[This is a review for Almost Human season 1, episode 4. It contains SPOILERS.]
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.
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.
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.
Almost Human returns next Monday with "Blood Brothers" @8pm on Fox. You can check out a preview of next week's episode below: