Thinking about "Almost Human"

"Almost Human" recently wrapped up its first season. Possibly its only season, as the ratings were not particularly impressive. When I watched the pilot months ago, I had mixed feelings towards the show and after thirteen episodes, my feelings haven’t changed much. It’s interesting but still I hesitate to describe it as good.

The show has a good cast and in fact the cast has been the best part of the show. In particular, Michael Ealy who plays the android Dorian is the best thing about the show. He’s managed to give a performance that is filled with life and curiosity, color and humor and yet, he also manages to convey that he’s not human. It’s a striking performance. He’s a good actor as anyone who’s seen him in other roles can attest but this performance is incredible in a way that will likely not get the degree of recognition and acclaim that he deserves.

The rest of the cast is good, but the bigger problem is that they don’t have a lot to do to move beyond the stereotypical/archetypal character types that they’re playing.

That relates to the show’s bigger problem which is that it suggests and has underlying the cases each week some interesting or potentially interesting ideas, but then the show never explores them in depth.

Creator and showrunner J.H. Wyman is best known for his work as Executive Producer and showrunner of “Fringe” which was produced by Bad Robot and ran on Fox for five years. It’s dangerous to compare very different shows and different projects but it’s hard not to think of the two, particularly the first season of “Fringe.”

The first season of “Fringe” was a mixed bag, but it’s best remembered for being a procedural with a larger mythology in the background. This would change in later seasons as the procedural aspect was largely abandoned. At the end of the first season, in its final seconds in fact, “Fringe” made its big reveal which would define the show for the rest of its run–the existence of a parallel universe and the ability of people to move between them.

Perhaps because of this, I expected something similar in the final episode of “Almost Human.” The fact that the episode was just okay made me think that something would happen to end the season on something of a cliffhanger, but no, it was just an okay episode that ended the season with a “meh.”

This is more frustrating considering everything that has gone on this season. For example Kennex’s ex-girlfriend and the terrorist organization she belonged to. We haven’t heard much of them for a while since Kennex discovered that there was a listening device that she planted in his apartment. It’s the kind of thing most viewers assumed would be followed up on. There’s the episode where we met John Larroquette who created Dorian and many other androids and has a larger plot at work. There’s “The Wall.” There’s the fact that many of the plots involve the ways that the wealthy have protected and insulated themselves and inequality. There’s the fact that the cops seems to regularly operate as though there is no Bill of Rights, functioning in something more like a fascist state than the contemporary United States.

Admittedly many shows on television right now–Hawaii 5-0 among others–operate as though they’re taking place in a fascist country where there is no Bill of Rights, so it’s hard to say to what degree it’s just being lazy about police work and to what degree this is intentional. The fact that Karl Urban is coming off “Dredd” though does add something to the reading that it operates in a very different country.

What’s most frustrating is the fact that so many of these sub plots and threads are so much more interesting than the cases they investigate. Just as Fringe suddenly made a great deal more sense and had a greater cohesion for those of us watching the show after the reveal of the parallel universe, it feels as though there are facts about the world of Almost Human which would help us to understand what’s happening more which are being kept from the audience. It’s frustrating.

A few suggestions for second two (assuming that the show gets renewed):

Explain what the hell the freaking wall is! Seriously, there’s a large wall in the city. What is it, why is it there, what hellscape exists on the other side. Seriously, you need to explain significantly more than has thusfar been explained.

Kennex’s girlfriend and her terrorist comrades. So his girlfriend was a terrorist and then she disappeared and so did the group. Who is she, what’s this group, what are their goals.

Give Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly and Michael Irby something to do. Seriously.

There are plenty of other mysteries, but really, it would be nice if the show made an effort to address the issues it’s raised. It’s one thing to have dangling plot threads, but it’s another thing to have frustrating writing which refuses to explain anything in the hopes of paying it off years down the road.

Carrie Vaughn's Dreams of the Golden Age

Carrie Vaughn is a novelist and short story writer best known for her urban fantasy series featuring Kitty Norville. She just published the second book of a series which features a world of superheroes. Dreams of the Golden Age follows her first book After the Golden Age, and it's a fascinating read. The first book captivated me more than I thought it would and the second one is even better. She spoke with me about the books, how she approached them differently than her urban fantasy series, and accountants (seriously).

Chuck Dixon and Tim Truman on Airboy

I'm a longtime fan of both Chuck Dixon and Tim Truman (Truman is one of my favorite comics artists of all time) and spoke with the two about their collaboration from the 1980's, Airboy. It was a revival of an old Golden Age character and the series is being reprinted in a series of collections this years from IDW. James Robinson is also reviving the series this year at Image Comics, though taking a very different approach to it. It was a great chance to talk with the two and I'm very excited about the books. Plus Truman was kind enough to show off the penciled and final covers for the second book.

Isabel Greenberg's Encyclopedia of Early Earth

When Isabel Greenberg's Encyclopedia of Early Earth came out at the end of 2013, it made a splash. Time Magazine named it one of the best books of the year, among its other awards and acclaim. I'm a bit late to the game, but I was thrilled to talk with Isabel, who is annoyingly young and unbelievably talented. It's a great book, one of my favorites of 2013, and is the first book of what will hopefully be a long and productive career.

Jed McGowan shows the beauty of science and exploration

Jed McGowan isn't a big name in comics, but to my mind, he made two of the best comics of 2013, "Voyager" and "Hawaii." They're beautiful comics that McGowan posted on his website - There are no words in the comics, rather McGowan uses the images and conveys a narrative as the Voyager spacecraft moves through the solar system and then as the Hawaiian islands are formed through volcanic activity. It's incredible work and I can't wait to read McGowan's next comic.

Kevin Pyle and Scott Cunningham examine what's "Bad For You"

I'm a huge fan of Kevin Pyle's comics work but the graphic novels like Katman and Blindspot are only part of what he does. He also makes a lot of great nonfiction comics and in his new book he teams up with Scott Cunningham on a new book to look at how people have been attacking fun - and looking at how adults have always been outraged and disgusted by what kids are doing - forever. The book covers everything from video games to dungeons and dragons to chess. It's funny, it's educational and by the end, it's a little exhausting. A great book.

Michael DeForge's Ant Colony

Michael DeForge seemed to appear out of nowhere a few years back, drawing a vast number of comics at an incredible pace. Now after years and hundreds of comics (and after being awarded 3 Ignatz Awards at SPX last fall) he's out with his debut graphic novel. Ant Colony feels like a DeForge comic, though detailing just what that means is a challenge, but it's strange and beautiful and grotesque and funny. And I was glad to finally get to talk with DeForge, which is something I haven't done before. I'm sure we'll do it again.