spends a fair amount of time in a dark basement lab surrounded by projects in various stages of completion, which is precisely where Almost Human viewers find Rudy (Mackenzie Crook). He doesn’t look like he’ll play that big a role in the show, but it’s nice to have a wing-nut scientist around in case of emergencies.

Dark Angel

James Cameron’s Dark Angel is on a heavier rotation on my house than in most, so I may be biased, but I couldn’t help but note certain similarities between the 2048 of Almost Human and post-pulse Seattle. There are drones everywhere, and if there were more punk rock bike messengers calling each other “boo,” I’d think I was watching the exploits of a sassy teen government experiment run amok. One think I would like to see more of in Almost Human, would be a little bit more dirt out in the world. You get it, the world has become ultra-dependent on technology, and some settings, like the police station, are sleek and tidy, some of the exteriors are too clean. The first place that springs to mind is the neighborhood where Kennex goes to get his black market medical treatment. That location never felt quite seedy enough. Then again, this is a minor nitpick, and we’re only one episode deep, and there’s lots of room to grow.

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