In a nutshell, J. H. Wyman's Almost Human (2013-14) was a short-lived series on FOX that wore its influences proudly. Executive produced by Wyman, along with J.J. Abrams and frequent collaborator Bryan Burk, this futuristic slice of cops, crooks, and cool gadgets will instantly remind first-time viewers of films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall and, come to think of it, pretty much Philip K. Dick's output in general. Plus Robocop, if only because roughly half of Almost Human's police force is comprised of combat-model androids designed to fight alongside mortal officers. One notable exception is "Dorian" (Michael Ealy), a synthetic who displays limited emotions and other human characteristics unlike the newer model "MX" androids. Dorian has been partnered with Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban), who just returned to active duty following a serious injury after his previous synthetic partner abandoned him during a standoff. Needless to say, Kennex isn't thrilled with the team-up, but his hatred of the "MX" androids leaves him little choice.
Crime runs rampant in the world of Almost Human thanks to rapidly developing technology, so it's no surprise that such drastic measures have been taken. The developing partnership of Kennex and Dorian provides a confident center amidst all the chaos, but this isn't a two-person team: they're aided by other members of the force including brilliant technician Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook), Detective Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly), and Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor). Detective Richard Paul (Michael Irby) is also part of the team, but his abrasive personality and prejudice against both Kennex and Dorian ensure that the team isn't all high-fives and friendly banter. For the most part, typical episodes of Almost Human focus on underground criminal activity, how it affects everyone and, of course, the nifty gadgets used by both sides as they play tug-of-war. It's an oddly charming, confident, and suspenseful series that, more often than not, carves out a path and sticks to it. In all, these 13 episodes were broadcast over a four-month period...and though we'll never get more, Almost Human remains a satisfying little stand-alone chunk of televised sci-fi entertainment.
List of Episodes: Pilot, "Skin", "Are You Receiving?", "The Bends", ""Blood Brothers", "Arrhythmia",
"Simon Says", "You Are Here", "Unbound", "Perception", "Disrupt", "Beholder", "Straw Man"
Television shows often take several episodes---and, in some cases, several seasons---before they finally pick up steam. Luckily (and almost surprisingly), Almost Human finds a pretty comfortable groove quickly and, for the most part, stays there during the course of its short, 13-episode lifespan. The chemistry between Urban and Ealy is undeniable, while Mackenzie Crook also adds an interesting layer to their dynamic...and it doesn't hurt that this is basically an extension of Crook's memorable performance from The Office (UK). There's a pleasing balance of humor, suspense, and action during the series' better episodes and, while the drama sometimes falls a little flat, it's still quite easy to stay interested in Almost Human despite its reluctance to create a mythology. For the most part, this is an adventure-of-the-week series, whether through conscious creative decisions or an attempt to simply test the water. Though I've never minded non-serialized TV at all, those who favor "big picture" productions should know what they're getting into.
The pilot flounders a little but lays a lot of groundwork in relatively short order. During the next few episodes, Almost Human attempts to find a balance between conventional police procedural, character study, and sci-fi thriller. IMO, this balance is first achieved in "Are You Receiving?": on the surface, it's a variant of Die Hard but leaves its own stamp on what would otherwise be a standard "hostage in crisis" situation. "Blood Brothers" is another standout, serving up a really effective use of gadgetry to strengthen the story of a psychic on the run from a mysterious family of clones. Perhaps the most successful episode is "Arrhythmia", which starts strongly and maintains momentum with an interesting premise, twisting plot, and clever moral quandaries. Other episodes follow suit, with only a handful feeling less than impressive: "Simon Says", for example, has its moments but the message is heavy-handed, and it doesn't help by borrowing plot elements from another Die Hard movie (which, incidentally, was originally titled Simon Says as well).
Either way, the real selling points of Almost Human---Kennex and Dorian's partnership and, of course, the futuristic landscape and gadgetry---usually hit the mark, even while other elements of the series trail further behind. For starters, the atmosphere is very much a "boy's club", as most of limited female characters are woefully underwritten. Captain Maldonado is rarely given more to do than bark orders...and on the rare occasions she steps out of the box, she's quickly pushed back in. In "Blood Brothers"---an otherwise strong episode---she's relegated to petty verbal sparring with criminal Ethan Avery (Alex Miller) and, just when it feels like the humiliated Captain will get her dignity back, she's limited to a silly "I told you so" moment and a flirty pat from the district attorney. As for Detective Stahl, she basically stands around and occupies the "potential love interest" slot for our hero. It's not surprising that the lack of development (which affects several male characters, too) is partially due to these episodes being presented out of their original production order, as they also aired on FOX...but since the show isn't serialized, that can't be the only culprit.
Perhaps a few of these nagging little issues would've been smoothed over---if not completely rectified---during future seasons, or perhaps Almost Human would've eventually gone to pot. Unfortunately, we'll never know. Either way, this entertaining 13-episode series plays most of its cards right: it has the ability to surprise in unexpected ways, as well as create a certain level of comfort and camaraderie between members of the capable cast. Oddly enough, though, Warner Bros. limits Almost Human to an Archive Collection release only...and to make matters worse, there's no Blu-ray option. But despite the format limitations, we're treated to a solid A/V presentation and a short but thoughtful assortment of extras. All things considered, it's a nice little package that will undoubtedly build a cult following over time.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Aside from the lack of a Blu-ray option (really?), there's very little to complain about here. Almost Human sports a crisp, dependable 1.78:1 transfer that replicates the series' atmosphere quite well. Colors usually lean towards the cold side, image detail is strong and, more often than not, even low-lit scenes fare pretty well overall. I couldn't spot any blatant amounts of edge enhancement, DNR, or compression issues; at most, five episodes are contained on a dual-layered disc. It's not surprising that such a recent production would hold up well on home video...and again, though I'd have loved to watch Almost Human in full 1080p, this is a pleasing effort that established and future fans will appreciate.
DISCLAIMER: The screen caps and promotional images featured in this review are resized do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.
Again, the only potential complaints here will stem from format limitations. Nonetheless, these Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes still get the job done, serving up plenty of strong channel separation, low end, and dynamic panning effects that really ramp up during most of the action scenes. The Crystal Method's pulsing, bass-heavy score also sounds quite good on most occasions, offering a nice amount of punch without overpowering most of the on-screen action. Dialogue is also crisply rendered and easy to follow...which is good, because no optional subtitles or SDH captions have been included. Not that I'm surprised, since Warner Archives often only bothers to include 'em for their Blu-ray releases. Honestly, this is the only glaring problem with this set, and one that may unfortunately keep some viewers from buying or renting it.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple, minimalist menu designs replicate the DVD cover artwork. Navigation is smooth and trouble-free, and only a short warning screen is present before the interface loads quickly. This three-disc set is packaged in a clear hinged keepcase with non-overlapping hubs and no interior artwork or inserts. Full content lists are printed on each disc.
Only a few nuggets on Disc 3, but what's here is at least worth a once-over. The main attraction is a small collection of Unaired Scenes
(7 clips, 10:38 total) from "Sky", "Arrhythmia", "You Are Here", "Perception", and "Straw Man". These are mostly inconsequential but feature a few minor character moments. As for their presentation: image quality (480p) is on par with the episodes and the dialogue / sound mix (Dolby 2.0) are fine, but there are no music cues present. We also get a brief Gag Reel
(2:40), plus a Q&A Excerpt
from Comic Con 2013 (9:43) featuring Lili Taylor, Minka Kelly, Michael Ealy, Karl Urban, and creator Joel Wyman. Topics are mostly short and surface-level with moderation by TV Guide
senior writer Damian Holbrook. Like the episodes themselves, no optional subtitles or SDH captions have been included.
Short-lived but memorable, Almost Human finds a groove pretty quickly and, for the most part, runs through these 13 episodes with plenty of confidence. Our central "buddy cop" relationship is infectious, and supporting characters---at least the male ones---are fairly well written and add a nice layer to the series. The futuristic atmosphere, though not always believable or even necessary, also adds a few clever ideas and nifty gadgets. With only a few small bumps along the way, this is an enjoyable ride that doesn't leave many loose threads hanging, despite its early demise. Warner Archives sadly doesn't offer a Blu-ray, but this three-DVD package at least serves up a rock-solid A/V presentation considering the format limitations. The extras are thin but worth watching. Overall, Almost Human will entertain fans of the cast and/or premise, and it's a ride you'll most likely want to take more than once. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.