‘Almost Human’: Is it Time for a Serialized Story Arc?

Published 11 months ago by , Updated December 10th, 2013 at 6:13 am,

almost human season 1 episode 4 bends rudy Almost Human: Is it Time for a Serialized Story Arc?

[This is a review for Almost Human season 1, episode 4. It contains SPOILERS.]

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Over the past three weeks, Almost Human has managed to overcome many of the difficult obstacles that stand in the way of a new series, becoming a true addition to Fox’s roster, and this episode is definitely no different. What does appear to be missing, though, is the one trick that new series use to hold onto their new audience until all the other things get worked out: a serialized story arc. Could Fox’s new series be going about things the wrong way, despite all of its accomplishments?

In this week’s episode, “The Bends,” written by newcomer Daniel Grindlinger, an old police friend of Kennex’s (Karl Urban) gets caught up in an undercover mission gone awry, forcing Rudy (Mackenzie Crook) to step out from his basement lair and go undercover as a cook of a street drug called the Bends; however, when the man behind the growing drug empire is revealed, Kennex must decide whether to abide by the law, or to provide justice for his fallen comrade. (After all, he is the law)

As the description suggests, this week’s episode is all about giving the technologically-skilled Rudy a tale for him to both grow and shine in, and it does so to great success. The mysterious basement man who fans still likely refer to as Gareth from The Office (UK) – or “Gareth” from Pirates of the Caribbean (don’t lie) – has now been elevated in the same way that his co-workers were in previous episodes. For those keeping count, Almost Human’s 4 supporting characters are now strong enough to not only help carry the weight of episodes in their own right – they’re also able to be paired up with each of main duo, enabling the producers to spread Urban and Ealy across more scenes with ease, without the fear of waning audience interest.

Still, despite all that being accomplished, Almost Human might be going about things the wrong way.

almost human season 1 episode 4 bends dorian kennex Almost Human: Is it Time for a Serialized Story Arc?

On paper, what Almost Human is doing by strengthening its core appears to be a brilliant ideal that makes one wonder why more series haven’t made use of; it’s as close to a perfect approach as one could attempt in the medium. Unfortunately, nothing in the extremely subjective medium of TV is perfect, including the audience. Characters are important, but so is story – and even though Almost Human has consistently delivered entertaining tales that always included surprisingly rich visual effects, it has yet to make use of the overlying serialized story format that viewers have become conditioned to, in order to motivate them to keep tuning in each week.

In a sense, Almost Human has taken us viewers on an impressively-planned date with nothing but earnest intentions, and things have been going swimmingly, thus far; however, we viewers are not used to such treatment, and so we wonder why this date does not include all the familiar tricks we’re used seeing from our previous televisual escapades. If Lost wouldn’t have begun with a mysterious plane crash and instead focused on its characters before the event – would people have been biting at the bit to tune in each week? Probably not – and therein lies the problem, or perhaps the solution.

almost human season 1 episode 4 bends kennex dorian 2 Almost Human: Is it Time for a Serialized Story Arc?

Most television shows in the drama genre need some sort of through line – or mystery, even – to help audiences overcome their reservations and watch. A proverbial “shiny object” can be very helpful in allowing us to make quick decisions based on expectations of what the journey of said storyline will ultimately bring. Right now, Almost Human has but one piece of MacGuffin bait (last seen in the pilot), and it’s doubtful that audiences have been anticipating its return.

In the pilot, Kennex’s ex-girlfriend was hinted to have been part of the Syndicate, and the cause of Kennex losing his leg – and that’s pretty much all that’s been said about it, so far.

While it will be interesting to see whether or not the series continue to tell that story, one shouldn’t be too surprised if something has been chosen to replace it following the premiere. If that’s not the case, Almost Human likely needs to move quickly to recover that element, because as TV and its visuals have matured, so too has audience expectations; there’s only so far an episodic series can go, nowadays, no matter how strong the talent behind it.

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Almost Human returns next Monday with “Blood Brothers” @8pm on Fox. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:

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  1. Nah, stay the course, the syndicate will resurface in time.

  2. Im enjoying the series so far. but i agree, I think its about time it starts becoming more serialized. I like that in my shows. Thats one of the problems i have with the show Elementary. there is no overarching plot. just a bunch of standalone episodes. Which tends to bore me quickly if i don’t like the cast. but that show seems to be holding in the ratings so maybe they are smart. we will see where this series decides to go, more episodic or more serialized.

  3. “Is it Time for a Serialized Story Arc”

    No. I’m the opposite of Draagyn. Serialized plots bore me to death, because they usually are just very thin plots that could barely fill a single episode, except that they get dragged out and out and out and slowly lumber towards a conclusion that is almost never worth the effort: hours of build-up with no appropriate pay-off.
    I prefer tight entertaining stand-alone episodes with good character interaction that offer something fresh every week.

  4. no overall story arc

    this is the first episode i couldnt give my full attention too, and i notice how enjoyable and easy it was to follow even while i’m distracted. I think network shows are too worried about the story arc. its not like cable shows with higher budgets that can go all out with their story arcs. Like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. Network shows have a smaller budget and more episodes to produce. they should just worry about keeping it week-by-week.

    i love the show, but nothing makes me loose interest faster than a convoluted over arc that just goes on and on. The show works great going from episode to episode.

    • The X-Files.

      Huge story arc, was on FOX not AMC, FX or HBO. Usually 3 standalone and then a mytho’s episode. Just saying it can be done on the big 4 too, if done right. With Almost Human eventually they will need an overall story arc to go back to every so often but right now I think it’s doing just fine.

      • They could do short two episode arcs to build up other characters and larger themes, but sometimes a show can get bogged down in an over-reaching storyline, kind of like what happened with the X-Files especially toward the end.

      • The X-Files are a good example for why I don’t like story arcs. Those mythos episodes never really amounted to anything, because they had to keep stringing the audience along like a donkey with a carrot, and fizzled out completely at the end of the series. They were a complete waste of time. The stand-alone episodes, however, were pretty much always entertaining and satisfying.

    • The Blacklist has started an overall continued story arc which is something I am liking so far and that’s on a network.

  5. I’m on board with cody. The show will obviously get to overarching plots and mini-arcs down the road, and personally, I’m enjoying the he’ll out of it right now and not really thinking things like, “Boy, I really hope The Bishop reveals he’s working for the Syndicate” or whatever. Plus, we really don’t have as clear a handle on all of the regular season yet. This episode was the most exploration we got of Paul thus far, but Stahl still really hasn’t had much to do (though that looks to change nicely in the next episode, based on the preview). So, yeah, stay the course for now.

    • “…a handle on all of the regular *cast* yet.”

      It sure would be great if ScreenRant’s comments sections had at least a limited editing window for posts. Though I guess it’s not a priority, and maybe the act of someone posting corrections as a new comment contributes to page views and ad revenue somehow.

    • I agree with all of this.

      If this show is similar in nature to something like Castle, I’d be very happy. Castle has done a good job of using recurring villains and plot storylines (like the conspiracy behind the murder of Beckett’s mother) effectively, but there’s not really a serialized plot for the show.

      Just because other shows have done it well recently, that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to follow that lead.

  6. I love this show and that fight between Dorian and the other big robot guy was awesome.

  7. the show is doing a reat great job, some backghround story arc like his leg and the syndicate im sure will show up in due time.

  8. I prefer an overarching story, freak of the week style shows bore me to death.

    • +1 as after watching the second episode, I was like, “So, it’s going to be one of those shows?” and I haven’t watched it since.

      Great concept, but if this show is just going to be “Just another cop show” then I can’t be bothered.

  9. Said the very same last week. It is the only thing missing from this show. Usually, it is told in a prologue/epilogue format until a centric episode. What ‘Fringe’ taught us is this team is actually very good at full episodes dedicated to overall arcs.

    So, yup, it was fine to go without an arc the first three episodes but last night’s one was the first where I felt a point was needed to it. Still a fine episode (loving the robot on robot fights), but time to up the momentum now I feel.

  10. I think it’s progressing at a decent pace…I can already see subtexts being laid down such as Urban’s “take no prisoners” stance that you know are going to pop-up later on. The show is fantastic, I’m enjoying it immensely and the duo dynamic is great. Karl and Michael really have chemistry. It’s my new fav show.

  11. It’s not the ‘syndicate’, it’s the ‘Insyndicate’.

  12. I love this show but I would have to agree that they do need some kind of continuing story arc to make things interesting and to keep people coming back. The Blacklist started out with a case of the week type of episodes but eventually is now starting to have some continuing story arcs which keeps me hooked onto the show. I think the case of the week type of show is good but after a while I get bored with them like a AOS. If AOS starts having some kind of continuing storyline then I might be more interested in the show

  13. Four episodes in and people are already complaining about the lack of a overarching story?

  14. Honestly, I feel it is much harder for a serialized show to succeed than an episodic one like Almost Human has been so far. Serial shows people feel intimidated to jump into it if they have not been following it episode to episode from the beginning while episodic shows people are comfortable to watch it whenever they want, and if they like it enough, they will go back and watch it from the beginning. I think the serial treatment works for some types of shows, especially if they have something that pulls the audience in from the beginning. But from what I’ve seen so far for sci-fi shows, episodic seems to work better. Look at Stargate SG-1, that show went on for 10 seasons total, but from the beginning up until about season 7-8, it was generally an episodic show. Sure it had the background core story, but every episode had a beginning and an end. It didn’t become more serial until after season 8, and then it only lasted 2 seasons before it was done. Sure part of that was Richard Dean Anderson leaving the show, but I believe it started to lose viewers when the story became too serial. That’s my theory at least…

  15. This week’s episode went off the rails a bit for me. It seemed the whole idea was to focus on Rudy with no real thought to the story. It makes absolutely no sense that a human would be required to cook the drugs, surely an android would do a better job? The drug dealers already had a drug analysing android, why couldn’t he cook the drugs? The banter between Kennex and Dorian seemed off to, like it was written without reference to anything that had preceded (I guess it probably was though). I’m glad to see Cheo Hodari Coker is writing for next week’s episode, his Skin story is my favourite so far.

  16. I love this show so far, but that episode was certainly the weakest of the series. Did John murder that guy at the end? Why were Dorian and him so antagonistic throughout? These things just didn’t make sense. Also, John carries one magazine for his gun? What?

    • @Jeff

      Yes, John did totally murder that guy at the end, but he deserved it. Besides, he’s Dredd, he can execute if he deems fit. ;-)

  17. Walmart. Their poor labor union and relations busting = bad news for me. You want to know how they get their prices so low? They force companies and businesses to sell them goods at a loss, forcing many hardworking employees for those industries to lose their jobs. They also don’t pay a living wage and don’t offer benefits to the vast majority of their workers. I just can’t support a company like that, no matter how many $30 DVD players I can get.

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