Why Almost Human is Mediocre TV

Just like Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D., Almost Human was touted as the next best thing since sliced bread for the scifi genre in television. Well I took a look, and, like SHIELD, it is nothing of the sort. #SorryNotSorry.

This isn’t some hipster review that aims to pee in every one’s cornflakes and diss on a new TV show just because. I’m writing this because American scifi television has a problem, and Almost Human is just another example.

It could be that I’d just come off of a binge-watch of Doctor Who and Torchwood, and had some solid new scifi episodes of Sleepy Hollow under my belt that might have colored my perceptions of Almost Human: But really that is my point exactly.

The bar has been raised. Almost Human is almost slapdash in it’s laziness and seems purposeful in it’s unwillingness to be better. Let’s discuss a few of the issues shall we?

Originality

This is huge. I’m getting tired of everything being made from a book. But that’s fine and all, and some excellent television shows and movies have come from that, but dammit I’d just love to see more “written and directed by” and “original screenplay by”. Yeah remember those? Screenplays.

Seems like directors and producers are shopping for best selling books instead of original screenplays. Maybe that’s passe, a thing of the past. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but there is a difference between adapting an already completed work in another field for the screen, and bringing to life a screenplay <—- yes look at that word: An idea, a concept – written specifically for the screen.

Here is the premise for Almost Human:

The series is set thirty-five years in the future when humans in the Los Angeles Police Department are paired up with lifelike androids; a detective who has a dislike for robot partners is paired up with an android capable of emotion.

The first thing that popped into my head was Isaac Asimov’s novel Caves of Steel:

Set roughly three millenia in Earth’s future, Elijah Baley a detective, must work with a partber, a highly advanced robot named R. Daneel Olivaw who is visually identical to a human, even though Elijah, like many Earth residents, has a low opinion of robots. (Or as the back of my copy says “hated and feared robots deeply, bitterly and pathologically” ).

Together, they must solve a murder and try to avert an interstellar diplomatic incident. One interesting aspect of the book is the contrast between Elijah, the human detective, and Daneel, the humanoid robot. Asimov uses the “mechanical” robot to inquire about human nature.

The original copyright date is 1953. <—yeah, ok see what I mean? This woo! giddiness about Almost Human and really this is nothing new at all. Not by a long shot.

A few of the reviews I’ve read have also talked about the lack of originality, and mention the movie I, Robot which of course is taken from the book of short stories by that same name – again written by Asimov. Because, let us be real here: You can’t do robots without harking back to and at least giving a nod to Asimov.

As Asimov himself said, “…that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself.” So  yes, by all means have a cop show and make it scifi by making it take place in the future and add in some robots.

But for goonnessakes do it well. You can do it with some originality. With panache and style. I suggest watching the second segment of the 3-part anthology movie Doomsday Book:

A young technician employed by a robotics corporation, is called out to check a robot employed at a Buddhist monastery. The Robot has become Buddhist and claims to have achieved enlightenment. The monks want to know whether he really is enlightened or is just a robot with a technical glitch.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. The other two segments are a delight as well. Enjoy. And You’re Welcome.

Not Really The Future

This is something that I’ve seen as a big fail in the scifi genre time and time again. And it is really a human failing. The inability to extend our imaginations towards something that hasn’t happened yet. The mores, prejudices and societal norms and customs of the present day, always leak through, are always there.

It is a pity.

The biggest turn-off for me was when – and how – that happened in Almost Human. I’d gotten through the pilot episode, and was doggedly going through the second episode. So yeah, sexbots. Not surprised this showed up, only disappointed they decided to go there so early in the series.

I made it through the part where due to the really gross and misogynistic dialogue at the police station we are shown that all the sexbots are female sexbots, and cater exclusively to heterosexual men. Seriously? I managed to make it 10 minutes more, and then I turned it off. Sorry, not taking one for the team in this one.

Granted it is only 35 years in the future. I have a good chance of still being alive by then. That is only a decade less than I’ve been alive already, and you are telling me that in what is basically the equivalent of half the average human lifetime we will still be having the same horrible sexist, bullshit going on?

We’re supposed to believe that an entrepreneur would limit his profits by not having sexbots available in all genders and for all sexual orientations? These are heterosexual men writing these stories, and as I’ve pointed out so many times before, what they are comfortable with, and what they want on our screens is what we get.

Also, I bet I wasn’t the only female viewer disgusted and turned off by that episode. A lot of money was spent on hyping up the beauty and sexiness of the leads. Both Michael Ealy and Karl Urban are easy on the eyes and without a doubt were a draw for female viewers. Or should I say lure.

For them to then immediately fall back on they boys will be boys trope, and the female cops have to deal with sexual harassment from their fellow cops thing was an affront, and disrespectful. And also lazy, and unimaginative. Not a future I’m interested in tuning into every week at all. I’m again, probably not the only one who felt this way.

You risk losing those female viewers you reeled in. You certainly lost me. It is a very unwise move to make. Television is a numbers game, and there are 4.8 million more females than males in the US with the numbers rising all the time. But go on ahead and continue.

I can go watch stuff that Ealy and Urban have already been in, or GooglePic to my heart’s content if I want my pretty boy fix. 

almosthumanealy

I don’t need to subject myself to boring, tropey, mediocre television at the same time. And if by some miracle that episode did end up having male sexbots or sexbots for every orientation – not gonna watch it to find out – still, sorry, NO. The sexist cop shop banter ruined it for me irreparably.

When you have series like Torchwood that play around with the fluidity of human sexual orientation and has strong, complex female characters to boot – well, like I said, the bar has been done been raised, and Almost Human failed miserably.

Diversity

This ties into the concept of the Invisible Black Woman that I’ve written about time and time and time again. I also speak about scifi in particular in juxtaposition with diversity. This post HERE illustrates the formula that I’ve seen happen over and over again in this genre, especially in American television and film.

Why couldn’t Ealy be the lead and Urban the “almost human” robot? Why not have a Black woman starring as the moody detective who has issues with robots? Hey, we could even keep the Black girlfriend and have her be a lesbian! No, that would just be too much. Gotta have the white (straight) male lead that everyone can relate to, because like in my indicated post that is what the formula calls for.

(Never mind Scandal or Sleepy Hollow tho, or those amazing sitcoms, movies and shows from yesteryear – ok the 90s – that had truly diverse casting and managed to be smash hits even so)

I’m not saying the BBC and thems have their ish together perfectly on the subject by any stretch of the imagination – whoops! there’s that word again! – but at least they can imagine POCs in the future and especially Black Women so much more often than the US.

Basically US creators of scifi content for television and film are still patting themselves on the back because of Gene Roddenberry’s casting of Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura over 45 years ago, and ain’t really bothered to make any moves like that since.

I’ll also make a bet that most Trekkies have no idea that Uhuru is the Swahili word for Freedom. Just putting that out there. Purposeful casting of Black women in roles unusual for them, and making a serious societal point by doing so are rare, so very rare.

Why couldn’t the Captain Sandra Maldonado character in Almost Human have been a Black woman? Or at the very least an actual Latina. Are we supposed to buy Lily Taylor as a Latina? Or is she married to one? What are we supposed to infer by the “diverse” last name the character has? WHY are you making me think so hard when you all you had to do was just simply cast a WOC????

Star Trek uses that naming trope thing a lot too. Having starships and shuttles with culturally diverse names, unseen or non-speaking roled people mentioned or referred to having “ethnic” names etc. It gets really tiring. Why is it so damn hard just to cast main and leading – and supporting – roles with POC?

The only Black woman we see on Almost Human – and that only in some recorded video message and memory flashback – is Urban’s ex-girlfriend. And woo! She’s Evil Bad. Really people?

I won’t be watching, but I bet it turns out that she was undercover or something and so not really bad, and so everything is ok. But it won’t be ok, even if that happens – which, actually, I’d be surprised if it does. I won’t be watching, so I won’t know unless someone tells me how it all turns out on the “evil Black ex-girlfriend” front.

Like I said, I was pretty much done by the time the pilot was over. If they hadn’t put out both the first and second episodes back to back, and thus were both there for me to watch streaming – I really wouldn’t have bothered to wait a week and see if the 2nd one was any better.

~*~

And why don’t I give this show a chance? Why don’t I watch a few more episodes? Because look. Sleepy Hollow came out the corner swinging. The pilot rocked, each episode has rocked since. Black women in main cast. POC actors everywhere. There have been a few issues here and there, as no nascent TV show is perfect, but there were no deal-breakers. And it is 2013 people. DAYUM.

Evil Black Ex-Girlfriend on a show with no other Black female characters as balance or contrast: deal-breaker.

Disgusting old-school, locker room, misogynistic subject matter, dialogue and concepts on a supposedly futuristic show: deal-breaker.

Agents of the SHIELD wasn’t so much a deal breaker as a snoozefest. I have wandered back to watch subsequent episodes on streaming since I viewed the pilot. It basically kills with boredom. For so much hype, well, it just fell short.

And their lack of diversity notwithstanding. They do the lets have POC show up as guest stars now and then thing, but damned if we are going to main cast say a Black woman anywhere. But I know my American scifi, and I know not to expect to see myself on the screen

HOWEVER

You have to be pretty awesome in order for me to take that hit to get my scifi fix.

And when you have other shows that are doing their thing WHILE INCLUDING ME ON THEIR SCREEN – well why in heaven’s name am I bothering to watch your boring, tropey, unoriginal, homogeneous, unimaginative offering?

I stopped betting on what TV shows would last and which ones would get canceled, decades ago when I lived in Hollywood. I was always wrong. Especially in the scifi genre. These days those decisions are done even more by the numbers – case in point Sleepy Hollow being renewed for a second season well early before any cancel or keep deadlines – so we shall see what happens with Almost Human.

But I will point out that a scifi series with hardly any diversity, starring two (white male) cuties and chock-a-block with misogynistic overtones is starting it’s 9th season. So despite this long drawn out post and my feelie-feels on the subject, Almost Human stands a chance to be a success.

_______________________________________________

Damn shame. Throw in some fancy CGI, futuristic tech, rehash an old storyline, hire mediocre writers, cast some pretty boys and call it cutting edge scifi.
Yeah, NO.
As I tweeted out the other day: It’s just not interesting.

About Awake BW

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7 Responses to Why Almost Human is Mediocre TV

  1. dtafakari says:

    I also wrote about this on my blog, with a slightly different perspective. I think that if they maximized the potential of having a black android and what his race would mean in a dystopic context, Is a black android simply an android in brown skin, and how does he, being sentient, navigate his status? it could bring a lot of interesting questions to the forefront. That said, most of the framework of the show is ‘yawn, seen it already.’ The concept is hardly new to sci-fi and if not written well, the series will fall flat shortly.

    • Awake BW says:

      See? There you go. You and I came up with some interesting and highly watchable concepts, from casting to content, but a whole team hired to do just that: Just couldn’t manage it.

      In a world where you can pick and choose what the bots look like: It’s seen as a given that they would represent multiple races. But really, would it? You see already in our world the controversy over genetic typing and phenotyping for “designer” babies. Eugenics is a bad word.

      I love what you brought up in your post (http://daratmathis.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/michael-ealys-android-paints-black-men-almost-human/ for those that wish to read it too), and I think Almost Human is missing major opportunities in those areas as well.

      Pleasure to “meet” you and read your words! I’m glad you stopped by :)

  2. RDKirk says:

    In the first episode, Kennex murders an android without a second thought, and it’s merely an administrative headache for him.

    When I was a kid, that was REALITY for blacks. A white man–especially a cop–really could kill a black man or rape a black woman and suffer no more repercussions than to be thought crude. That was in my childhood, not some history book. My parents taught me–a young black boy–very carefully, “If you go into the wrong place, they will kill you and we will never see you again.” I was taught to behave in encounters with white people the same way you’d behave if you were camping and a bear wandered into your tent.

    If you turned away too early during “Skin,” you missed some worthwhile moments. My wife and I were at the ramp-up of the Civil Rights Act in the late 60s into the 70s, when all-white schools and businesses suddenly realized they needed a “spook sitting by the door.”

    We were those who were “the first” and “the only” blacks in these new environments for years–which was often painful and always lonely. So we suffered some flashbacks as we watched Dorian endure the same things we endured.

    We were selected to be “the first” and “the only” not because we were good, not for our own strengths…but because they needed our faces. Dorian was selected not because HE was good, but to save the human cop.

    Enduring discussions about “what to do about those people,” then getting “Oh, but we don’t mean YOU!” I remember those. Seeing the ignobility of how they treated other blacks who were employed in lesser stations, just as Dorian had to watch how the MX43s were treated, and the contempt of everyone for the sexbots. But like Dorian, we had to maintain and endure…for the sake of others who were surely coming behind us. They had to be coming behind us…otherwise, what were we there for?

    Kennex tells Dorian, “The people you help will remember you.” Kennex does not understand “human privilege.” The humans Dorian helps will not remember him any more than they will remember Kennex’s cell phone. The episode bears that out at the end: Kennex is thanked by the rescued victims, not Dorian. Yeah, we who were “the first” and “the only” experienced that, too.

    I was surprised, though, that they even got right the sad moment when a “first” or an “only” saw one of his own kind in passing–another “first” or “only”–and was unable to reach out and grab her and connect with her. So we would just lock eyes and nod: “I see you. Nobody else here does, but I see you.”

    So I recognized the moment when the sexbot was being destroyed merely for being what she was–a mulatto–(“We can’t permit any androids with human DNA”) and Dorian could only tell her, “I will remember you.”

    If they actually got that right–and it’s not just a fluke–I’m impressed.

    • Awake BW says:

      Thank you so much for sharing yourself here on my blog. It is greatly appreciated. more that I can express, actually.

      I suppose I’m on a short fuse these days, and due to the mental health management that I have to attend to for the rest of my life – I tend to self-protect more quickly than usual. I just couldn’t stand what looked to be painfully the same-old.

      But maybe perhaps later on I’ll catch up with this series, maybe they will continue to get some stuff right, learn and grow. I just don’t feel up to watching while they go through the process, if indeed they will. But I’ll keep my ear to the ground.

  3. K says:

    It’s horrible, the other black woman was a hooker also remember. This is the same guy who did the TV show Undercovers (Boris and Gugu). I think that HOLLYWOOD EXEC’S don’t know that it’s time for change or they don’t know how to change. Hollywood can’t handle POC in lead roles,
    two(2) POC in love in a drama, in the lead roles, also let’s make them very attractive POC. I know. Well there was the show Twisted, but Hollywood could not handle the love these two(2) actors received from the viewers worldwide. I think Shonda Rhimes and Tyler Perry has opened some eyes in Hollywood, but Hollywood wants to tell the stories of POC w/o any input from POC. Look how many yt actors Shonda has to hire to have a Black lead in a TV show, sad, Liv does not have one(1) Black friend. But back to AH, I stopped watching. Hollywood never hires interesting people that you want to follow in movies and tv shows, so much colourism, nepotism, favoritism, networkingism and the same actors over and over again, never any new and fresh faces. The politics of Hollywood.

  4. Bunai says:

    The bromance is kind of trumping all of this.

    Just kidding. Or am I ^_^ pfft.

    Really though (is this petty?), Ealy being the robot is what actually boosted his popularity over Urban within a few episodes. Usually (or rather commonly) when there is a show with two leads and one of them is non-white, they tend to be over shadowed or completely ignored while the audience tries to create a pseudo relationship for the white lead with another white character that is zero importance to the show.

    And again, it should be noted that FOX (or whom ever) decided to skip straight to an episode that would draw a male audience for a little kick start. Many growing fans have noticed how this can make or break a show if it isn’t allowed to progress as intended. I believe Almost Human depends entirely on the relationship between John and Dorian, they are suppose to be teach one another so their visible ethnicity isn’t the primary issue. The episode skipping also placed an unfortunate title on Kelly’s character (Stahl) and while the audience, male and female, want to see more done with her, it is the Skin episode that gave her the “nothing but a love interest” title. So now this character has an up hill battle between the every growing like for brotp.

    I wouldn’t mind if the show drew a parallel between robots and racism, however, I don’t want it to be so heavy that it brings down the growing connection between the characters as a group.

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