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'Almost Human': It's nearly great, or could be

2:02 PM, Nov 16, 2013   |    comments
In the shop: Mackenzie Crook, left, as robotics expert Rudy Lom, Michael Ealy as Dorian the android and Karl Urban as technophobic Detective John Kennex in Fox's 'Almost Human.' (Photo: Liane Hentscher, Fox)
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In TV, like in horseshoes, "almost" counts - a least at the start.

If you can look past a few disquieting flaws and get past that odd feeling that you've seen it all before, you'll find the bones of a potentially entertaining series in Almost Human, which has a special airing Sunday before moving to its regular slot on Monday. The pilot is too familiar and too clunky, and when improvement is what you're hoping for, it's generally not a good sign when a show that's airing two episodes over two days only makes one available for review. But when a show arrives with the imprimatur of TV/movie wunderkind J.J Abrams, it only makes sense to take an initial glass-half-full approach.

Produced by Abrams and created by J. H. Wyman (Fringe), Almost Human is a futuristic cop show with a buddy comedy overlay. Set 30-some years from now, the show posits a dark, Blade Runner-ish world where crime has soared and criminal syndicates rule, forcing the outmanned police to team human cops with androids to keep up.

That doesn't sit well with Detective John Kennex, played by Star Trek's Karl Urban. Still recovering from an ambush that left his human partner dead -- a death he blames on an android -- and left him with a few new robotic parts, Kennex is such a confirmed "synthetic" hater that he pushes his new state-of-the-art partner out of a moving car.

In response, his boss (Lili Taylor) teams him with Dorian (Michael Ealy) - an older-model android designed to be as close to human as possible. The models were discontinued, explains robot master Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook) because "some of them had difficulties dealing with their emotional issues." Think Data, or the Tin Woodman, or -- well, you get the idea.

Kennex sputters, Dorian chatters, and eventually, they bond, all in a way that's oddly reminiscent of the film I Robot. That's an odd source to pilfer, but TV has never been particularly picky.

If, as the Fox promotional materials state, "fun" is what Almost Human is after, it would be wise to quickly expand Kennex's emotional range. One need only watch Dylan McDermott in CBS' Hostages to see how dull grim determination can become when applied non-stop. But there's already on-screen chemistry between the two stars, and it's not hard to imagine their byplay becoming more amusing with time. Unless, of course, it becomes less amusing instead.

If that happens, "almost" won't be good enough.


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