“Almost Human” takes us 35 years into the future where Detective John Kennex (Karl Urban), a human cop, who, while trying to save the life of his partner, is severely injured. When he wakes up from a 17-month coma, he discovers he not only lost a leg, but also a lot of his memory of what happened that day. What he has gained is a highly sophisticated synthetic replacement limb.
Diagnosed with depression, mental atrophy, trauma-onset OCD, PTSD and the “psychological rejection of his synthetic body part,” Kennex is coerced into returning to work by his longtime ally on the force, Captain Sandra Maldonado (Lili Taylor).
But things have changed and Kennex is none too happy when he learns there is a new directive that all human cops must be paired with a robot. Kennex quickly terminates his partnership with the first android assigned to him, following which he is partnered with Dorian (Michael Ealy), a discontinued android programmed with emotional responses, who quickly learns how to deal with his out-of-sorts partner.
“Almost Human,” executive produced by J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman, who also created the series, will feature a new case each episode, as it also explores the growing partnership between Kennex and Dorian.
Abrams and Wyman spoke to reporters about their newest FOX series, and xfinityTV was on hand to get the answer to all your burning questions.
The ending of the pilot episode of “Almost Human” has been modified since it was first presented last May. Can you talk about why you felt changes were necessary?
Wyman: Basically, a lot of people don’t realize that the pilot is supposed to be a sales tool for us to express to our partners how great and exciting the show could be. It’s our job to put everything we can in this incredibly tight 43 minutes to make it a very compelling ride. We had talked a lot about the stories and the mythologies that are going to go on. We felt that the ending the way that it was really sparked a lot of interest in people who watched it because they realized, “Oh, okay. So there is a lot of cool mythology that could be told in this show. There are a lot of exciting ways these guys could go and stories they could tell.”
Once we got picked up and everybody agreed that this was something we want to move forward on, we could sit back, and say, “What’s the best way to tell that story? What’s the best way to get things out? Is that the right direction? How are we going to use elements of what we’ve shown and how are we going to get the most out of those?” Things just changed as we realized, “Okay, now we’ve got some time. Let’s tell the story properly.”
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What do you see as the key to Michael Ealy’s performance and what did you make of [New York Times columnist] Maureen Dowd comparing the character to President Obama?
Abrams: It was an honor to have Ms. Dowd reference “Almost Human” in her column. While the comparison is hers to make, I do think that what Michael Ealy brings to this role is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion. He’s playing a character who is, by design, literally, as brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop.
But he’s also as altruistic, considerate and empathetic as you would want. I think what Michael brings is that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The title “Almost Human,” of course, applies to both Karl and Michael’s characters. I think that the idea was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was in many ways more human than his partner.
John isn’t completely human; he has the artificial leg. Does he grapple with the fact that he is what he disdains?
Wyman: Yes. That’s a very large part of his character, because at the root of it, he’s a little bit worried about the advancement of technology, where that’s led humanity, and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new developments and unchecked growth with technology.
While he appreciates technology, such as the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for the police, he still has a problem with the line between humanity and robotics, or synthetics. He looks at that and is forced to deal with the idea that his well-being now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with a sense of contempt. The journey for him is that he’s starting to realize it’s not the technology that’s bad, it’s how you use it.
Can you talk about the choice to make Maldonado a woman? How much was that influenced by getting Lili Taylor?
Wyman: Originally, we conceived Maldonado as a man. Somebody had brought up — I think it was April Webster, our casting director, who said, “What about Lili Taylor?” We are huge fans of hers, so once we started talking about that concept, we realized that the character of Maldonado would actually be far superior if it was a woman.
The character started to take on all these incredible aspects that really weren’t there in a male version of her. We just embraced the idea and we’re so fortunate to get her because we just all really adore her. That’s how that came about.
Besides the relationship between John Kennex and Dorian, what other major plotlines will propel the story forward each week?
Wyman: The difference between “Almost Human” and say, “Fringe,” is that “Fringe” had a mythology every week, that was the main thrust of it. Underneath it all, at least to me, it was a quintessential kidnapping story, and a show about a family that really is trying to hold it all together in a time where holding families together is really hard. People immediately gravitated toward that mythology. That was that.
These are cops. Every week, they’re going to show up at work and they’re going to have a case. That case is going to be really compelling and really fun and it’s going to take them on a journey. Through those cases, we’re going to learn more about our characters and the relationships are going to diversify and grow.
Not to say that there is not any mythology; there is definitely going to be some mythology. Inherently, this show is a week-to-week great action show with cases that you’ve never really seen before, or concepts that you have seen, but just told in very different ways, because of the nature of our program.
Kennex’s human partner at the beginning of the pilot was left to die by the robots on the raid because he was too badly injured. Then Kennex goes in to try and save him, but winds up getting his whole unit killed and himself injured. Thinking about that, which is worse in your opinion: Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons or doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?
Abrams: I think that, obviously, every situation is unique, but I think that in terms of the opening scene of the pilot, it was meant to demonstrate his approach and how he is a caring enough person that he would try and save his partner. I don’t necessarily think that, and this is an argument in the show itself, that John, because of that, is responsible for everyone dying. There are certainly a lot of MX synthetic cops around who are dealing with the raid as well. I do think that it was meant to illuminate his character as much as anything.
With Civil Rights being such a big issue right now, are there robot rights, and robot marriage, and things like that?
Wyman: J.J. had set us up with some very, very brilliant people from MIT, and one of the brilliant people was a woman who studies robot ethics, which is pretty amazing because when you talk to her, you get the idea that, “Wait a second, this is definitely coming.” Some of the amazing things with these robots that are what we will see in the future. They are definitely robots, not human. They’re not becoming human, but they’re definitely becoming beings.
That’s a moment where you’re thinking, “They’re real. They are thinking beings. What are their rights?” Then, “Where are those lines drawn?” A lot of those things are examined in some of our later stories. Those concepts of: What exactly is a robot? What is an android? What is a being? If it’s able to think, if it’s able to be, then what? We’re definitely interested in those types of things.
“Almost Human” debuts with a special two-night premiere on Sunday, November 17 and Monday, November 18th at 8/7c on FOX.