After months of waiting, FOX has unveiled J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman’s futuristic sci-fi police procedural series Almost Human in an ambitious two-night roll-out, premiering the first two episodes back-to-back. The show has been worth the wait – (read our reviews of the premiere and the follow-up) – and looks to have already hit its stride.
With a strong hook – a haunted detective (Dredd and Star Trek star Karl Urban) reluctantly teams up with a unique android (Michael Ealy) to battle out-of-control crime in the year 2048 – as well as some top-notch production values, Almost Human has burst out of the gate with a level of confidence and forward motion missing from other high-profile series premieres (like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is still struggling to find its footing).
The creative team of Star Trek Into Darkness director J.J. Abrams and Fringe co-creator J.H. Wyman is one of the show’s major draws, and in the wake of Almost Human‘s debut, Abrams talked to EW about his thoughts on the future of the show, his level of involvement, his other sci-fi TV show project, and why we might not see a Star Trek TV show for some time.
The future world of Almost Human is quite different from that of Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, which is to be expected. The new show is an original take on where humanity might go, while Star Trek‘s approached was inherited by – and to a large degree dependent upon – the vision of the original 60’s TV show. When asked whether he sees us heading in a utopian or dystopian direction, Abrams answered:
I like to think I’m more of an optimist. So the idea of this show is not my default vision of things. I’m not as optimistic as [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry was. I fall somewhere in the middle. But as a romantic, I like to think things are going to get bigger rather than worse.
Just two episodes in, Almost Human has already established many of the ground rules for the world, with Urban’s John Kennex and Ealy’s Dorian developing rapidly into fully-realized characters. Abrams provides a generous overview of what we can expect to see from the show, without a single spoiler (although there’s a hint or two at future storyline possibilities):
One of the opportunities about this show is it not only has characters that make you smile and laugh, and relationships that feel as unique as they are familiar, but its uniqueness comes from something that isn’t necessarily possible right now. Like any story-out-of-time, you want characters and situations where you go, “I know what that is. I know what that feels like. I know someone like that” — even though the person might be a different species. In this show, not only are the relationships unique, but the situations the characters find themselves in are equally unique. The paradigm is familiar, but the specifics are different. If there’s a new weapon on the streets, it won’t look like a weapon you’re familiar with, but you can understand it’s a dangerous thing that shouldn’t be in the wrong hands. It might be a bullet that doesn’t shoot the way you expect. It might be a drug that does something to you that’s insane and horrific. It might be something about harvesting organs that isn’t like anything in present day. The technology is part of what’s going on, but there’s a level of relatability and understanding.
The level of Abrams’ involvement in the day-to-day operations of Almost Human is also something that fans may be wondering about. He’s currently deeply entrenched in what is sure to be one of the biggest movies of the already-huge year of 2015: Star Wars: Episode VII. Given such a monster undertaking, Abrams clarifies how present he will be:
I’m as involved as needed. The good news about having [showrunner Joel Wyman] on the show is it’s his pitch, his idea and he’s running the show. When we hear a pitch we like and develop a show — unless it’s something I’ve created and I’m either going to direct the pilot, or oversee or write — we don’t get involved with people who need to be babysat. We are there as necessary. We read scripts, give notes, watch cuts, and just help out however we can.
That said, his relationship with Wyman naturally led to his input in shaping the overall concept of the series, even if that input did not necessarily translate into one specific aspect. According to Abrams:
There are things that happen in the show, all sorts of ideas that come out of conversations and things. There’s little moments and ideas here and there. When Joel was pitching the show, I got so enthusiastic. I loved The Six Million Dollar Man as a kid. The possibility of that as a kid was like candy. All of a sudden on the phone I was just spewing possible ideas of what it could be, and he was just laughing and spewing back. It wasn’t necessarily a specific moment or character, but I hopefully the cheerleader helped Joel do the show he pitched.
Despite Abrams’ level of success and influence – there’s a reason he was handed the means to mold the next generation of two major franchises – his ideas are still rejected by networks. While he understands, he also acknowledges that it generally works out for the best: “And we have been very lucky, frankly, despite being told no, on almost every occasion we resolved it by finding something that does fit. I would never want somebody to say yes to anything they did not truly believe in.”
Almost Human isn’t the only sci-fi TV show Abrams has on his slate – the other is a television remake of Westworld for HBO, based on the 1973 sci-fi western written and directed by the late, great Michael Crichton. Abrams touched on this subject briefly, but could not provide details:
It could not be more different from this show. Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, who are writing it, have a take on that particular [idea] that I think is mind-blowingly cool, and I cannot wait to be able to talk about it.