The future looks dark, and that’s good news for the delayed Fox sci-fi cop drama “Almost Human,” which bows Sunday night at 8. (Fox bumped its earlier November premiere date so the series could benefit from the boost of an NFL doubleheader and is airing it over two nights, as it settles into its regular time slot Monday at 8.)
Among the most promising of the new season’s offerings, “Almost Human” is a buddy cop procedural from creator J. H. Wyman (“Fringe”) and executive producer J. J. Abrams (“Fringe,” the “Star Trek” film franchise).
Set in 2048, the show evokes visual and tonal elements of the futuristic noir atmospheres favored by folks like film director Ridley Scott — the rain-soaked streets and cluttered humanity of “Blade Runner” and the sense of unease from “Alien” — and a bit of the look of first-person shooter video games. The pilot episode attempts to balance dread, intrigue, humor, and emotion, while shoehorning in a lot of exposition. That it does so with little confusion, plenty of panache, and only a few clunky exchanges is to its credit.
A lot of nifty things are apparently going to happen in the next 35 years, including major strides in medicine and technology which allow for the manufacture of synthetic organs and limbs as well as fully functional humanoid robots. (It’s also comforting to note that in the not-too-distant future, we’re still listening to Depeche Mode.)
Not so nifty is the fact that the crime rate has exploded by 400 percent since the criminals are keeping abreast of technology as well.
Every cop is now required to have a combat-model android partner.
Enter LAPD detective John Kennex (Karl Urban), recently awakened from a 17-month coma. His big sleep was precipitated by an ambush that cost him a leg — since replaced synthetically — and the lives of his human partner and many other cops. Kennex partially blames those deaths on an android officer at the scene. So, he is naturally leery of pairing up with another “synthetic.” His fears are increased when he is teamed with a “DRN” unit — called Dorian (Michael Ealy) — that was shelved years ago because of glitches in its “synthetic soul” system.
The running thread becomes that Kennex, with his tough, chilly demeanor and sense of dislocation and revenge, is actually less “human” in some ways than the fully robotic Dorian, who was only programmed to feel emotion yet seems to long to be a real boy. He is also much quicker to be warm, friendly, and — when it comes to interrogating suspects — more humane than the explosive Kennex.
Urban (the “Star Trek” and “The Lord of the Rings” franchises) and Ealy (“Sleeper Cell”) quickly establish a familiar rhythm that will hopefully deepen over time, grounding the fantastical elements of the future in the universals of interpersonal interaction.
The show aims to toggle between a crime of the week with Kennex and Dorian interacting with the cops at their precinct — including intelligence analyst Valerie Stahl (Minka Kelly, “Friday Night Lights”), police captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor, “Six Feet Under”), and android technician Rudy Lom (Mackenzie Crook, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) — and the overarching mythology of Kennex trying to remember the attack and who was behind it. The pilot intimates that someone quite close to him was involved, and that will become the engine that drives his intense, sometimes dangerous, investigations.
While there are plenty of fancy gizmos and future-speak featured in the show, and even one flying car, it would appear that the producers are interested in placing as much, if not more emphasis on giving “Almost Human” a human touch.