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?
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.
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.
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
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.