“Almost Human” is just barely watchable — a grunged-up vision of a dystopian, crime-ridden future, with actors portraying humanoid robots, including the one played by Michael Ealy, who weaves awkward slang into his speech. It’s a quirky addition to a Fox lineup that already has scored a modest success with the fantasy-infused “Sleepy Hollow,” but the network seems unlikely to enjoy such good fortune twice.
The year is 2048 (one can only imagine how many Bushes and Clintons have been president in the intervening decades), but this is less “Blade Runner” than “Alien Nation,” or perhaps “Law & Order: Cyborg Cop Unit” — using the futuristic backdrop strictly as a means of creating a different venue for a mismatched copshow.
Karl Urban plays John Kennex, the hard-bitten cop who has experienced a major loss — as in former colleagues and his leg, blown off in a explosive attack of unexplained origins, and replaced by a gee-whiz prosthetic device.
As a consequence, John isn’t prone to trust people, or machines. Because as it happens, when Kennex returns to the force, in an attempt to level the playing field against heavily armed criminals, each cop must be paired with a humanoid mechanical partner.
Still, Kennex quickly jettisons the state-of-the-art “combat-ready” android initially assigned to him, before his caring captain (Lili Taylor) saddles him with a decommissioned older model that tends to mimic humans. The new sidekick is named Dorian, played by “Sleeper Cell’s” Ealy. “I’m running my colloquialism routine, so I express most data conversationally, man,” he explains.
Urban is perfectly fine as this futuristic Dirty Harry, but Ealy never hits anything approximating a rhythm as his eager-to-please partner. Then again, neither is helped much by the tin-eared dialogue, and if the underlying message of J.H. Wyman’s script (produced under the aegis of J.J. Abrams’ prolific Bad Robot shingle) is a feeling that a machine can be more human than a man who has deadened his emotions, there’s precious little reason to care about what happens to either of them. The same goes for Minka Kelly (“Friday Night Lights”) as an intelligence analyst in the department.
Nor does the series have as much fun as it should with the near-future visions, avoiding “Jetsons”-like flights of fancy as it dives right into gritty crime terrain.
Fox has paired the show with “Sleepy Hollow,” albeit without providing “Almost Human” the benefit of following it as a lead-in. The network did delay the premiere to provide the series the benefit of NFL football to kick off its debut, and while the macho aspects do establish the newcomers as an alternative to the broadcast competition like “The Voice” and CBS’ comedies, the pilot isn’t imaginative or compelling enough to arouse much interest.
In that regard, “Almost Human’s” premise is apt in one unintended way. Because these characters and situations feel very much like something that just came off an assembly line, the kind of bad robot that probably should have been recalled for a tune-up.