Almost Human 1.04 "The Bends"

A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This episode of Almost Human takes a barely noticeable uptick in quality from what I frankly thought was a horrible episode last week. What's really strange, though, is that the first seven or eight episodes are airing out of order for some unknown reason. Which explains why Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy) became so immediately comfortable with each other, wisecracking and working like a well-oiled machine (so to speak), but it doesn't bode well for the overall quality of the season.

Here's the breakdown: The pilot was obviously episode 1 in the production order. However, the second episode, "Skin" was actually the fifth produced. So we skipped three episodes worth of development, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, given the pretty bog-standard -- and frankly boring -- police procedural format the show has embraced. And creator J.H. Wyman has come out and said the airing order for the first batch of episodes isn't that important to the overall story.

Which is exactly what I'd say if I didn't want to rock the boat and hope that my show was going to get picked up for another season or two. And exactly what I'd not want to say if I wanted to assure viewers that I had produced a quality product.

Anyway, last week's "Are You Receiving?" should have been episode six and this week's "The Bends" was episode seven. After next week's "Blood Brothers" (episode eight on the production schedule), we drop back to episode three, "Arrhythmia" and that's going to be an interesting week to watch as we suddenly have two main characters who don't really know each other at all yet, despite having a comfortable familiarity for the preceding four episodes.

By this time in the production schedule, things should be moving fairly smoothly, but instead, the show is spinning its wheels. But the biggest worry is just in the fact that after six (now seven) episodes produced, we're not seeing any of the plot threads in the pilot picked up and instead are relying on cop show clich├ęs and overt references to other shows and films to substitute for innovation and narrative movement.

I mean, seriously, the Breaking Bad nods this week were embarrassing. Not to mention the fact that Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) the tech geek (who is called a prick by a severed robotic head he abandons in the lab before going off on his adventure???) is without any effort at all the best chemist that a group of drug dealers (led by the most obviously telegraphed "surprise" villain in recent memory) have ever seen, whipping up a 95% pure batch of this week's generic-crime-problem-that-needs-solved (generic people are literally dying in the generic streets, generically overdosing from this stupid boring generic drug) in a matter of minutes.

Minutes.

95% pure.

This, when the show established earlier that purity in the 80s was some of the best on the market.

And then, once Rudy is in (in what has to be the easiest meet-up with a mysterious "never been seen before" master drug lord), things go sour, but are quickly and easily righted and then the cops bust in and kill everyone.

They straight up murder everyone.

And Kennex (having apparently only brought the clip of ammo that was in his weapon, which he then abandons as useless after emptying it into a number of bad guys) beats the main bad guy with an iron pipe before getting the villain's gun and murdering him with it.

And it's clearly murder. The bad guy is alive, talking smack, so Kennex shoots him in the fucking face.

With no repercussions.

Without even a single mention.

Then the boys go out for beers and hopefully some cheap cop groupies.

The show is filled with one storytelling shortcut after another that undermines any chance at narrative believability or complexity. Unless, of course, Almost Human really isn't interested in creating a quality science fiction experience, and is instead really just a marketing exercise relying on generic police procedural tropes in a way that they hope won't be too weird to push away the lazier viewers while trying to pluck the lowest hanging fruit from the genre fans.

So now, after three post-pilot episodes, what we've got is a stale police procedural with superficial nods to future-tech, one-note characters coasting on the charisma of the actors playing them, and no hint whatsoever that there's a long-game despite being reassured by the creators that there definitely is one.

Shit, even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gives us teases of things to come, however briefly. But after seven or eight episodes there, the cast is gelling and we're starting to get glimpses of the bigger picture. It's still not great, but it's been building our relationships with the characters. Almost Human seems to think that we'll just lap up whatever mindless pablum they shove toward our faces, so long as the leads are pretty enough -- and given some of the reviews I've seen, many viewers are lapping it up with abandon.

Me, I'm still waiting for a good science fiction show to watch.


Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

 

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